Arachidonic Acid part II – Side Effects and Study Limitations

ARA Part II – Don’t Swallow the Pill Just Yet

study microscopeOur ‘Part I’ article covering an introduction to Arachidonic Acid and its effects, together with a summary of the latest scientific research conducted with human subjects, will give you a good idea of its potential as a bodybuilding supplement, and why supplement companies are licking their lips at the prospect of profits.

Molecular Research, the company which originally patented the fatty acid ARA as a bodybuilding supplement have opened the license up, and with it decided to push the envelope with respect to scientific ratification of its benefits to physical composition.

We’ve seen the results from said scientific research and ARA looks like a winner, but before you rush out and throw your hard-earned cash at your local supplement dealer, there’s a few more points we’d like to cover, so that you’re making an informed decision.

What’s Up With Scientific Research?

Money is what’s up.

Money is the currency of corruption, the catalyst of nearly all that is wrong with this world.

Deep, huh?… but do stay with us. We haven’t gone off the deep end just yet.

Scientific research, is theoretically devoid of bias, pure, incorruptible.

money scienceUnfortunately, it also costs money. But where you might think there’s some philanthropic Gandalf lookalike sat in a temple signing cheques and giving the go-ahead for this study, or that clinical trial, while monks chant gently across a stunning mountainous backdrop, the reality is much less romantic (or ridiculous).

The two major studies looking at the potential benefits of ARA as a bodybuilding supplement were partially funded by, you’ve guessed it, the founding and principal patent-holding supplement company Molecular Research.

When an advert for some face cream cites a study which proves it can make you look younger, who do you think paid for the study? Sometimes the scientists are even on the same payroll as the company.

The point is: the investors have the money and the motivation to invest in these studies. If they didn’t, we’d have very little to go on, and we mean that in a global context.

Now, this in itself is nothing to get too worked up about. Nor is it anything new. Dig a little deeper than the surface of any scientific paper and you’ll find a similar situation.

There’s just…something not right with that paradigm.

That said, without huge pharmaceutical (and now, nutraceutical) companies doing the hard work, we would be nowhere near the advanced state in medicine and health products that we are today. Their motive might be money, but there are rewards for everyone in the end.

What Does It Mean for ARA?

moleculesThe first study conducted showed little benefit to the bodybuilder. An increase in power was noted, but where the second study resulted in increased Lean Body Mass, 1RM and Power across the board, the first was a bit of a damp squibb.

Now, the scientific community still has some balls, and so the results were available for public access. Thus, ARA didn’t get quite the springboard the company was hoping for.

Please note that we are not trashing any particular company. In fact, Molecular Research – a company with the word ‘research’ in their name – is one which we respect highly. Put that word above your door and you’d better conduct some f***ing research. Which they do, and they publish it, so that’s good!

The first study (reference link below) had a few differences to the second study referenced in Part 1 of this article.

  • 1000mg of ARA (as opposed to 1500mg in the 2nd study) was used in the first study.
  • Each major muscle group was trained twice per week in the first study (as opposed to once in the second study)
  • Food was logged closely in the first study to ensure the subjects were taking on an adequate amount of protein for positive nitrogen retention and muscle anabolism (in the second study, participants were told to simply continue with regular dietary habits).

ref. Roberts MD et al. Effects of arachidonic acid supplementation on training adaptations in resistance-trained males. 2007. []

None of the above implies foul play by any means, but it makes for an interesting comparison.

Where protein intake was NOT monitored, along with a higher dose of ARA and more recovery time for the major muscle groups between training sessions, a more significant positive correlation was demonstrated between ARA and muscle growth.

This could look like a case of a company taking a trial-and-error approach to the research until they get the desirable result.

Or, it could simply be that the 1.5 grams of ARA and longer adaptation time are key factors. And surely men who have been serious about bodybuilding for at least 2 years have got their nutrition dialled in!

In the very least, it’s difficult to draw hard conclusions as to ARA’s bodybuilding benefits when the two main studies contradict one another.

What About Side Effects?

doctorThe dose of ARA involved in the study is far above the RDA from dietary intake alone. Whether this has deleterious effects is up for scientific debate. However, long term use could have some feedback side effects that are undesirable.

Arachidonic Acid is tightly associated with an inflammatory response. In our first article, we highlighted the fact that inflammation is essential for muscle recovery, but may also be negative when outside its normal parameters.

The long term effects of such chronic inflammation have not been studied extensively, and so it remains to be seen – perhaps through user experience – as to whether it is cause for concern.

One concern with any product which encourages inflammation is its effect on certain cancers prone to worsening through such activity. Again there is no firm basis for this concern as of yet but it is unwise to use a supplement of this type if you are suffering from prostate cancer, or any other similar type.

The jury is still out as to the impact on cognitive decline or improvement. ARA may possibly increase markers for Alzheimer’s, but also, paradoxically, improve cognitive function in elderly people.

In this case it might be the dosage which ends up being the critical factor, however, studies are only beginning to increase awareness of what the dosage limits might be.

Arachidonic Acid in Conclusion

Recent research has demonstrated that ARA promotes inflammation, which provides benefits to muscle strength, power and size.

Somewhat in contrast to other studies, the most recent one may have shown more accurately what type of dosage and training regime may be required to get the most from the supplement.

Caution is advised, however, as both research and anecdotal data are in their early days. The supplement industry is largely unregulated and by no means do a couple of well performed clinical trials imply chronic use is totally without risk.

The effects of long term use have not been qualified or quantified and so anyone looking to use ARA as a bodybuilding supplement is advised to approach it in much the same manner as many of the other ‘unknowns’ in the industry: on a cycle by cycle basis.

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