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Ursolic Acid: What Is It & How Does It Work? (Complete Guide)

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

As early as 1920, ursolic acid was discovered in the epicuticular waxes of apples. Since then, it has been found in a variety of fruits, herbs, and spices, including rosemary and thyme, and in the peels of many other plants and fruits.

Ursolic acid is also known as:

  • Prunol

  • Urson

  • Malol

  • 3β-hydroxyurs-12-en-28-oic acid

There are many biological effects associated with the usage of ursolic acid, such as increasing muscle growth, being an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, reducing tissue damage, and possibly even having anti-carcinogenic effects.

Table of Contents:

ursolic acid

What Is Ursolic Acid?

Ursolic Acid (3β-hydroxyurs-12-en-28-oic acid) is a pentacyclic triterpenoid.

It can be found in a variety of plants, as well as in many fruits and herbs, such as the following.

  • Apples

  • Basil and holy basil

  • Bilberries and cranberries

  • Elder flower

  • Peppermint, rosemary, lavender, oregano, thyme, hawthorn

  • Prunes

A significant amount of ursolic acid and similar chemicals may be found in the peels of fruit, especially apple peel. (1)

Ursolic acid (abbreviated to UA) is one of several plant-based metabolites that has multiple intracellular and extracellular targets that are involved in apoptosis, metastasis, angiogenesis, and inflammatory processes.

ursolic acid chemical structure

How Does It Work?

A variety of possible biological functions of ursolic acid have been studied, but there has been minimal research on the effects of these biological functions.

Most research has been conducted in animals; therefore, the effects may be different in humans.

According to in-vitro studies, ursolic acid reduces the activity of the STAT3 pathway, possibly reducing the proliferation of cancer cells. (2)

the effect of Ursolic Acid on the STAT3 pathway
Ursolic Acid inhibits activity of the STAT3 pathway.

Ursolic acid may may reduce the proliferation and growth of cancer cells and cause them to die (apoptosis), according to other research. (3)

It may also suppress IL-2 activation and JNK expression, as seen in Jurkat leukemic T Cells. (4)

Studies in mice have shown that with the addition of ursolic acid to their feed, it may increase the amount of muscle mass and brown fat while decreasing white fat, reducing the risk of obesity. (5)

Mice studies have also shown that ursolic acid may decrease muscle atrophy and promote muscular development.

Skeletal muscle mass, grip strength, and physical endurance were all enhanced by ursolic acid along with a decreased expression of genes implicated in muscular atrophy, and decreased exercise-induced stress were observed. (6)

Further Reading: Does ursolic acid help build muscle?

It may possibly have cardioprotective properties. (7)

In mice, ursolic acid also promotes the regeneration of the liver after a partial hepatectomy. (8)

Ursolic acid may also cause eryptosis; the reduction in defective red blood cells. (9)

When mice were subjected to a sciatic nerve lesion, ursolic acid promotes neuronal regeneration, it has also been shown to prevent further neuronal damage and to aid in the regeneration of the protective sheaths that surround neurons. (10, 11)

This effect appears to be due to the suppression of Th17 immune cells and the activation of precursor cells that mature into myelin-sheath-producing cells.

Cognitive deficits caused by domoic acid, a high-fat diet, and D-galactose in mice and rats are reduced via ursolic acid inhibiting particular inflammatory pathways. (12, 13, 14)

It reduces the severity of lipopolysaccharide-induced cognitive impairments in mice via inhibition of the p38/NF-B inflammatory pathways in the brain of the mice. (15)

There are various other functions and effects of ursolic acid, most of this research has only been conducted in animal studies and requires replication in human studies before conclusions can be made.

Ursolic acid mechanisms

Below is an outline of these effects in layman's terms.

What Does It Do?

The possible effects of ursolic acid supplementation are vast.

Based on the minimal human research that exists, it seems to be a potential body recomposition agent, with the ability to increase muscle mass ands strength while simultaneously decreasing body fat.

However, it is possible that it may be detrimental to fertility.

The possible benefits of ursolic acid are as follows.

There may also be other possible benefits.

Increased Muscle Mass & Strength

Though there has been no conclusive human studies of the effect of ursolic acid on muscle growth and strength, there are animal studies and theory suggesting a positive effect.

One study has shown ursolic acid enhances IGF-1 and Akt cell signalling, improving muscle growth. (16)

Supplementation with ursolic acid has been shown to increase the size of both fast and slow-twitch muscle fibres.

Ursolic acid increases brown fat tissue, which is found in the same areas of the body as skeletal muscle, increasing the muscles' physical dimensions and size.

Grip strength has also been shown to be enhanced.

Decreased White Fat

White fat is also known as the "bad" fat.

It is the non-metabolically active type of fat tissue and is the type of fat seen in obese humans and animals.

White fat is the fat tissue that stores lipids and energy.

Due to ursolic acids effect on increasing energy expenditure, it can help to reduce white fat.

Increased Brown Fat

Brown fat is known as the "good" fat, this is because brown fat is metabolically active and has increased levels of mitochondria.

brown fat vs white fat

Due to the increased levels of mitochondria seen in brown fat tissue, it increases energy expenditure and has other beneficial effects on insulin resistance and glucose metabolism.

