The leaves of the Japanese loquat tree (eriobotrya japonica) contain precious substances called oleanolic acid, amygdalin and, in particular, ursolic acid, a pentacyclic triterpene, small amounts of which are also found in rosemary, apple peel, holy basil (tulsi) and sage.
Ursolic acid and its isomer, oleanic acid, are chemically almost identical, their structure differing only in the position of a methyl group (CH3). Both offer potentially important health benefits, such as preventing the development of cancer, inhibiting existing tumour cells, protecting against the side-effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and exerting anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antiviral effects.
Ursolic acid may help stem sarcopenia (muscle loss associated with ageing and certain diseases). Animal studies have demonstrated its ability to increase muscle volume and power and, according to researchers, to reduce body fat, fasting blood glucose, and cholesterol and triglyceride levels, by acting on two key hormones: IFG-1 and insulin. So effective is ursolic acid in humans that it is one of the most popular supplements with American bodybuilders. By regulating certain RNA messengers, it may also help maintain muscle mass in individuals following low calorie diets.
Ursolic acid is a powerful and natural anti-inflammatory which inhibits human leukocyte elastase (HLE) as well as 5-lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase-2 activity and prostaglandin synthesis. It also has antioxidant and anti-MMP-9 (matrix metalloproteinase-9) effects.
In addition, it offers important cancer protection, acting on a number of parameters:
• In inflammatory pathways, it prevents COX 2 expression by cancer cells, and reduces differentiation of Th-17 cells and production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (interleukin IL17).
• It protects against the side-effects associated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
• It induces apoptosis (programmed cell death) in melanoma cells in culture, and inhibits both the spread of HT-29 human colon adenocarcinoma cells and the growth of HEC108 endometrial cancer cells through the caspase-3 pathway.
• It neutralises NF-kB, preventing initialised cells from reproducing and triggering the death of damaged cells. As a result of this effect on NF-kB, ursolic acid activates resting macrophages and thus helps destroy tumour cells at the earliest stages of cancer.
Ursolic acid has anti-infection and anti-viral effects, more specifically against the herpes virus, adenovirus and enterovirus.
Recent studies on rats have even indicated that its inhibitory power (reversible) on human leukocyte elastase may have potential in the treatment of inflammatory lung diseases such as H1N1 and SARS virus infections.
Ursolic acid also has anti-microbial and immune-stimulant effects particularly in the treatment of tuberculosis.
It may also offer potential in treating Alzheimer’s disease by inhibiting the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, so reducing enzymatic degradation of acetylcholine and improving cholinergic transmission.
Ursolic acid has traditionally been used for the skin as it repairs damaged tissues in the cutaneous barrier and scalp. It also protects the skin from photo-ageing and is a potent inhibitor of elastase, an enzyme present in the skin which attacks structural proteins.
With its multiple properties, ursolic acid is therefore an important addition to the range of phytoceutical resources available for anti-ageing in general.
For maximum effect, take 3 to 6 vegetarian capsules of ursolic acid daily, spread throughout the day.