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Oleanolic acid and ursolic acid are triterpenoid compounds that exist widely in food,
medicinal herbs and other plants. This review summarizes the pharmacological studies
on these two triterpenoids. Both oleanolic acid and ursolic acid are effective in
protecting against chemically induced liver injury in laboratory animals. Oleanolic
acid has been marketed in China as an oral drug for human liver disorders. The mechanism
of hepatoprotection by these two compounds may involve the inhibition of toxicant
activation and the enhancement of the body defense systems. Oleanolic acid and ursolic
acid have also been long-recognized to have antiinflammatory and antihyperlipidemic
properties in laboratory animals, and more research is warranted to develop a therapy
for patients. Recently, both compounds have been noted for their antitumor-promotion
effects, which are stimulating additional research in this field. Oleanolic acid and
ursolic acid are relatively non-toxic, and have been used in cosmetics and health
products. The possible mechanisms for the pharmacological effects and the prospects
for these two compounds are discussed.