Ursolic acid likely increases brown fat via causing an increase in irisin, a hormone responsible for multiple effects on fat tissue, metabolism and energy.

Irisin levels are increased significantly higher than placebo alone. (17)

Reduced Obesity, Glucose Intolerance & Fatty Liver Disease

As a result of an increase in irisin, brown fat, and muscle tissue, basal daily energy expenditure is increased.

Meaning a higher caloric intake is required to increase fat storage.

The growth of new muscle tissue also requires energy.

Brown fat and irisin have beneficial effects on glucose sensitivity and intolerance as well as hepatic glucose and lipid metabolism.

Therefore, ursolic acid can help reduce diet-induced obesity, glucose intolerance and fatty liver disease. (5)

May Be Anti-Cancer

Ursolic acid may be a potential anti-cancer agent through a variety of mechanisms. (18)

Ursolic Acid pathways

It may inhibit multiple cellular pathways in cancer cells, resulting in reduced proliferation, metastasis, and growth.

There are some energy-related mechanisms associated with ursolic acid that may also have a regulatory effect on cancer cells. (19)

However, because no human research on ursolic acids effect on cancer cells exists, it cannot be concluded that it reduces cancer growth.

Dosage & How to Take

There has been little research into the safety of ursolic acid which is why we don't recommend the supplementation of it; however, if you are considering it then some more information on its dosage and how to take it can be found below.

A 0.05-0.2% concentration of ursolic acid in animal feed, equal to 10-40 mg/kg (depending on the animals weight and food consumption), has been shown to be beneficial in animal experiments.

The estimated human dosage comparable to this is 1.6-6.4 mg/kg of bodyweight.

For a 180lb (81.6kg) adult, this range would be about 130-520mg.

One human study used the upper end of this dosage range; 150mg three times a day with food, totalling 450mg each day.

This study discovered some biological activity in the participants.

Therefore, if you are willing to take ursolic acid, 150mg three times day with food is suggested until more research is conducted.

However, be warned there is no safety information available and there is the potential for side-effects.

If are going to take this supplement, be sure to get ursolic acid from a trusted vendor, such as this product on Amazon.

It can be found mostly in capsule form and is usually extracted from a plant or herb, such as rosemary leaf.


At this time, there is inadequate evidence to determine the short and long-term safety of ursolic acid consumption.

While phase 1 safety tests have shown that ursolic acid has acceptable side-effects, the long-term safety of this compound is still very much unknown.

Three minor safety studies have been conducted to assess the safety of ursolic acid.

As reported by the researchers, ursolic acid was acceptable, and the majority of the adverse effects were mild to moderate in severity. (20, 21, 22)

The fact that these trials solely looked at the safety of ursolic acid is essential to keep in mind.

There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that ursolic acid is effective in the treatment of cancer, or anything else for that matter.

Some of the side-effects from ursolic acid usage are listed below.

  • Nausea

  • Swelling in the abdomen

  • The presence of trace quantities of blood in the urine

  • Sodium levels that are abnormally high

  • Rashes on the skin

Diarrhoea and liver damage are the two most frequent side-effects which induced dose-limiting.

Therefore, ursolic acid has side-effects which need to be managed, the best advice is to not use this supplement and if you do, limit it to a short period of time.


Written by Billy White

billy white

Billy White is a qualified Kinesiologist and Personal Trainer. He is an aspiring bodybuilder, fitness enthusiast, and health and fitness researcher.

He has multiple years of experience within the fitness, bodybuilding and health space. He is committed to providing the highest-quality information.



This section contains links to research, studies, and sources of information for this article, as well as authors, contributors, etc. All sources, along with the article and facts, are subjected to a series of quality, reliability, and relevance checks.

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This evidence-based analysis of ursolic acid features 22 references, listed below.

1. Simone Tasca Cargnin, Simone Baggio Gnoatto. Ursolic acid from apple pomace and traditional plants: A valuable triterpenoid with functional properties. Food Chemistry. (2017)

2. Ashutosh K. Pathak, Manisha B, Asha S. Nair, Kwang SA, Arup C, Humam K, Sushovan G, Gautam S, Bharat BA. Ursolic Acid Inhibits STAT3 Activation Pathway Leading to Suppression of Proliferation and Chemosensitization of Human Multiple Myeloma Cells. Mol Cancer Res. (2007)

3. Chen CJ, Shih YL, Yeh MY, Liao NC, Chung HY, Liu KL, Lee MH, Chou PY, Hou HY, Chou JS, Chung JG. Ursolic Acid Induces Apoptotic Cell Death Through AIF and Endo G Release Through a Mitochondria-dependent Pathway in NCI-H292 Human Lung Cancer Cells In Vitro. In Vivo. (2019, Mar-Apr) ✔

4. Narawan Kaewthawee, Sirikalaya Brimson. The Effects of Ursolic Acid on Cytokine Production via the Mapk Pathways in Leukemic T-Cells. (2013, Feb) ✔

