The Health Benefits of Ferulic Acid

This plant-based compound is said to fight aging and certain diseases

Bowls of oat bran and oat bran flakes
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Ferulic acid is an organic compound found in the cell walls of certain plants. Rich in antioxidants such as vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E, ferulic acid is most often found in anti-aging skin creams, where is it believed to neutralize free radicals that damage and age cells.

Ferulic acid can also be taken by mouth as a dietary supplement. Practitioners of alternative medicine believe that doing so can prevent or treat high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and other diseases influenced by oxidative stress.

The ferulic acid found in supplements is generally derived from cereal grains, but it can also be found to vegetables, fruits, seeds, and beans.

Ferulic acid can be found in high concentrations in certain herbal products used in traditional Chinese medicine, including dong quai (Angelica sinesis), sheng ma (Cimicifuga heracleifolia), and chuan xiong (Ligusticum chuangxiong).

Health Benefits

Ferulic acid is best known for its skin-protective properties. When applied topically, ferulic acid is said to treat sun damage and reverse the signs of aging (including fine lines and wrinkles).

Ferulic acid is less commonly taken as an oral supplement but is believed by some to enhance athletic performance and slow the aging process. In addition, ferulic acid is sometimes used to prevent or treat certain health conditions, including:

The research supporting the use of ferulic acid is generally weak. To date, there is little evidence that ferulic acid can slow aging or effectively treat any medical condition.

That is not to say that ferulic acid is entirely without benefits. Here is what some of the current research says:

Skin Protection

While few studies have tested ferulic acid's effects on the skin, there is some evidence that it may prevent—or, at the very least, reduce—the damage caused by excessive sun exposure.

According to a 2013 study published in PLoS One, a topical ointment containing ferulic acid and vitamin E reduced the number of skin lesions by around 20% in mice exposed to intense ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. When used on its own, vitamin E actually increased the number of lesions by roughly 15%.

Though this may seem to suggest that ferulic acid can reverse sun damage, the researchers never included mice tested with ferulic acid alone. As such, the study can only suggest that ferulic acid may reduce the harm that vitamin E can cause on severely sun-damaged skin. Further research is needed.

High Blood Pressure

Ferulic acid may help lower blood pressure, suggests a 2013 study in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology. According to the investigators, hypertensive rats treated with ferulic acid for eight weeks experienced a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure, along with improved blood flow to the kidneys and reduced stiffness in the left ventricle in the heart (where blood is pumped to the body through the aorta).

Despite the positive finding, it is unclear if the same effect can be achieved in humans. Moreover, it is unknown if the dose used in rats (50 milligrams per kilogram) would be safe in humans given that a 150-pound man would need to take no less than 3,400 milligrams per day.

Diabetes

Ferulic acid may provide better control of diabetes by alleviating inflammation in the pancreas (where insulin is produced) and the liver (where blood sugars are stored).

According to a 2012 study in the European Journal of Pharmacology, the combination of ferulic acid and resveratrol (another plant-based antioxidant) increased the activity of a compound known as nuclear factor-kB (NF-kB) in mice. Among its many functions, NF-kB plays a critical role in cellular inflammation. By reducing inflammation in the liver and pancreas, the scientists concluded that the combined agents have distinct anti-diabetic properties.

Despite the positive results, it is unclear how effective ferulic acid is on its own, and how these effects might translate to actual decreases in blood glucose levels. More research is needed.

Similar studies have suggested that ferulic acid may improve glucose tolerance in people on the anti-diabetes drug metformin.

Alzheimer's Disease

Alternative practitioners have long asserted that ferulic acid can improve cognitive function in people with Alzheimer's by reducing the oxidative stress that promotes the formation of brain plaques.

According to a 2019 study in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, mice genetically altered to develop cerebral amyloidosis (brain plaques) were treated with a combination of ferulic acid and a plant-based compound known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). After 15 months of treatment, the supplements appeared to reverse cognitive impairment in most learning and memory tests.

Despite the positive findings, there was no evidence that ferulic acid and EGCG were able to stop or reverse the development of amyloidosis. It is also unknown what effect the individual agents had on cognitive impairment. Further research is needed.

