What is Arachidonic Acid?

Arachidonic-acid-40-Oil-and-10-PowderI’m always interested when I hear about new supplements that might have beneficial effects, especially for weight training and muscle gain. When my doctor recommend lipitor because of high cholesterol, I used supplements to lower my cholesterol to the point where lipitor was no longer indicated.

So when a buddy at work asked me if I’d ever heard of arachidonic acid, and told me the results of some of the studies, I was interested.

So here’s the skinny on arachidonic acid…

Arachidonic acid (ARA) is a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid structurally related to the saturated arachidic acid found in peanut oil found in the the phospholipids of membranes of the body’s cells. It is particularly abundant in the brain, muscles, liver and skeletal muscle, which  accounts for 10-20% of the phospholipid fatty acid content. Arachidonic acid is a key inflammatory intermediate and can also act as a vasodilator.

It is not an essential fatty acids, meaning that the human body is capable of synthesizing it. It does require the presence of linoleic acid. A lack of linolic acid or the inability to convert linoleic acid into arachidonic acid means is must be acquired through the diet, primarily through the consumption of meat. 

Muscle Growth

Arachidonic acid promotes the repair and growth of skeletal muscle via conversion to prostaglandin PGF2alpha after physical exercise. PGF2alpha promotes muscle protein synthesis similar to leucine, beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyric acid, and phosphatidic acid.

Arachidonic acid is marketed as an anabolic supplement. Supplementation with arachidonic acid at the dosage of 1,500mg per day for 8 weeks has been shown to increase lean body mass, strength, and anaerobic power in experienced resistance-trained men.

In a University of Tampa study, thirty men aged 18 – 22 took arachidonic acid or a placebo for 8 weeks and participated in a controlled resistance-training program. After 8 weeks, lean body mass had increased significantly in the arachidonic acid group when compared to the placebo group. There were also corresponding increases in muscle thickness and anaerobic power, as well as an increase in total strength that was significantly greater in the ARA group. These results indicate ARA supplementation can increase strength and skeletal muscle hypertrophy in resistance-trained men.

Another study examined the effects of 1,000 mg daily for 50 days and determined supplementation enhanced anaerobic capacity and performance. The conclusion was that ARA supplementation during resistance-training promoted significant increases in peak power with other performance related variables approaching significance. These findings support the use of AA as an ergogenic.

How does Arachidonic Acid Work?

Normally, arachidonic acid is stored in the muscle tissue and gets released from muscle cell membranes when you inflict muscle damage through the normal wear and tear the comes along with hard training.

When your body breaks down free ARA, it can result in the normal and familiar post-training inflammation and pain. However, this also signals the body to start repairing damaged tissue. Supplementing with ARA can initiate this process, even in the absence of muscle damage.

Without ARA, you can lose the short-term inflammation essential for building new muscle tissue.  Some researchers speculate that low ARA is one of the primary factors contributing to the “plateau” effect in resistance training.

Health Effects of Arachidonic Acid

Daily dosages of 1,000–1,500mg daily for up to 50 days has been well tolerated during several clinical studies, with no significant side effects. Higher concentrations of ARA in muscle tissue may be correlated with improved insulin sensitivity. Arachidonic acid supplementation of the diets of healthy adults appears to offer no toxicity or significant safety risk.

A Baylor University study reported a significant reduction in resting inflammation in young men supplementing 1,000 mg/day of arachidonic acid in combination with resistance training. This suggests supplementation of ARA while undergoing resistance training may improve the regulation of systemic inflammation.

A meta-analysis by Cambridge University reported a significantly reduced risk of heart disease with higher levels of EPA and DHA (Omega-3 fats), as well as the Omega-6 Arachidonic Acid. A scientific advisory from the American Heart Association suggests dietary ARA is not a risk factor for heart disease and may play a role in maintaining optimal metabolism and reduced heart disease risk.

Arachidonic acid is not carcinogenic, and studies show dietary level is not associated (positively or negatively) with risk of cancers. ARA remains integral to the inflammatory and cell growth process, however, which is disturbed in many types of disease including cancer. The safety of arachidonic acid supplementation in patients suffering from cancer, inflammatory, or other diseased states is not recommended.

Available Supplements

As of writing this post, I can’t locate any good arachidonic acid supplements. Although the studies have been done a while, seems as though we’re going to have to wait a bit to see if nutrition catches up. It might be that this is too expensive to make.

I found a supplement on Amazon, but it only offers 350mg per tablet at a 10% concentration, which works out to 35mg per tablet.  That means you’d need to take , so you would need to take 43 daily. Another supplements offers the same dosage.


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