Overview of arachidonic acid

The following is taken from William Llewellyn’s Sport Supplement Reference Guide. It is exclusive content and may not be distributed, copied or transfered elsewhere under any conditions without permission from the author.


Molecular Nutrition X-Factor Supplement (aka Arachidonic Acid) was a supplement that shocked the industry and pushed the boundaries of innovation. Here, William Llewellyn provides a comprehensive overview on this wonderful discovery, its potential for muscle gain, enhanced anaerobic performance and any potential side effects.


Performance Validation Scores

Combined = 10/10

Clinical Support Rating = 5/5

Empirical Evidence Rating = 5/5




Arachidonic Acid (ARA) is an omega-6 essential fatty acid (EFA). It is found in a variety of foods, most notably meats such as chicken, beef, duck, and lamb. In the body, ARA serves as a precursor to several hormone-like compounds including prostaglandins, leukotrienes, lipoxins, thromboxanes, and epoxyeicosatrienoic acids. This makes ARA integral to many important biological functions including development, nutrient metabolism, neurological activity, immunity, inflammation, insulin signaling, bone mineral density, and vascular homeostasis. Arachidonic Acid is also necessary for the adaptive 9growth) response to training. In sports nutrition, arachidonic acid is widely used to increase muscle mass and strength, and improve performance in power-based sports.


The role of arachidonic acid in the process of muscle growth is not fully understood, although it is known to involve several levels of action. much of its activity appears to be mediated by its conversion to the prostaglandins PGE2 and PGF2a within skeletal muscles. These prostaglandins can shift local physiology in several ways that favor muscle anabolism. To begin with, they (principally PGF2a) increase the rate of protein synthesis. This may be due in part to an enhanced local sensitivity to anabolic hormones such as IFG-1, testosterone, and insulin. prostaglandins may also support the satellite cell cycle, especially satellite cell profliferation. This too is integral to muscle hypertrophy. Additionally, prostaglandins enhance nitiric-oxide-mediated vasodilation, which can increase blood flow and nutrient delivery to the muscles, potentially aiding recovery.


Arachidonic Acid does not exist in an entirely free state in the body, and has a high affinity for storage in muscle cell membrane phospholipids. It remains bound in these phospholipids until released (and then activated) by certain stimuli. The stretching of muscle fibers during physical activity and exercise serves as a primary trigger for the release of ARA from muscle fibers, as well as its local conversion to PGE2 and PGFa. Given that prostaglandins are rapidly broken down in circulation, their actions are also much more localized than systemic (whole-body). This allows arachidonic acid (through prostaglandins) to direct anabolic activity specifically to those local damaged tissues in need of repair. It may also explain why targeted resistance training is necessary to elict a significant overall muscle-building effect (only the trained muscles tend to grow).


Regular exercise has been shown to lower the concentration of arachidonic acid in muscle tissue. It has also been shown to reduce active prostaglandin synthesis during training. Given how closely prostaglandins are tied to muscle growth, ARA reductions may work to diminish the anabolic response. Athletes with arachidonic acid depletion may, likewise, have a harder time triggering or maintaining an anabolic metabolism than those with normal levels. The supplementation of arachidonic acid has been shown to effectively increase phospolipid ARA storage. It may take a couple of weeks to siginificantly increase concentrations, however, suggesting that this nutrient has a loading period, somewhat similar to creatine.


Arachidonic Acid appears to have a very basic and central role in protein synthesis and muscle growth. Tissue concentrations of arachidonic acid can also be effectively increased with supplementation, suggesting a tangible ability for individuals to manipulate this rate-limiting step in the anabolic process. This seems to be in line with clinical and empirical evidence in support of a measurable ergogenic response to ARA supplementation. Presently, arachidonic acid appears to be a promising supplement for healthy individuals undergound resistance training, or athletes in anaerobic / power sports. Whether or not arachidonic acid supplementation has any ergogenic effects in prolonged endurance exercise remains unknown.


Promoted Benefits


Arachidonic acid is promoted to increase muscle size, strength, and performance during anaerobic / power activities.


Clinical Studies


This ingredient has been shown to improve performance in placebo-controlled studies with trained adults. Its Clinical Support Rating is 5 (5/5).


