The latest panacea: Ursolic Acid

Watch out for Ursolic Acid based supplements: they will probably soon be abundant. Not only they promote muscle growth, increased grip (and general strength), but affect glucose intolerance, being natural candidates for obesity control. Athletes are already talking and asking, so I decided to take a look. By “take a look” I mean “pubmed” it. It’s funny how “google” became a verb, as in “google him”. Pubmed too: “pubmed this stuff, let’s see what there is about it”.

A 2011 article published in Cell Metabolism (Kunkel et al. 2011) investigated ursolic acid’s effect on muscle atrophy and hypertrophy. In the animal model, the substance stimulated hypertrophy by enhancing skeletal muscle insulin/IGF-I signaling, and inhibiting atrophy-associated skeletal muscle mRNA expression.

It gets better: in the same study, the authors identified reductions in adiposity, fasting blood glucose and plasma cholesterol and triglycerides produced by the administration of ursolic acid.

In a subsequent study (Kunkel et al 2012), the same group identified another effect: ursolic acid increased skeletal muscle mass, fast and slow muscle fiber size, grip strength and exercise capacity. Grip strength is a traditional by-proxy indicator of overall strength increase. Specifically for strength sports and other athletic endeavors where performance is highly associated with strength, this is even more significant than a merely anabolic effect.

Most studies involving ursolic acid are dated 2005 and later. In terms of bioactive compound research, this means very, very recent. Everytime an active compound is singled out among the billions being screened, it is tested for a few of the most relevant bioactivities of industrial interest.

Ursolic acid is a block buster: Schwaiger et al identified anti-inflammatory activity. It inhibits the TNFα-stimulated expression of VCAM-1 and ICAM-1. TNF stands for tumor necrosis factor and is an important inflammatory cytokine.

Chang et al (2012) confirmed the anti-inflammatory activity and suggested another interesting beneficial bioactive effect for ursolic acid: analgesia.

Finally, Shanmugam et al (2012) have shown ursolic acid to be potent inhibitors in the initiation and progression of prostate cancer, the third most prevalent and lethal in most industrial societies.

If that is not a panacea, then I don’t know what is.

I want it, don’t you?



Shanmugam MK, Ong TH, Kumar AP, Lun CK, Ho PC, et al. (2012) Ursolic Acid Inhibits the Initiation, Progression of Prostate Cancer and Prolongs the Survival of TRAMP Mice by Modulating Pro-Inflammatory Pathways. PLoS ONE 7(3): e32476. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0032476

Ching-Wen Chang,1 Wen-Te Chang,1 Jung-Chun Liao,2 Yung-Jia Chiu,1 Ming-Tsuen Hsieh,1 Wen-Huang Peng,1 and Yu-Chin Lin3 (2012). Analgesic and Anti-Inflammatory Activities of Methanol Extract of Cissus repens in Mice. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Volume 2012 (2012).

Stefan Schwaiger,a,1, Iris Zeller,b,1 Petra Pölzelbauer,c,1 Sandra Frotschnig,c Günther Laufer,b Barbara Messner,bValerio Pieri,a Hermann Stuppner,a and David Bernhardb (2011). Identification and pharmacological characterization of the anti-inflammatory principal of the leaves of dwarf elder (Sambucus ebulus L.) J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 January 27; 133(2-4): 704–709.

Steven D. Kunkel,Manish Suneja,Scott M. Ebert,Kale S. Bongers,Daniel K. Fox,Sharon E. Malmberg,Fariborz Alipour,Richard K. Shields,Christopher M. Adams. mRNA Expression Signatures of Human Skeletal Muscle Atrophy Identify a Natural Compound that Increases Muscle MassCell Metabolism, Volume 13, Issue 6, 627-638, 8 June 2011

Kunkel SD, Elmore CJ, Bongers KS, Ebert SM, Fox DK, et al. (2012) Ursolic Acid Increases Skeletal Muscle and Brown Fat and Decreases Diet-Induced Obesity, Glucose Intolerance and Fatty Liver Disease. PLoS ONE 7(6): e39332. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039332


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