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Palm oil (Elaeis guineensis)

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Also listed as: Red palm oil, Palm kernel oil, Elaeis guineensis
Related terms
Background
Evidencetable
Tradition
Dosing
Safety
Interactions
Attribution
Bibliography

Related Terms
  • Alpha-carotene, alpha-tocopherol, antioxidant, Arecaceae (family), babassu, beta-carotene, Betapol®, beta-sitosterol, campesterol, Caromin®, carotene, carotenoids, Carotino®, CholesteForm®, coenzyme Q10, Elaeis guineensis, fatty acids, flavonoids, glycolipids, lycopene, magnesium, methyl esters, oil, oleic acid, orbignya, palm fruit, palm kernel oil, palm tree, palmae, palmitic acid, Papuan palm oil, phenolic acids, phospholipids, phytonutrients, phytosterols, Raphia hookeri, red palm oil, SocfatT, SocfatT 4000P, SocfatT 4100P, sterols, stigmasterol, squalene, suji halwa, Tocobeads®, Tocomin®, tocopherols, tocotrienols, ubiquinones, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin K.

Background
  • Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis). Crude or virgin palm oil is called "red palm oil" because of its characteristic dark red color due to the high beta-carotene content. Boiling destroys the carotenoids, causing the oil to lose its color. Two different types of oils may be extracted from the oil palm tree. Palm oil is derived from the fleshy portion of the palm fruit, while palm kernel oil is derived from the seed or the kernel. Palm oil contains mainly palmitic and oleic acids and is about 50% saturated, while palm kernel oil contains mainly lauric acid and is more than 89% saturated. Palm kernel oil does not convey as many health benefits as palm oil due to its higher levels of saturated fat.
  • Palm oil has an important role in the diet and the economies of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. It is estimated that 90% of palm oil produced is used in foods such as margarine, shortening, and mayonnaise. It is commonly used as a cooking and frying oil, although there is evidence that its health benefits are lost during excessive heating or frying. Palm oil is also found in soaps, washing powders, cosmetics, and biodiesel. It is popular in processed foods, because it does not contain cholesterol and requires little or no hydrogenation, a process that produces trans-fatty acids. Many food manufacturers are using palm oil in place of hydrogenated oils in their products and then advertising them as being "trans fat and cholesterol free." However, many people consider palm oil to be unhealthy due to its high saturated fatty acid content.
  • Palm oil is a rich source of antioxidants, including vitamin E (tocopherols and tocotrienols), carotenoids (beta-carotene, lycopene), and coenzyme Q10 and has been proposed as an alternative treatment of vitamin A deficiency for several reasons. Palm oil has been reported to have highly bioconvertible forms of alpha- and beta-carotene and to enhance the bioavailability of beta-carotene. It has also been reported to have a long shelf life and a higher cost-benefit ratio when compared to alternative treatments of vitamin A deficiency, like high-dose vitamin A supplements and the addition of retinyl ester fortificants to food. Supplementation of red palm oil as a capsule or a food fortificant may be effective against malnutrition.
  • Clinical trials have shown that palm oil is effective at treating and preventing vitamin A deficiency. Studies have also been performed to examine the benefits of using palm oil to prevent or treat heart disease, breast inflammation (following childbirth), diarrhea, high cholesterol, and obesity. However, at this time, high-quality human research supporting the use of palm oil for these or other indications are lacking.

Evidence Table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. GRADE *


Evidence suggests that palm oil is as effective as vitamin A for preventing vitamin A deficiency in humans.

A


Early research suggests that palm oil may have antioxidant effects. High-quality trials are needed in this field.

C


Preliminary evidence suggests that palm oil may help prevent atherosclerosis. Further studies are needed in this field.

C


Evidence supporting the use of palm oil for breast inflammation after childbirth is currently lacking. Further studies are needed in this field.

C


Limited evidence suggests that palm oil may have a role in treating diarrhea. Further studies are needed in this field.

C


Study results regarding the effects of palm oil on cholesterol levels are mixed. Further studies are needed in this field.

C


Limited evidence suggests that palm oil may benefit malnourished individuals. Further studies are needed in this field.

C


Evidence supporting the use of palm oil for obesity is currently lacking. High-quality trials are needed in this field.

C
* Key to grades

A: Strong scientific evidence for this use
B: Good scientific evidence for this use
C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use
D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work)
F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)


Tradition / Theory

The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.

  • Alzheimer's disease, antiaging (skin), antidote to poisons, antiparasitic, aphrodisiac (increases sexual desire), blood clot prevention, cancer, cognitive function, diuretic (increases urination), eye problems, food uses, headache, heart disease, high blood pressure, ischemia-reperfusion injury protection, pain relief, rheumatism, skin conditions, stroke, UV-induced erythema prevention/sunburn, wounds.