5. Kunkel SD, Elmore CJ, Bongers KS, Ebert SM, Fox DK, Dyle MC, Bullard SA, Adams CM. Ursolic acid increases skeletal muscle and brown fat and decreases diet-induced obesity, glucose intolerance and fatty liver disease. PLoS One. (2012) ✔

6. Jeong JW, Shim JJ, Choi ID, Kim SH, Ra J, Ku HK, Lee DE, Kim TY, Jeung W, Lee JH, Lee KW, Huh CS, Sim JH, Ahn YT. Apple Pomace Extract Improves Endurance in Exercise Performance by Increasing Strength and Weight of Skeletal Muscle. J Med Food. (2015, Dec) ✔

7. Uncoupling and Antioxidant Effects of Ursolic Acid in Isolated Rat Heart Mitochondria. J Nat Prod. (2011)

8. Jin YR, Jin JL, Li CH, Piao XX, Jin NG. Ursolic acid enhances mouse liver regeneration after partial hepatectomy. Pharm Biol. (2012, Apr) ✔

9. Triggering of Erythrocyte Cell Membrane Scrambling by Ursolic Acid. J Nat Prod. (2011)

10. Liu B, Liu Y, Yang G, Xu Z, Chen J. Ursolic acid induces neural regeneration after sciatic nerve injury. Neural Regen Res. (2013, Sep 25) ✔

11. YuanZhang, XingLi, BogoljubCiric, Mark T.Curtis, Wan-JunChen, AbdolmohamadRostami, Guang-XianZhang. A dual effect of ursolic acid to the treatment of multiple sclerosis through both immunomodulation and direct remyelination. Pro of the Nat Acad of Sciences. (2020, Apr) ✔

12. Dong-mei Wu, Jun Lu, Yan-qiu Z, Yuan-lin Z, Bin Hu, Wei C, Zi-feng Z, Meng-qiu Li. Ursolic acid improves domoic acid-induced cognitive deficits in mice. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology. (2013)

13. Jun L, Dong MW, Yuan LZ, Bin H, Wei C, Zi-feng Z, Qun S. Ursolic acid improves high fat diet-induced cognitive impairments by blocking endoplasmic reticulum stress and IκB kinase β/nuclear factor-κB-mediated inflammatory pathways in mice. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. (2011)

14. Lu J, Zheng YL, Wu DM, Luo L, Sun DX, Shan Q. Ursolic acid ameliorates cognition deficits and attenuates oxidative damage in the brain of senescent mice induced by D-galactose. Biochem Pharmacol. (2007, Oct 1) ✔

15. Wang YJ, Lu J, Wu DM, Zheng ZH, Zheng YL, Wang XH, Ruan J, Sun X, Shan Q, Zhang ZF. Ursolic acid attenuates lipopolysaccharide-induced cognitive deficits in mouse brain through suppressing p38/NF-κB mediated inflammatory pathways. Neurobiol Learn Mem. (2011, Sep) ✔

16. Kunkel SD, Elmore CJ, Bongers KS, Ebert SM, Fox DK, Dyle MC, Bullard SA, Adams CM. Ursolic acid increases skeletal muscle and brown fat and decreases diet-induced obesity, glucose intolerance and fatty liver disease. PLoS One. (2012) ✔

17. Bang, Hyun & Seo, Dae & Chung, Yong & Oh, Kyoung-Mo & Park, Jung & Figueroa, Arturo & Jeong, Seung & Kim, Nari & Han, Jin. Ursolic Acid-Induced Elevation of Serum Irisin Augments Muscle Strength During Resistance Training in Men. The Korean Journal of Physiology & Pharmacology. (2014)

18. Ursolic Acid Simultaneously Targets Multiple Signaling Pathways to Suppress Proliferation and Induce Apoptosis in Colon Cancer Cells. PLOS ONE. ✔

19. Feng XM, Su XL. Anticancer effect of ursolic acid via mitochondria-dependent pathways. Oncol Lett. (2019, Jun) ✔

20. Wang XH, Zhou SY, Qian ZZ, Zhang HL, Qiu LH, Song Z, Zhao J, Wang P, Hao XS, Wang HQ. Evaluation of toxicity and single-dose pharmacokinetics of intravenous ursolic acid liposomes in healthy adult volunteers and patients with advanced solid tumors. Expert Opin Drug Metab Toxicol. (2013, Feb) (Clinical Trial) ✔

21. Qian Z, Wang X, Song Z, Zhang H, Zhou S, Zhao J, Wang H. A phase I trial to evaluate the multiple-dose safety and antitumor activity of ursolic acid liposomes in subjects with advanced solid tumors. Biomed Res Int. (2015) (Clinical Trial) ✔

22. Zhu Z, Qian Z, Yan Z, Zhao C, Wang H, Ying G. A phase I pharmacokinetic study of ursolic acid nanoliposomes in healthy volunteers and patients with advanced solid tumors. Int J Nanomedicine. (2013) (Clinical Trial) ✔

Citations with a tick indicate the information is from a trusted source.


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