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Ursolic Acid as an Aid to Prevent Obesity

Posted in..: Research & Development
By Chad Kerksick, PhD
Dec 23, 2011
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Public health has become a primary concern of the United States and developed countries all across the world.  In particular, obesity has become a global challenge where government estimates from 2007-2008 suggest that 34.2% of Americans are overweight and 33.8% are obese (Ogden 2010).  While a number of things have been speculated to cause this phenomenon it is largely accepted that changes in food supply and daily physical activity are two primary culprits.  While some pharmaceutical approaches have received FDA approval, the efficacy surrounding these is considered modest and they present concerns about safety and tolerability.  For these reasons, the potential for nutrient or food-based approaches has grown in popularity.  One particular group of plant-based constituents (aka, phytoconstituents) are the pentacyclic triterpenes, which belong to the lupine, oleanane and ursane series and are found in a number of plants, while presenting relatively no incidents of toxicity.  One of these nutrients, ursolic acid, is a member of the ursane family and is commonly found in a number of fruits and vegetables, including apples, grapes, pomegranate, olive leaves, clove and sprouts of mistletoe. It has been indicated to possess anti-atrophy, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antihyperlipidemic and hypoglycemic properties.  These potential functions led researchers to examine the impact of ursolic acid and its ability to improve metabolic function and serve in an anti-obesity role (Rao 2011).  Adult laboratory mice were fed a high-fat diet for 15 weeks.  Three groups of mice were investigated.  One group of mice had ursolic acid (0.05%, 50 mg/L) added to their drinking water, another group had sibutramine (an FDA approved drug for weight loss) added to their drinking water in the same dosage and another group was provided non-treated water.  Body weight was measured weekly along with food and water consumption. At the end of the study period, the levels of blood glucose, lipids, insulin and other key metabolic hormones were analyzed along with accumulation of abdominal fat.  The mice given ursolic acid experienced significant reductions in body weight and visceral adiposity as well as reductions in glucose and lipids found in the blood (both are considered general markers of health) when compared to the group of mice who did not consume any ursolic acid.  Also, two hormones commonly studied for their link to appetite regulation and role in weight management (leptin and ghrelin) both experienced statistically significant positive improvements (Rao 2011).  The group which consumed sibutramine experienced similar changes (with the exception of the blood glucose changes), but these changes were not statistically different than the control group which did not consume any ursolic acid.  The authors stated their findings indicate ursolic acid when fed as part of a high-fat diet over 15 weeks may help to prevent weight gain and in particular fat gain in the abdominal region while also stimulating other positives changes in blood variables related to health and weight management.

Ogden, LG and Carroll, MD (2010). Prevalence of overweight, obesity and extreme obesity among adults: United states, trends 1960-1962 through 2007-2008. Surveys, DOHaNE. Washington D.C., National Center for Health Statistics.
Rao, VS, De Melo, CL, Queiroz, MG, Lemos, TL, Menezes, DB, Melo, TS and Santos, FA (2011). "Ursolic acid, a pentacyclic triterpene from sambucus australis, prevents abdominal adiposity in mice fed a high-fat diet." J Med Food 14(11): 1375-1382.

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