Research is finding that ursolic acid may help in cancer, diabetes, muscle-building, weight loss, and much more. Naturally found in many of the foods we eat, ursolic acid’s effects seem promising. Read on to learn about the many health benefits as well as the potential risks.
What is Ursolic Acid?
Ursolic acid is a natural chemical compound found in a wide variety of plants, such as rosemary and apples. It is said to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer effects.
Ursolic acid belongs to a class of compounds called triterpenes, which are naturally produced in plants and animals. Triterpenes have a number of biological effects, which make them exciting candidates for drug research .
And the research so far is promising.
A number of potential health benefits have been identified – including improvements to diabetes, weight loss, and cancer treatment to name a few .
Ursolic Acid Foods & Herbs
- Apple skin
- Marjoram leaves
- Rosemary leaves
- Oregano leaves
- Sage leaves
- Thyme leaves
- Lavender leaves and flowers
- Hawthorn leaves and flowers
- Eucalyptus leaves and bark
- Coffee leaves
- Naturally found in many plants and fruits
- Has cancer-fighting potential
- May help burn fat
- May help build muscle
- May help in diabetes
- Is an antioxidant
- Reduces inflammation
- May help protect the heart, liver, and brain
- Not well studied in humans
- Poorly absorbed by the body
- May cause damage to cells and DNA
Ursolic Acid Benefits
1) Cancer-Fighting Potential
Out of all the potential health benefits of ursolic acid, anti-cancer effects are among the most researched.
A number of studies suggest that ursolic acid may help prevent and treat a variety of cancer types, including .
- Breast cancer [5, 6, 7, 8]
- Cervical cancer [9, 10, 11]
- Colon cancer [12, 13, 14, 15]
- Bladder cancer [16, 17, 18]
- Melanoma [19, 20, 21]
- Leukemia [22, 23, 24]
- Lung cancer [25, 26, 27]
- Liver cancer [28, 29]
- Gastric cancer [30, 31, 32, 33]
Admittedly, all of this research was done in animals or cells. It remains to be seen if these benefits translate to humans, but the initial results are promising.
How does ursolic acid work in so many forms of cancer?
The answer is complex. Research has identified a wide array of functions that allow ursolic acid to influence cancer cells .
Some of these anti-cancer functions include:
- Blocking signals that trigger cancer cell growth and division [19, 34]
- Blocking the expression of cancer-promoting genes 
- Promoting apoptosis (cell death) [35, 36, 37]
- Reducing blood supply to tumors 
- Reducing resistance to cancer drugs [39, 40, 41]
Although clinical trials are lacking, several phase I safety studies have been done in humans. These studies showed that ursolic acid as an anticancer compound is tolerable and non-toxic [42, 43, 44].
2) Protects the Heart
Ursolic acid may have several benefits to the cardiovascular system, which includes the heart, blood, and blood vessels.
Ursolic acid may also improve blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels and improving blood flow. This is achieved through an increase in nitric oxide, a chemical that causes the walls of blood vessels to expand [46, 47].
However, there are some issues.
A mouse study has found that ursolic acid promotes plaque formation in the blood vessels, which can increase the risk of blood clots .
In addition to that, it may cause platelets in the blood to become stickier and form clumps. This could further increase the risk of forming dangerous blood clots .
All in all, ursolic activity shows some benefits for the cardiovascular system – such as expanding blood vessels and enhancing circulation. These would also be a big plus for endurance athletes.
But it also has the potential to do harm, especially if you already struggle with clogged arteries or heart disease.
3) Helps Burn Fat
One appealing health benefit is the fat-burning potential of ursolic acid.
Ursolic acid improves body weight, BMI, waist circumference, and insulin sensitivity. At least that’s what one clinical trial found in 24 people with metabolic syndrome. In the study, they compared ursolic acid at a dose of 150 mg/day to placebo for 12 weeks .
Similarly, a study in rats shows that ursolic acid reduces body weight and free fatty acids while also increasing energy use .
As it turns out, this fat-burning ability is achieved through several different pathways.
For instance, research shows that ursolic acid blocks the formation of fat cells .
In addition to that, its effects on blood sugar and cholesterol also contribute to weight loss.
Interestingly enough, ursolic acid seems to also increase brown fat tissue. Luckily, this special type of fat has benefits – it helps with insulin sensitivity and exposure to cold temperatures [58, 62].
4) Builds Muscle and Improves Exercise Performance
Ursolic acid for bodybuilding has become popular as “a natural anabolic compound.”
Research in mice reveals that ursolic acid increases muscle mass, grip strength, and exercise capacity. Specifically, there was an increase in fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers .
It gets better.
