encyclopedia

Safflower Oil

Scientific Names:
Carthamus tinctorius L. [Fam. Compositae]

Forms:
Organic safflower oil expeller-pressed in the absence of light, heat and oxygen.

Traditional Usage:
– Baldness

– Cholesterol

– Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency

– Hair Loss

– Nutritive

Overview:
Safflower, Carthamus tinctorius L. [Fam. Compositae], is thought to be native to Iran and northwestern India, and possibly Africa, and is also found in North America and the Far East. Unpurified safflower seed oil is purgative. However, refined safflower oil makes a pleasant-tasting culinary oil. Safflower oil is extremely rich (approximately 77%) in polyunsaturated linoleic acid (omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)), and also contains 10% saturated fats and 13% oleic acid (omega-9s – monosaturates). The oil also contains high levels of Vitamin E (43mg/100g), alpha-tocopherol (34.1mg/100g) and phytosterols (444mg/100g). Safflower oil can be used to prevent and treat EFA deficiencies in the diet. Dr. James Duke in The Green Pharmacy notes one study that found that switching from other oils to safflower oil for eight weeks reduced total serum cholesterol levels by 9 to 15 percent and LDL cholesterol by 12 to 20 percent. According to Dr. Duke, safflower is also considered a vasodilator, a substance that causes blood vessels to open up. He notes that Chinese physicians believe that safflower helps nutrients get to hair follicles and recommends using the oil as a scalp treatment or grinding up a few tablespoons of whole seeds and adding the powder to an herbal shampoo. In East India, safflower oil is also used as the base of some Ayurvedic medicinal body oils. However, for culinary purposes, because safflower oil contains no omega-3 EFAs, it should be combined with omega-3-rich oils. Too much omega-6 in the absence of adequate omega-3 favors the production of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and fuels inflammatory diseases. One study showed that safflower oil, when given to animals exposed to toxic chemicals, increased the formation of abnormal growths (as did corn oil), whereas flaxseed oil prevented the formation of any abnormal growths, followed closely by fish oil and evening primrose oil.

Active Ingredients:
Safflower oil contains: According to Carper (1993) safflower oil contains 77% Linoleic acid omega-6 essential fatty acid (polyunsaturates); 13% oleic acid Omega 9s (monosaturates) and 10% saturated fatty acids. The Nutrient Units Value per 100 grams of edible portion (Proximates) are: Total lipid (fat) 100.00g; Vitamin E (ATE) 43.1mg; Tocopherol, alpha 34.1mg; Fatty acids, total saturated 6.2g; 16:0 4.3g; 18:0 1.91g; Fatty acids, total monounsaturated 14.4g; 18:1 undifferentiated 14.4g; Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated 74.6g; 18:2 undifferentiated 74.6g. Cholesterol 0mg; Phytosterols 444mg. [USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 14 (July 2001)].

Suggested Amount:
Take one to two tablespoons of oils rich in essential fatty acids per day. It is best to take safflower oil blended with flaxseed oil or other oils rich in omega-3 EFAs in order to have an EFA-balanced oil for the diet. Safflower oil can be used to make pleasant tasting culinary oils for salad dressings and other foods.

Drug Interactions:
None known.

Contraindications:
None known.

Side Effects:

Safflower oil, taken as a part of a well balanced diet, does not cause any side effects. However, researchers now understand that an excess of omega-6 EFA’s in the diet increases the incidence of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and obesity. All of these diseases are associated with hyperinsulinemia (HI) and insulin resistance (IR) and are grouped together as the insulin resistance syndrome or syndrome X. There is also an increased cancer incidence and mortality rate, especially in women. Researchers conclude that, “high omega-6 linoleic acid consumption might aggravate HI and IR; such diets, rather than being beneficial, may have some long-term side effects within the cluster of hyperinsulinemia, atherosclerosis and tumorigenesis”. Excesses of omega-6 EFA’s also promote high blood levels of estradiol. High circulating estrogen levels in the blood tend to increase insulin levels and this reduces blood sugar. Low blood sugar leads to irritability and this is one of the main problems with PMS. Thus, excess omega-6 EFA in the diet is linked to estrogen dominance, hyperinsulinemia, PMS and many other diseases.

Recent Clinical Trial Results:

Abnormal fatty acid metabolism may contribute to clinical problems such as itching, abnormal perspiration, susceptibility to infection, delayed wound healing, anemia, and increased hemolysis, as seen in patients with chronic renal (kidney) failure. A double-blind study of patients on hemodialysis who received either fish oil, olive oil, or safflower oil documented that patients may have increased levels of the proinflammatory prostaglandin PGE2 and that fish oil intervention may decrease these levels, change the fatty acid profile, improve hematocrit levels, and improve patient perception of symptoms of pruritus.

More Study Results Suggesting Caution with Excess Omega-6 EFA:

In a number of diseases, plasma levels of linoleic acid are normal or elevated while those of gamma-linolenic acid (18:3n-6, GLA) and further metabolites are below normal. Evening primrose oil (EPO), similar to safflower oil (SFO) except that it contains 8-9% of 18:3n-6, has been proposed as a therapeutic agent in these diseases, such as atopic eczema. There is argument as to whether an appropriate placebo for clinical studies on EPO should be an inert material such as paraffin, or a linoleic acid–containing oil such as SFO. We have therefore compared in normal humans the effects on plasma fatty acids of administering EPO, SFO and paraffin for 10 days. Paraffin had no effect on any fatty acid in any fraction. EPO raised the level of 20:3n-6 (dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid, DGLA) the immediate metabolite of GLA but had no significant effect on arachidonic acid. In surprising contrast, SFO raised the levels of linoleic and of arachidonic acids, without raising those of DGLA. This suggests that linoleic acid may be rapidly converted to arachidonic acid by a tightly linked enzyme sequence: GLA, in contrast, may be rapidly converted to DGLA but then only slowly on to arachidonic acid. These results are consistent with recent in vitro observations by others on rat hepatocytes and human fibroblasts. [Horrobin DF, Ells KM, Morse-Fisher N, Manku MS. 1991. The effects of evening primrose oil, safflower oil and paraffin on plasma fatty acid levels in humans: choice of an appropriate placebo for clinical studies on primrose oil. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 1991 Apr; 42(4): 245-9].

References:

Carper, J. 1993. Food Your Miracle Medicine. HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, New York 10022-5299. Pp. 12; 51; 57; 219; 264; 335; 384; 437; 446.

Duke, J. 1997: The Green Pharmacy, The Ultimate Compendium of Natural Remedies from the World’s Foremost Authority on Healing and Herbs. Pp. 98-99; 317-318. Rodale Press.

Erasmus, U. 1993: Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill. Published by Alive Books, Burnaby, B.C., Canada. pp. 1-456.

Peck LW. 1997. Essential fatty acid deficiency in renal failure: can supplements really help? J Am Diet Assoc. 1997 Oct; 97(10 Suppl 2): S150-3. Review.

Yam, Eliraz and Berry 1996: Diet and disease–the Israeli paradox: possible dangers of a high omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid diet. Israel Journal of Medical Sciences 2(11): 1134-43.