Dosing

Adults (18 years and older)

  • For high cholesterol, palm oil has been taken by mouth at various doses in a controlled diet for 21-35 days. Fifty-six grams of test fats has been taken by mouth daily as shortbread cookies for three weeks. Palm oil has been taken by mouth in amounts sufficient to provide approximately 20-24% of the dietary energy intake in a weight-maintaining diet for 6-10 weeks. Four capsules of Palmvitee® (50 milligrams of tocotrienol plus 250 grams of palm super olein) have been taken by mouth after breakfast and dinner daily for four weeks. Twenty-five grams of palm oil (12% of total energy intake) has been taken by mouth baked into high-fiber muffins and rusks for four weeks.
  • For obesity, a single meal supplemented with palm oil (29 grams of fat per square meter of body surface area) has been eaten.
  • For vitamin A deficiency, eight milliliters of red palm oil (2,400 micrograms of beta-carotene) has been taken by mouth daily for up to eight weeks. Twelve grams of red palm oil has been taken by mouth daily for six months. Ninety milligrams of beta-carotene as red palm oil concentrate has been taken by mouth, mixed into a serving of black beans in six divided doses over a total of 10 days.

Children (under 18 years old)

  • For vitamin A deficiency, biscuits made with red palm oil have been given to preschool children for 12-24 weeks. Fifteen milliliters of red palm oil has been taken by mouth added to school meals three times weekly for one school year. Five or 10 milliliters of red palm oil has been added to food and taken by mouth six days weekly for seven months. Red palm oil (five milliliters) has been taken by mouth with a standard menu six days weekly for 304 days.

Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.

Allergies

  • Avoid with known allergy or hypersensitivity to Elaeis guineensis, its constituents, or members of the Arecaceae family. Mild allergic symptoms have been reported.
  • Avoid in patients allergic to coconut, due to similarities in allergens.

Side Effects and Warnings

  • Palm oil may also cause carotenosis (also carotenodermia or carotenoderma), a yellow-to-yellow-orange discoloration of the skin.
  • Palm oil may affect blood sugar levels by increasing endogenous glucose production. Caution is advised in patients with diabetes or hypoglycemia, and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may need to be monitored by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.
  • Palm oil may alter blood pressure. Caution is advised in patients taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood pressure.
  • Palm oil may affect bleeding. Caution is advised in patients with bleeding disorders or those taking drugs that may increase the risk of bleeding or blood clotting. Dosing adjustments may be necessary.
  • Use cautiously in patients with abnormal cholesterol levels, due to evidence that palm oil raises cholesterol and triacylglycerol levels under some conditions and lowers it under others (i.e., in healthy humans vs. those with high cholesterol, respectively).
  • Use cautiously in patients with gastrointestinal sensitivities, as palm oil may have caused vomiting, nausea, stomachache, flatulence, and loose stools on rare occasions in clinical trials.
  • Use cautiously in patients with liver problems, as high palm oil levels in the diet may cause liver toxicity.
  • Use cautiously in patients with heart disease, as palmitic acid may increase the risk of heart disease. However, there is also evidence that the antioxidant activity of palm oil may have a role in the prevention of atherosclerosis.
  • Avoid oxidized palm oil. Unlike fresh palm oil, oxidized palm oil induces an adverse lipid profile and reproductive toxicity, and it is toxic to the kidney, lung, liver, and heart.
  • Avoid use of large doses of palm oil in pregnant women, due to the risk of birth defects when vitamin A is consumed in doses greater than the recommended dietary allowance guidelines.
  • Avoid with known allergy or hypersensitivity to Elaeis guineensis, its constituents, or members of the Arecaceae family. Mild allergic symptoms have been reported.
  • Avoid in patients allergic to coconut, due to similarities in allergens.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  • Avoid use of large doses of palm oil in pregnant women, due to the risk of birth defects when vitamin A is consumed in doses greater than the recommend dietary allowance guidelines. There is a lack of high quality scientific information on the use of palm oil in breastfeeding women.

Interactions

Interactions with Drugs

  • Palm oil may affect blood sugar levels by increasing glucose production. Caution is advised when using medications that may also affect blood sugar. Patients taking insulin or drugs for diabetes by mouth should be monitored closely by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.
  • Palm oil may alter blood pressure. Caution is advised in patients taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood pressure.
  • Palm oil may increase the risk of bleeding or blood clotting when taken with drugs that affect bleeding. Some examples include aspirin, anticoagulants (blood thinners) such as warfarin (Coumadin®) or heparin, antiplatelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix®), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) or naproxen (Naprosyn®, Aleve®).
  • Palm oil may also interact with agents used for the heart, agents that affect the immune system, cholesterol-lowering agents, laxatives, and tamoxifen.

Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements

  • Palm oil may affect blood sugar levels by increasing glucose production. Caution is advised when using herbs or supplements that may also affect blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may require monitoring, and doses may need adjustment.
  • Palm oil may alter blood pressure. Caution is advised in patients taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood pressure.
  • Palm oil may increase the risk of bleeding or blood clotting when taken with herbs and supplements that are believed to affect bleeding. Multiple cases of bleeding have been reported with the use of Ginkgo biloba, and fewer cases with garlic and saw palmetto. Numerous other agents may theoretically increase the risk of bleeding or blood clotting, although this has not been proven in most cases.
  • Palm oil may also interact with antioxidants, beta-carotene, cholesterol-lowering herbs and supplements, herbs and supplements used for the heart, herbs and supplements that affect the immune system, laxatives, lycopene, vitamin A, and vitamin E.

Attribution
  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

Bibliography
  1. Bosch V, Aular A, Medina J, et al. [Changes in of plasma lipoproteins after the use of palm oil in the diet of a group healthy adults]. Arch Latinoam Nutr 2002;52(2):145-150.
  2. Canfield LM, Kaminsky RG, Taren DL, et al. Red palm oil in the maternal diet increases provitamin A carotenoids in breastmilk and serum of the mother-infant dyad. Eur J Nutr 2001;40(1):30-38.
  3. Grange AO, Santosham M, Ayodele AK, et al. Evaluation of a maize-cowpea-palm oil diet for the dietary management of Nigerian children with acute, watery diarrhea. Acta Paediatr. 1994;83(8):825-832.
  4. Jackson KG, Robertson MD, Fielding BA, et al. Measurement of apolipoprotein B-48 in the Svedberg flotation rate (S(f))>400, S(f) 60-400 and S(f) 20-60 lipoprotein fractions reveals novel findings with respect to the effects of dietary fatty acids on triacylglycerol-rich lipoproteins in postmenopausal women. Clin Sci (Lond) 2002;103(3):227-237.
  5. Ladeia AM, Costa-Matos E, Barata-Passos R, et al. A palm oil-rich diet may reduce serum lipids in healthy young individuals. Nutrition 2008;24(1):11-15.
  6. Lietz G, Henry CJ, Mulokozi G, et al. Comparison of the effects of supplemental red palm oil and sunflower oil on maternal vitamin A status. Am.J Clin.Nutr. 2001;74(4):501-509.
  7. Sivan YS, Jayakumar YA, Arumughan C, et al. Impact of beta-carotene supplementation through red palm. J Trop.Pediatr 2001;47(2):67-72.
  8. Utarwuthipong T, Komindr S, Pakpeankitvatana V, et al. Small dense low-density lipoprotein concentration and oxidative susceptibility changes after consumption of soybean oil, rice bran oil, palm oil and mixed rice bran/palm oil in hypercholesterolaemic women. J Int Med Res 2009;37(1):96-104.
  9. van Stuijvenberg ME, Dhansay MA, Lombard CJ, et al. The effect of a biscuit with red palm oil as a source of beta-carotene on the vitamin A status of primary school children: a comparison with beta-carotene from a synthetic source in a randomised controlled trial. Eur J Clin Nutr 2001;55(8):657-662.
  10. van Stuijvenberg ME, Faber M, Dhansay MA, et al. Red palm oil as a source of beta-carotene in a school biscuit used to address vitamin A deficiency in primary school children. Int J Food Sci Nutr 2000;51 Suppl:S43-S50.
  11. van Rooyen J, Esterhuyse AJ, Engelbrecht AM et al. Health benefits of a natural carotenoid rich oil: a proposed mechanism of protection against ischaemia/ reperfusion injury. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2008;17 Suppl 1:316-319.
  12. Yli-Jokipii KM, Schwab US, Tahvonen RL, et al. Triacylglycerol molecular weight and to a lesser extent, fatty acid positional distribution, affect chylomicron triacylglycerol composition in women. J Nutr 2002;132(5):924-929.
  13. Zagre NM, Delpeuch F, Traissac P, et al. Red palm oil as a source of vitamin A for mothers and children: impact of a pilot project in Burkina Faso. Public Health Nutr. 2003;6(8):733-742.
  14. Zhang J, Ping W, Chunrong W, et al. Nonhypercholesterolemic effects of a palm oil diet in Chinese adults. J Nutr 1997;127(3):509S-513S.
  15. Zock PL, de Vries JH, Katan MB. Impact of myristic acid versus palmitic acid on serum lipid and lipoprotein levels in healthy women and men. Arterioscler Thromb 1994;14(4):567-575.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)


The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

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