Similar benefits are seen in humans. In a small study of 16 people, ursolic acid reduced lab markers that indicate muscle damage .
Another study, also with 16 people, found improvements to muscle strength and a decrease in body fat percentage .
How is ursolic acid building more muscle?
5) Helps with Diabetes
For those struggling to control their diabetes, ursolic acid could potentially be an option .
Multiple studies, including one in humans, have uncovered several anti-diabetic effects, including:
- Decreasing fasting blood glucose 
- Improving insulin sensitivity [60, 59, 53, 68]
- Reducing glucose intolerance [58, 68]
- Protecting pancreas beta-cells 
Let’s not forget ursolic acid’s weight loss effects as well, which can have indirect benefits to diabetes. A clinical trial found that ursolic acid reduces body weight, BMI, and waist circumference [70, 53].
6) Promotes Bone Growth
Surprisingly enough, ursolic acid influences bone growth as well .
But first, let’s discuss bone cells for a moment.
Our skeleton is constantly remodeling itself, by growing new bone and removing the old. Osteoblasts are special cells that help create new bone. On the other hand, osteoclasts are cells that break down bone. Together they work to repair and maintain our skeleton .
One cell study found that ursolic acid stimulates the growth of osteoblasts .
A different study in mice shows that ursolic acid blocks the growth of osteoclasts .
7) Reduces Inflammation
Many of ursolic acid’s health benefits actually stem from its anti-inflammatory effects .
8) Fights Against Bacteria
Ursolic acid might have important antibacterial effects .
One study found that ursolic acid improves survival and reduces lung injury in rats with severe infection .
9) Protects the Brain
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of ursolic acid may help protect the brain .
10) Protects the Liver
Our liver is very good at repairing itself, but many diseases and substances can cause permanent damage.
One cell study found that ursolic acid reduces the toxic effects of alcohol by as much as 76% .
A different study found similar results in rats that were given alcohol. Researchers found an increase in antioxidants and a decrease in lab markers that indicate liver injury .
But that’s not all.
11) Helps Reduce Anxiety
Mice studies show that ursolic acid improves anxiety when the animals perform various tests. In one of these studies, ursolic acid was just as effective as diazepam, a drug commonly used for anxiety [98, 99].
12) Helps with Depression
Several studies have revealed the antidepressant properties of ursolic acid .
Limitations and Caveats
A huge limitation of ursolic acid is the lack of human studies. While research has revealed a host of potential health benefits, these were mostly performed in cells or animals.
This is especially important for cancer treatment. Cell and animal studies have revealed exciting results. But it’s difficult to know if these benefits translate to humans without further studies.
In addition to that, we know very little about the side effects and safety risks.
Mechanism of Action
How exactly does ursolic acid work?
The answer is fairly complicated – ursolic acid is able to have so many health benefits because it works in so many different ways.
One key mechanism is ursolic acid’s ability to block cell signaling pathways. By blocking certain pathways, like MAPK/ERK and PI3K/AKT/mTOR, ursolic can alter cell growth and replication. This mechanism is especially useful in cancer, but may also underlie its muscle-building potential [104, 2].
It doesn’t stop there.
Side Effects and Safety
Unfortunately, there is very little information available about the safety of ursolic acid.
Here is what we do know:
- Abdominal swelling
- Trace amounts of blood in the urine
- Elevated sodium levels
- Skin rash
Researchers also found that diarrhea and liver damage are the two most common dose-limiting toxicities .
However, there’s more.
The bottom line is more research needs to be done. Initial trials suggest it is mostly safe. But the fact that ursolic acid has so many different effects means it will take time to evaluate how safe it is.
The drug interactions of ursolic acid are not well researched, but we do know a few things.
One study found that ursolic acid blocks a cell transporter called OATP1B1. Some drugs need OATP1B1 to move into liver cells. By blocking this transporter, ursolic acid can potentially reduce the effects of certain drugs, including [113, 114]:
- Statins (a class of cholesterol-lowering drugs)
A cell study shows that ursolic acid also blocks an enzyme called UGT1A4. This enzyme metabolizes a variety of substances in the body. Most importantly, this enzyme metabolizes lamotrigine, a common anti-seizure medication. This means an interaction between lamotrigine and ursolic acid could exist [115, 116, 117].
Talk to your doctor first if you intend to use ursolic acid alongside prescription medication.
Ursolic acid is available as a supplement.
It normally comes as a capsule with strengths that range from about 100 mg to 250 mg. Alternatively, it can be purchased as a powder.
Certain plant extract supplements can also contain ursolic acid.
For instance, rosemary extract supplements can contain different percentages of ursolic acid. Often these products will advertise the concentration, such as 90% ursolic acid.
