The problem of muscle atrophy or loss of muscle mass is of concern to the aging individual as well as to those suffering from certain illnesses. Muscle atrophy usually leads to a downward spiral of physical debilitation and eventually death. Recent research suggests that a compound found in apple skins may help reverse this debilitating phenomenon. This compound is called ursolic acid and this post will provide basic information to the potential consumer on this unique compound.
What is Ursolic Acid?
Ursolic acid is a class of compounds called pentacyclic triterpenoic acids. It has a chemical structure somewhat similar to steroidal compounds like testosterone.
Ursolic acid can be found in a variety of plants and seems to be particularly concentrated in apple skins but also in prunes.
Many interesting compounds are found in the skins of fruits and vegetables. This is most likely due them providing a first line of defense against stressors like UV light, insect and fungal attack and cold.
We humans then can take advantage of these protective compounds by consuming them.
Unfortunately the skins of our fruits and vegetables are where pesticides and other contaminants are concentrated.
Interestingly, the holy basil plant, also known as Tulsi, has high concentrations of ursolic acid in its leaves and is available as an extract in supplement form.
Dr. Christopher Adams at the University of Iowa conducted the research that has generated all the buzz around ursolic acid in the scientific community and popular media. The research was published in the journal Cell Metabolism 2011:13(6):627-38.
One must be aware that all the promising results come from experiments conducted in mice and not humans.
However, muscle atrophy in mice is associated with the same changes seen at the molecular level in humans. With this in mind, the researchers used an ingenious molecular screening process to identify ursolic acid as a potential reverser of muscle wasting and then proceeded to feed it to the mice.
The mice fed ursolic acid had both the size and strength of their muscles increased. The other benefit was that the ursolic acid group had reduced body fat and lowered glucose and cholesterol levels.
The researchers propose that ursolic acid acts by increasing the sensitivity of IGF and insulin receptors. IGF is a type of growth hormone that positively affects muscle growth.
What Type of Ursolic Acid Supplements are Out There?
The mice were given food that contained 0.25% ursolic acid. I have no idea how much they actually consumed total.
A supplement sold by Swanson Health Products that contains ursolic acid is their Holy Basil (Tulsi) Extract which contains 2.0% ursolic acid in 400 mg capules. So that would be 8 mg of ursolic acid per capsule.
Of course the hardcore weightlifting community is all over this stuff. One product that is being marketed to them is called ‘Ursobolic’.