Arachidonic Acid (ARA) has been around for a while, since the sports nutrition scientist William Llewellyn helped develop it as a commercial bodybuilding supplement in 2003. Back then, it was solely available under the name X-Factor by Molecular Nutrition.
In 2010, he sold his interest in ARA over to Cargill, the massive global supplier of ingredients to sports nutrition companies the world over.
At this point, the limited research available was open to much more scrutiny and, of course further research, as the bodybuilding community became thoroughly interested in this fatty acid’s potential.
Is it capable of such benefits, and what about side effects? Should you be concerned about inflammation, perhaps even your prostate?
We took a look at some scientific research and started finding more informed answers.
Firstly, what is Arachidonic Acid?
What is Arachidonic Acid?
Points go to anyone who’s already gathered ARA is a fatty acid. It’s an omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid to be more precise, and it is derived from Linoleic Acid, which in turn is consumed in foods rich in Omega-6s, such as nuts, seeds, oils, meat and eggs.
ARA is the cousin of rockstar essential fatty acids EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid).
Purchase any omega-3/fish oil supplement and you’re pretty much buying capsules full of EPA and DHA. A good thing too because – even though their benefits have been twisted, exaggerated and/or otherwise warped – they are widely considered as very good for you!
The reason this can be said with confidence is that EPA and DHA have been heavily researched.
ARA is less researched, but already we know how important it is to your body.
In neural cell membranes it rivals DHA for prominence (and function). In the brain it counts for 10-12% of total fatty acids, and 15-17% in muscle tissue. And this is why it is interesting to muscle junkies.
How Does It Work (for Muscle Building)?
It plays a large role in muscle tissue recovery by way of its influence on inflammation.
Inflammation has become a rather demonized biological mechanism amongst the athletic world, but in its natural spectrum of functionality it is highly necessary.
So necessary is this inflammation/muscle repair response that scientists realized that Arachidonic Acid plays a key part in the body’s adaptive response to strength and resistance training:
Strength training = inflammatory response = muscle recovery and overcompensatory growth = bigger muscles
Prostaglandins are a group of compounds from fatty acids which exert hormone-like effects in the body. The prostaglandins from ARA include PGF2a – a protein synthesis trigger of significant potency.
Those who lift weights know the value of skeletal muscle protein synthesis: it’s why they grow bigger in adaptation to the training.
So what does this mean in terms of supplementation?
A scientific study involving human subjects was conducted to find out whether supplementation above and beyond natural dietary consumption of ARA increases muscle growth in response to a strength training programme.
You can see the whole study for yourself by following the reference link below.
ref: Eduardo O. De Souza et al. Effects of Arachidonic Acid Supplementation on Acute Anabolic Signaling and Chronic Functional Performance and Body Composition Adaptations. May 16, 2016 [http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0155153]
The Study with 30 Well Trained Men
As far as studies go, this one beats the pants off a lot of its peers. At least it appears to.
30 men were involved, each with a minimum of 2 years lifting experience. The study lasted an 8 week period and was, of course, double-blind, randomized and placebo controlled.
Liquid capsules of 1.5g total (in two soft gels) ARA were taken daily – or a placebo which contained corn oil.
Strength training was carried out 3 times per week, cycling through muscle groups each time. Before each session and on completion, the subjects were scanned for body composition and muscle thickness of a major quadricep was measured.
In addition, one rep max (1RM) on the bench and leg press was assessed, and muscle power calculated using the benchmark Wingate test.
The Study with Rats
To support the human study, rats were given equivalent-species dosages of ARA and had muscle tissue examined after electrical stimulation.
This way, anabolic and inflammatory signalling could be measured more precisely before and after the ‘training’ of the rats.
Multiple anabolic and catabolic markers altered but two pathways were significantly changed between the ARA and non-ARA group.
AMPK signalling was reduced and GSK-3beta was increased in the ARA group.
Oddly, initial implications of raised GSK-3b are negative as they reflect similar conditions found in diabetics (type 2) and other insulin resistance. Inhibition of the same signalling pathway would actually improve insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism!
AMPK reduction may be the counterbalance as it could lead to the observed increased lean body mass via the mTOR pathway.
Precise conclusions cannot yet be drawn from the rat experiment though there appears to be enough to merit further study.
The Results of the Human Study
If you’ve read all of the above then here’s the important part you’ve been waiting for.
- The ARA group showed a significant increase in lean body mass (LBM) at 1.6 kg (3.5 lbs), which is 3%. In contrast the placebo group changed very little.
- Muscle Thickness changed in both with respect to baseline measurements; 4% for placebo and 8% for ARA group.
- 1RM leg press increased significantly in both groups, but without much difference between them.
- 1RM bench press power increased 8.7% in the ARA group only
- Wingate peak power and average peak power increased 12.7% and 13.2% respectively, again in the ARA group only.
- Body fat percentage did not change significantly in either group.
So It Works?
Certainly, on the face of it, this research and the results thereof would lead you to expect positive results from taking 1.5g of Arachidonic Acid, however…
As is usually the case with scientific studies of this sort, there is more to the story. So too is there more to understand about ARA in general.
If you are interested in learning more, join us for our follow up article which looks at the potential health side effects of supplementing with this fatty acid, and the gloomier side of strength training based scientific research.