Ursolic acid is a pentacyclic triterpenoid first identified in apple waxes as early as 1920, but can also be found in the peels of many fruits, as well as in herbs and spices like rosemary, basil, oregano and thyme. It’s more commonly used today in cosmetic products due to its ability to improve the appearance of wrinkles and age spots by restoring the skin’s collagen structures and its elasticity.
As we’ve seen, Ursolic acid is not a new compound. In fact, there are studies dating back to the 1940s. Its properties regarding the cosmetic features and its ability to promote apoptosis (the death of certain cancer cells) have been established at this point, but what we’re really interested in is its potential as a bodybuilding supplement.
Possibly, the first study we should look at was published in 2011, in which researchers used a “connectivity map” to search for compounds with anti-catabolic properties. More than 1300 compounds were tested and Ursolic acid rose to the top as a powerful inhibitor of the genes associated with muscle atrophy. Following this, several other studies (done with mice), have shown that Ursolic acid is not only capable of preventing catabolism under stressful situations (i.e., fasting), but it is also capable of increasing muscle mass and alter the proportion between brown and white fat deposits in the body while reducing overall fatness. As we know, brown fat cells are more easily oxidized and converted into usable energy by the body.
A quick resume of these results can be seen in the image below:
To summarize the benefits of supplementing with Ursolic acid, we’ve put together the following list:
- Decreases markers of skeletal muscle damage during resistance training, thus reducing training-induced muscle tissue breakdown;
- Reduced catabolism even under stressful situations;
- Positive effects on individuals with metabolic syndrome;
- Improved insulin sensitivity;
- Decreased inflammation;
- Increased muscle mass and strength (when compared to weight-training alone);
- Higher rates of non-shivering thermogenesis (utilization of fats for fueling the body);
- Improved levels of irisin in blood (higher levels of irisin makes fat cells more thermogenic);
- Extended the activity of signaling pathways, including mTORC1 for a longer period of time (up to 6 hours after resistance training, where the control group had already fallen to baseline level);
- Decreased diet-induced obesity, glucose intolerance and fatty liver disease;
- Growth inhibition of some types of cancer cells.
Although the human trials are lacking, the typical dose seems to be 150mg three times a day, together with larger meals. Here we can observe perhaps what is keeping Ursolic acid from reaching its enormous supplement potential: the poor bioavailability. It’s estimated that only about 1% of a dose is actually absorbed.
Efforts are being made right now to improve its bioavailability, with possible solutions including the use of cyclodextrins and reducing the particles to nanometers in size. Unfortunately, neither of these technologies is viable at the moment for the supplementation industry. Another possible solution is to utilize its transdermal form, but there’s also a high cost associated with that and its effectiveness is yet to be proven.
For now, the options available for those willing to try this supplement are the pharma products available Ursacol® by Zambon, Ursofalk® by Falk Pharma, among others or by buying it in bulk, assuming you have a trusted supplier.