The supplement industry has blown up to over 5,000 companies, operating 10,000 stores, selling over $6 billion in products. That means there’s a crap load of supplements out there, and not all of them are necessarily legit. In this series, we are going to play Supplement Ingredient Inspector, and take a look at what’s out there. We’ll talk about just what these ingredients are, what they do, where you can find them, and examine the research behind them… if any exists.
What is it?
Arachidonic acid is a type of Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid, specifically a 20-carbon carboxylic member of the eicosatetraenoic acids. It is not essential since our bodies can make it from linoleic acid, but it cannot be found in plants, and people with diet restrictions (vegetarians and vegans) can become deficient in this fatty acid. It is involved in many biological pathways and mechanisms in the body, and although is it created from linoleic acid in our bodies it is being commercially manufactured from a fungus for production as a supplement.
Arachidonic acid is an important part of the membranes of cells, and is found in particularly high amounts in the brain, liver and skeletal muscle tissues. It acts as an enzyme signaling messenger and works to do things like signal vasodilation. It also acts as an important intermediary between various inflammatory compounds. It is a precursor to producing many eicosanoids, including prostaglandins and leukotrienes (which control smooth muscle contractions and thromboxanes) which are found in platelets and impact vasoconstriction. Basically, arachidonic acid plays a very important role in regulating our body’s inflammatory response mechanisms.
Arachidonic acid is important for the anabolic process of repair and growth of our skeletal muscle after working out. Sufficient arachidonic acid is vital for the proper recovery and regeneration of damaged muscle tissue, and for creating new muscle tissues via protein synthesis. This whole process is anti-inflammatory in nature, and regulated by prostaglandins, one of the bi-products of arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid is one of the primary compounds that help protect your brain against oxidative stress, and is instrumental in the repair and growth of neurons in your brain. Supplementing with additional arachidonic acid can potentially help with maintaining stellar mental as well as physical health.
Research has shown that ARA deficiencies are associated with many disorders and ailments--for example Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have shown that supplementing with arachidonic acid may help reduce symptoms and slow the development of neurological disorders such as bipolar disorder and Alzheimer’s. Other studies regarding arachidonic acid supplementation and it’s impact on resistance training and the following inflammation have been very promising. One study showed that following workouts, an experimental group demonstrated reduced levels of inflammatory markers while at rest as compared to a control group. Other studies have shown increases in peak power and muscle endurance to go with the improved recovery.
Where can I find it?
Arachidonic acid supplements haven’t quite become mainstream, and the big name brand supplement manufacturers haven’t started carrying a version as of yet. You can find some soft gel supplements on the market from several companies like Molecular Nutrition and Axis Labs, but I would expect more companies to start carrying a version sooner rather than later.
As more research emerges, I expect arachidonic acids to burst onto the scene and become a much more highly touted supplement. The benefits you can see from an anti-inflammatory standpoint are fantastic and the benefits regarding mental health absolutely can’t be overlooked with the prevalence of neurological diseases rising. The supplements you can find on the market at the moment are pretty pricey, and there is slight concern with the fact that it is an Omega-6 fatty acid and can increase the amount of inflammatory compounds in your body along with the anti-inflammatory ones. But since it results in the production of both types, the effects should be mediated and the benefits should outweigh any potential negatives.
I’d say this is something you might want to consider if you are dealing with heavy amounts of inflammation after workouts or if your family has a history of neurological disorders. But at the moment, the price might be prohibitive for most people. Maybe when the supplement industry has picked up on the benefits and demand increases, we will see a drop in the price and it will become more mainstream. If this stuff does everything that research shows it can do, hopefully that will be soon.
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Kelley, DS; Taylor, PC; Nelson, GJ; MacKey, BE (1998). "Arachidonic acid supplementation enhances synthesis of eicosanoids without suppressing immune functions in young healthy men". Lipids 33 (2): 125–30.
Li, B; Birdwell, C; Whelan, J (1994). "Antithetic relationship of dietary arachidonic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid on eicosanoid production in vivo". Journal of lipid research 35 (10): 1869–77.
Roberts, MD; Iosia, M; Kerksick, CM; Taylor, LW; Campbell, B; Wilborn, CD; Harvey, T; Cooke, M et al (2007). "Effects of arachidonic acid supplementation on training adaptations in resistance-trained males". Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 4: 21.
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Nelson, GJ; Schmidt, PC; Bartolini, G; Kelley, DS; Phinney, SD; Kyle, D; Silbermann, S; Schaefer, EJ (1997). "The effect of dietary arachidonic acid on plasma lipoprotein distributions, apoproteins, blood lipid levels, and tissue fatty acid composition in humans". Lipids 32 (4): 427–33.
Wilborn, C, M Roberts, C Kerksick, M Iosia, L Taylor, B Campbell, T Harvey, R Wilson, M. Greenwood, D Willoughby and R Kreider. Changes in whole blood and clinical safety markers over 50 days of concomitant arachidonic acid supplementation and resistance training. Proceedings of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) Conference June 15–17, 2006.
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Peter Bauman – Peter is a chef first and personal trainer second, with a background in the biological sciences and degree in psychology from UC Berkeley. He takes the tactics that work with elite athletes at California Strength—one of the leading athletic training facilities in the country—and helps to apply them to the lives of the Average Joe to get results.