Red Palm Oil

May 20, 2013 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Red palm oil (RPO) has been in the news lately because of a positive expose on The Dr. Oz Show. In the segment entitled, The 13 Miracle Solutions of 2013, RPO was touted as a veritable “miracle oil” primarily because it’s a rich source of antioxidants, such as carotenoids and tocotrienols, which are a potent and rare form of Vitamin E. How might this benefit your health? According to Dr. Oz and his guest, Bryce Wylde, just two tablespoons of RPO daily reduces the risk of heart attacks and stroke by clearing away arterial plaque. They go on to claim that RPO also slows the aging process by protecting the brain from neurodegeneration and skin from damage caused UV radiation. As if that wasn’t enough, apparently RPO can also increase your calorie burning potential or metabolic rate. All this for around “$14 per jar”. What a bargain!

RPO differs from refined palm oil in that it is extracted from the fruit of the palm tree rather than the kernel of the fruit. Palm (kernel) oil is predominantly composed of saturated fat (about 80%) and has an off-white appearance. In contrast, red palm (fruit) oil is an evenly divided mixture of saturated and unsaturated fat. Carotenoids, richly pigmented antioxidants found in many fruits and vegetables, provide the orange-reddish hue found in the flesh of the palm fruit and resulting oil.

In order to evaluate the assertions made on The Dr. Oz Show, I examined the latest studies published in the scientific literature. On the positive side of the spectrum, red palm oil is an abundant source of beta carotene or pro-vitamin A and, therefore, effectively addresses vitamin A deficiency. RPO also appears to mitigate heart disease progression and stroke damage according to several animal trials. What’s less impressive is RPO’s limited track record in studies involving human subjects. In human trials, RPO hasn’t shown much promise in the management of cardiovascular risk factors or health promotion in general. Rather, it seems to be comparable, at best, to other dietary fats such as olive oil. In addition, much of the positive press attributed to RPO is based on preliminary research using palm tocotrienol supplements. In my opinion, this is a distortion of the data. RPO does, in fact, contain tocotrienols. But, the amount of tocotrienols naturally found in RPO is much smaller than the quantity present in concentrated palm tocotrienol supplements used in the clinical trials.

Here’s my bottom line: If you want to improve your vitamin A status, I suggest eating more bell peppers, butternut squash, kale, pumpkin and spinach instead of taking RPO. These are better, more nutritious sources of beta carotene. If you’re interested in the promise of tocotrienol therapy, which has some basis in the medical literature, opt for concentrated palm tocotrienol supplements – instead of RPO. Lastly, prior to buying red palm oil or palm tocotrienols, inquire about the sustainability practices involved in the production of the oil and supplements in question. Commercial palm fruit cultivation can be devastating to the environment and surrounding communities. Some reputable manufacturers, such as Carotech, have taken steps to ensure they aren’t part of the sometimes destructive process of growing and harvesting palm fruit. As always, buyer beware.

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 - Palm Fruit Chemistry and Nutrition (link)

Study 2 - Moving from Efficacy to Effectiveness: Red Palm Oil’s Role in (link)

Study 3 - Dietary Red Palm Oil Supplementation Decreases Infarct Size in(link)

Study 4 – The Effect of Dietary Red Palm Oil on the Functional Recovery of … (link)

Study 5 - Dietary Red Palm Oil Reduces Ischaemia-Reperfusion Injury in Rats … (link)

Study 6 - The Effect of Red Palm Olein and Refined Palm Olein on Lipids and (link)

Study 7 – Milk Cytokines & Subclinical Breast Inflammation in Tanzanian Women (link)

Study 8 - Comparison of Palmolein and Olive Oil: Effects on Plasma Lipids (link)

Study 9 - Lowering of Serum Cholesterol in Hypercholesterolemic Humans (link)

Study 10 - Multifaceted Role of Tocotrienols in Cardioprotection Supports Their (link)

Red Palm Oil Reduces Heart Attack Severity in Animals

Source: Lipids Health Dis. 2011; 10: 103. (link)

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Posted in Food and Drink, Heart Health, Nutrition

7 Comments & Updates to “Red Palm Oil”

  1. tess Says:

    oops — you pushed one of my buttons and now i have to speak up…. ;-)

    if you want to improve your vitamin A status, you may have to consume actual VITAMIN A. over 40% of the population seems to have trouble converting beta-carotenes (i’m one of them). pre-formed vitamin A only comes from animal foods.

  2. JP Says:

    Good point, Tess. Thank you!

    Be well!

    JP

  3. Eric Gumpricht, Ph.D. Says:

    Tess,

    I’m a nutrition scientist well versed in metabolism including the carotenoid. Could you provide a citation that 40% have an inefficient 15, 15′-dioxygenase activity? Is it due to a widespread SNP?

    JP,

    Nice write-up. The tocotrienols are really quite amazing. Just need to get it better retained in the body! (Damn alpha tocopherol-transfer protein!).

  4. JP Says:

    Thank you, Eric.

    These studies may be of interest re: beta carotene and vitamin A conversion:

    http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/75/5/900.long

    http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/66/2/315.long

    http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/71/6/1545.long

    I agree that tocotrienol bioavailability is an issue. Here’s what a recent review stated:

    “Although affinity between α-TPP and tocotrienols is low, it has been shown that tocotrienols orally administered to humans are absorbed from the intestine to the blood, and plasma tocotrienol concentration reaches about 1 μM (Fairus et al.) Of note, such circulating level of tocotrienols is almost an order of magnitude higher than that required to protect neurons against a range of neurotoxic insults in cell culture studies (Khanna et al.)

    Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3250529/

    Be well!

    JP

  5. rob Says:

    Anything thats touted as a miracle never lives up to that hype, but
    I use RPO in my morning coffee along with some coconut oil and some ghee and gets me through my morning.

  6. JP Says:

    Hi Rob,

    Wow! That sounds like an interesting, powerful combination! I often add coconut milk to my morning coffee. Tastes good and I’m quite impressed by the recent research on unrefined coconut products.

    Be well!

    JP

  7. JP Says:

    Update: RPO is an effective means of increasing carotenoid intake …

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4321850/

    Mediators Inflamm. 2015;2015:817127.

    Supplementation with red palm oil increases β-carotene and vitamin A blood levels in patients with cystic fibrosis.

    Patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) show decreased plasma concentrations of antioxidants due to malabsorption of lipid soluble vitamins and consumption by chronic pulmonary inflammation. β-Carotene is a major source of retinol and therefore is of particular significance in CF. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of daily intake of red palm oil (RPO) containing high amounts of β-carotene on the antioxidant levels in CF patients. Sixteen subjects were recruited and instructed to enrich their food with 2 to 3 tablespoons of RPO (~1.5 mg of β-carotene) daily over 8 weeks. Carotenoids, retinol, and α-tocopherol were measured in plasma at baseline and after intervention. In addition β-carotene, lycopene, α-tocopherol, and vitamin C were measured in buccal mucosa cells (BMC) to determine the influence of RPO on antioxidant tissue levels. Eleven subjects completed the study properly. Plasma β-carotene, retinol, and α-carotene of these patients increased, but plasma concentrations of other carotenoids and α-tocopherol as well as concentrations of β-carotene, lycopene, α-tocopherol, and vitamin C in BMC remained unchanged. Since RPO on a daily basis did not show negative side effects the data suggest that RPO may be used to elevate plasma β-carotene in CF.

    Be well!

    JP

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