Arachidonic acid has been the subject of one placebo controlled study examining its effects on exercise performance. It involved the administration of 1,000mg per day (X-Factor) for 50 days to a group of experienced resistance-trained men. All subjects followed a controlled resistance-training program over the 50-day period, and were evaluated before, during and after supplementation for changes in body composition, strength, and anaerobic performance. The use of arachidonic acid resulted in a statistically significant increase in peak anaerobic power (+600%) compard to placebo. There were also statistically strong trends of improvement in other markers of exercise performance including a 44% increase in bench press 1-rep max lift, a 223% increase in average anaerobic power, and a 250% increase in muscle endurance compared to placebo. While the arachidonic acid group did gain more lean muscle mass than the placebo group over the course of the study, the statistical associations were too weak to draw any conclusions.


These results support the use of arachidonic acid as an ergogenic aid with resistance training and anaerobic / power sports. Further research is needed to validate and better understand the full ergogenic potential of this omega-6 essential fatty acid when supplemented by exercising adults.


Empirical Evidence


Arachidonic acid is widely available as a stand-alone nutritional supplement. The feedback on its use as a sport supplement has been strongly positive. ARA has become fairly popular with weight training individuals, and is usually said to impart a distinct anabolic effect. One informal trial of the supplement among members of a popular online community for bodybuilders found an average gain of about seven pounds following 50-days use. While the total weight gain with arachidonic acid appears to be in line with that of creatine supplementation for many users, it may involve more substantial protein (and thus tissue) retention in comparison (ARA does not appear to have the same osmotic effect on cells). Some users do fail to notice significant gains with arachidonic acid supplementation, even when taking the nutrient during active resistance training. Whether this is due to an individual insensitivity to the supplement, or particular applications in which it is, and is not, metabolically useful remains unclear. For the sake of disclosure, I was responsible for the development of ARA as a sports nutrition product, and could be regarded as having some bias. Overall, arachidonic acid has an Empirical Evidence Rating of 5 (5/5).


Effective Dosage


Based on clinical studies, a dosage of 1,000mg per day is recommended. manufacturers commonly recommend 200-1,000mg per day. Arachidonic acid is generally taken for a maximum of eight weeks, followed by an equal period of time off (cycled).


Side Effects / Safety


Arachidonic acid (in dosages of 1,000-1,500 mg per day for 50 days) has been well tolerated during several clinical studies, with no significant side effects reported. All common markers of health including kidney and liver function, serum lipids, immunity, and platelet aggregation appear to be unaffected with this level and duration of use. Furtheremore, higher concentrations of ARA in muscle tissue may be correlated with improved insulin sensitivity. Arachidonic acid supplementation by healthy adults appears to offer no toxicity or significant safety risk.


Many users do report an increase in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after exercise while taking arachidonic acid. Recovery may also be slightly delayed. this is generally regarded as a direct and expected effect of supplementation, however, rather than a side effect (potentially indicating an intensified anabolic response). A small percentage of users also notice dermatological issues (oily skin, acne), which may be related to increased androgen sensitivity.


Arachidonic acid supplementation under recommended guidelines by healthy individuals should not result in a pro-inflammatory effect. ARA is metabolized to a series of both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflamatory compounds. Studies administering dosages between 840mg and 2,000mg of this fatty acid per day have shown no increase in markers of inflammation. Increased arachidonic acid levels in the body actually tend to be associated with lower levels of pro-inflammatory IL-6 and IL-1, and higher levels of anti-inflammatory tumor-necrosis factor-beta. This may reduce inflammation under some conditions.


Arachidonic acid does still play a central role in inflammation related to many diseased states. How it is metabolized in the body dictates its inflammatory or anti-inflammatory activity. Individuals suffering from joint pains or inflammatory disease may find that arachidonic acid exacerbates symptoms, probably because it is being more readily converted to inflammatory compounds due to the condition. Likewise, arachidonic acid supplementation is not advised for individuals with a history of inflammatory disease, or that are in compromised health. It is also of note that while ARA supplementation does not appear to have pro-inflammatory effects in healthy individuals, it may counter the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 EFA supplementation.

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