Cervical Cancer

There is evidence that ferulic acid may slow the growth of cervical cancer tumors, suggests a 2018 study in Cancer Cell International.

According to the research, ferulic acid is able to stunt the growth of cervical cancer cells in the test tube by inhibiting mitosis (cell division). This further helped reduce the cancer cells' ability to invade normal cervical cells. Higher ferulic acid concentrations conferred to better results.

What ferulic acid was unable to do was induce apoptosis (programmed cell death), meaning that it may help control cervical cancer rather than treat it. Further research is needed.

Possible Side Effects

Ferulic acid serums and creams are generally safe for most skin types. People with sensitive skin may not tolerate the products as well and experience mild redness and irritation.

People allergic to bran or oatmeal may experience an allergic reaction to ferulic acid serums derived from these sources. Symptoms tend to be mild and may include redness, swelling, itching, rash, and peeling.

Before using ferulic acid serum, test some on a small patch of skin and wait 24 hours to see if rash or other allergy symptoms appear.

Little is know about the long-term safety of ferulic acid when taken by mouth. As an organic compound derived from food, ferulic acid is presumed to be safe, although it is unknown to what point you can overdose on a supplement.

It is also unknown what drug interactions may occur and at what doses. By way of example, a 2013 study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that ferulic acid increased the blood concentration of the anticoagulant Plavix (clopidogrel) in mice, increasing the risk of bleeding and bruising.

It is unknown if ferulic acid derived from wheat may trigger reactions in people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Given the lack of research, it is important to let your doctor know if you are taking or planning to take ferulic acid so that side effects and interactions can be monitored. The safety of ferulic acid in children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers has not been established.

Dosage and Preparation

Ferulic acid skincare products are found online as well as in many drugstores and higher-end cosmetic counters. Many of these products are co-formulated with other antioxidants, such as vitamin A, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol).

While some ferulic acid serums are sold as a luxury skincare products with an accordingly hefty price tag, there is no evidence that they any work better than less expensive products with the same ingredients.

Ferulic acid supplements can also be found online and in certain drugstores and shops specializing in dietary supplements.

There are no guidelines for the appropriate use of ferulic acid supplements. Most are sold as 250-milligram tablets taken once daily with or without food. As a rule of thumb, never exceed the recommended dose on the product label. There is no evidence that higher doses confer to better results in humans.

If you intend to use ferulic acid for health purposes, speak with your doctor to see if there are other, more appropriate treatment options. Ferulic acid should never be used as a substitute for the drugs standardly used to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, or any other chronic medical condition.

What to Look For

Because dietary supplements are not strictly regulated in the United States, the quality can vary from one brand to the next. To ensure quality and safety, opt for brands that have been independently tested by a recognized certifying body like the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF International.

In addition, always read the product label to check for added ingredients you may be allergic to. This is especially true of serums rich in vitamin E, which can cause contact dermatitis in some. The same applies to oral supplements made with wheat fillers which may affect people with gluten intolerance.

Ferulic acid serums and powders intended for skincare use should never be taken internally.

Other Questions

What are the best food sources of ferulic acid?

Ferulic acid is found in many grains, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Cooking can often increase the amount of ferulic acid in foods (particularly grains) by breaking down the cellular compartments where it is stored. Among some of the foods rich in ferulic acid are:

  • Apple seeds
  • Barley
  • Bran
  • Citrus fruits
  • Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Flaxseed bread
  • Navy beans
  • Oatmeal
  • Popcorn
  • Rice
  • Rice bran oil
  • Rye bread

Compared to ferulic acid supplements, ferulic acid derived from food has greater bioavailability as more is readily absorbed in the intestine. By contrast, free ferulic acid (unbound to the plant cells) is largely insoluble and poorly absorbed.

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  1. Nankar R, Prabhakar PK, Doble M. Hybrid drug combination: Combination of ferulic acid and metformin as anti-diabetic therapy. Phytomedicine. 2017 Dec 15;37:10-13. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2017.10.015

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