Another example is holy basil supplements. Popular products typically include 2.5% ursolic acid.
If you’re wondering what the best ursolic acid supplement is, you don’t have to look far. Not many supplements with this compound are widely available.
Here’s what we suggest:
If you’re looking for specific muscle-building gains or seeking fat loss, go with a reputable brand that specifies the ursolic acid content.
Many people like to try out multi-ingredient formulations, but you can never tell exactly what’s helping and what’s not with such formulations. It’s often better to stick to single- or limited-ingredient formulations and track your response.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to tackle chronic health problems, you may wish to go with lower doses and an herbal formulation (such as holy basil supplements) for added antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support.
Ursolic Acid and Tomatidine Supplement
A different compound, called tomatidine, is sometimes combined with ursolic acid and used to enhance bodybuilding gains.
Tomatidine, as the name suggests, is found in the skins, stems, and leaves of tomatoes. Chemically, tomatidine is a plant steroid (steroidal alkaloid) .
In a 2015 study, researchers identified ursolic acid and tomatidine as small molecules that may greatly reduce age-related decline in muscle strength, quality, and mass. Both molecules could spark hundreds of similar miniscule muscle-protective changes in the activity of genes (mRNA levels) in aged muscle .
Since tomatidine is not well-researched, only a handful of supplements on the market contain it as an ingredient.
We couldn’t identify any reputable brands with both ursolic acid and tomatidine in their formulations. Several brands sell tomatidine- or ursolic acid-only products. One brand combines tomatidine with shilajit.
But is there any additional evidence to suggest tomatine could help you gain more muscle?
Two intriguing studies hint at this potential benefit.
Tomatidine Potential Benefits
In a recent study on muscle cells, tomatine could boost anabolic pathways (by increasing mTORC signaling) and muscle growth. It also reduced muscle wasting, enhanced the recovery from muscles wasting, stimulated muscle hypertrophy, and increased strength and exercise capacity .
Tomatidine also has some anti-aging potential.
In a study on fruit flies published a couple of years ago, tomatidine could increase lifespan and healthspan. And interestingly, it also enhanced muscle health and movement, while reducing the number of damaged muscle cells in the studied fruit flies .
All in all, this curious compound from tomatoes certainly shows a lot of promise for repairing damaged muscles, preventing muscle wasting, and boosting bodybuilding gains.
However, the research is very recent and currently limited to studies on cells and fruit flies. Its effects in humans are still unknown. Scientists are very interested in tomatidine, though, and we are expecting new studies in the coming years.
How much ursolic acid should you take?
Unfortunately, we aren’t entirely sure. Research has yet to identify an optimal dose.
We do have an idea of what the upper limit is.
A safety study found that dose-limiting toxicities began at 74 mg/m2. It’s important to note that this dose was given by IV, so we can’t use it to determine the upper oral dosage .
Obesity and exercise studies also shed some light on safe and effective doses.
One study of 16 healthy men used a dose of 450 mg per day for 8 weeks .
A different study of people with metabolic syndrome used a dose of 150 mg per day for 12 weeks .
Ursolic supplements typically recommend about 150 mg taken 3 times a day, for a total of 450 mg per day.
Also be aware that ursolic acid has poor bioavailability, meaning very little is absorbed when ingested. In fact, researchers are developing new strategies, such as using nanocrystals, to improve its bioavailability [121, 122].
Reviews & User Experiences
Product reviews of ursolic acid supplements appear to be mixed for the most part.
Some users report increases in energy and muscle growth.
Others describe it as a “Lean Muscle Optimizer.” One user mentioned that they use ursolic acid to maintain hard-earned gains, explaining that they respond better to an anti-catabolic than to a muscle-growth supplement. And as a result, they could gain more mass and lean out a bit on ursolic acid.
At the same time, a similar number of users report seeing little to no effect.
Another common complaint is the unpleasant taste and smell of the supplements.
Buy Ursolic Acid
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Ursolic acid is a chemical compound found in many plants and fruits.
Research is finding that ursolic acid may be effective in many conditions, including:
- Bacterial infection
It may also protect the heart, liver, and brain. It can boost blood flow and relax blood vessels, which may improve your cardio performance and endurance. On the downside, some studies indicate it may clog arteries or damage cells.
Studies in humans are lacking, however.
Initial cancer studies suggest that it may be safe, but further research is required.
As a supplement, many use ursolic acid to help burn fat and improve energy, but the reviews on its effectiveness tend to be mixed.
Those looking for natural bodybuilding gains combine it with tomatidine, another promising muscle-building compound from tomatoes that’s even less researched than ursolic acid.