Red palm oil has attracted controversy in recent years — much like coconut oil , but for different reasons.
It has drawn attention for its potential effect on health, but it has also been the subject of intense debate regarding the effects that its production may have on the environment.
Palm oil has long been used throughout the food supply and in my village Suhum –Amrahia. Lately it has attracted extensive recognition for its benefits on health.
It has been associated with everything from reduced cholesterol levels to decreased oxidative stress and better brain health.
However, according to Dr. Axe, not all palm oil is created equally. Getting the right knowledge in purchasing choices can help ensure that you’re getting the highest-quality oil and purchasing from producers that prioritize sustainability and positive environmental practices.
What Is Red Palm Oil?
Palm oil means any oil that comes from the fruit of oil palms. Elaeis guineensis, however, is a specific species native to Southwest Africa considered the primary source of palm oil. In my village, had seen palm oil trees grow to 20 meters tall and produce anywhere from 20–30 leaves per year. They also produce the palm fruit from which palm oil is extracted. Palm oil comes from both the kernel and pulp of the fruit, and it’s estimated that every 100 kilograms of palm fruit yields about 23 kilograms of palm oil.
Because of its high yield, palm oil has become a common ingredient for cooking in many parts of the world. Malaysia and Indonesia, in particular, account for about 80 percent of the worldwide palm oil supply according to one article authored by Vijay et al 2016 titled ‘ The Impacts of Oil Palm on Recent Deforestation and Biodiversity Loss’ published in PLoS one.
Also, due to its high smoke point and heat stability, red palm oil is a good choice for dishes that are fried or deep-fried according to Tarmizi AH and Lin SW 2008 in an article titled ‘Quality assessment of palm products upon prolonged heat treatment’ published in the Journal Oleo Science. Unrefined palm oil has a reddish description and is often referred to as red palm oil. This type of oil is especially rich in beneficial carotenoids and antioxidants. Not only that, but including a tablespoon or two of this healthy oil in your diet each day has been linked to a number of powerful health benefits.
Composition of Palm Oil
Palm oil contains about 50 percent saturated fat (majority of which is oleic acid)- Oleic acid is a fatty acid that occurs naturally in various animal and vegetable fats and oils. It is an odorless, colorless oil, although commercial samples may be yellowish. In chemical terms, oleic acid is classified as a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid, abbreviated with a lipid number of 18:1 cis-9. It also contains 40 percent monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), and 10 percent polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFAs).
Palm oil gets its reddish color from the carotenes beta-carotene and lycopene , the same nutrients that give color to carrots and tomatoes. Its carotene levels are 15 times higher than carrots and 300 times higher than tomatoes .
This is why palm oil is hailed as the best source of beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, both of which are precursors to vitamin A.
Palm oil also contains 20 other carotenes, as well as the following nutrients:
Vitamin E, particularly tocotrienol
Red Palm Oil Benefits
- Reduces Cholesterol Levels
- Slows the Progression of Heart Disease
- Boosts Brain Health
- Enhances Vitamin A Status
- Reduces Oxidative Stress
- Improves Skin and Hair Health
The Scientific Studies:
1. Reduces Cholesterol Levels
High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. Too much of this fatty substance can build up in the arteries, which causes them to harden and narrow, forcing your heart to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. Some studies have found that red palm oil may actually help decrease the amount of bad LDL cholesterol in your blood to keep your heart healthy and strong. Palm oil has a superior nutrient profile that makes it useful for supplementation.
One study published in the Journal of Nutrition looked at the effects of palm oil, soybean oil, peanut oil and lard on cholesterol levels. Researchers found that palm oil caused a 13.1 percent decrease in bad LDL cholesterol and a 6.7 percent drop in triglyceride levels in those with normal cholesterol. The study was conducted by Zhang et al 1997 titled Nonhypercholesterolemic effects of a palm oil diet in Chinese adults.
Another 2016 study out of Colombia showed that palm oil had a similar effect on blood cholesterol levels as extra virgin olive oil and was able to lower both triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. The study was conducted by Lucci et al titled Palm oil and cardiovascular disease: a randomized trial of the effects of hybrid palm oil supplementation on human plasma lipid patterns, published in the journal Food Function
A more recent study by Zulkiply et al 2019 published in PLoS One titled Effects of palm oil consumption on biomarkers of glucose metabolism: A systematic review. The authors systemically searched PubMed, CENTRAL and Scopus up to June 2018. They searched for published interventional studies on biomarkers of glucose metabolism (defined as fasting glucose, fasting insulin, HOMA, 2-hour post prandial glucose and HbA1C) that compared palm oil- or palm olein-rich diets with other edible vegetable oils. The authors identified 1921 potentially eligible articles with only eight included studies. Seven randomized cross-over trials and one parallel trial were included. Study population were among young to middle-aged, healthy, non-diabetic, and normal weight participants.
They concluded that current evidence on the effects of palm oil consumption on biomarkers of glucose metabolism is poor and limited to only healthy participants. “We conclude that little or no additional benefit will be obtained by replacing palm oil with other oils rich in mono or polyunsaturated fatty acids for changes in glucose metabolism”
Other ways to lower cholesterol naturally and fast include eating more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, limiting your intake of sugar and refined carbs, and getting enough fiber in your diet.
2. Slows the Progression of Heart Disease
Besides lowering your cholesterol levels, palm oil has also been shown to help improve the health of your heart by slowing the progression of heart disease. One study looked at the effects of palm oil on heart disease. After 18 months, 28 percent of people with heart disease who were treated with palm oil showed improvement while 64 percent remained stable. Conversely, no one in the placebo group showed improvement, and 40 percent actually got worse. The study was conducted by Tomeo et al 1995 titled ‘ Antioxidant effects of tocotrienols in patients with hyperlipidemia and carotid stenosis,’ published in the journal Lipids.
A two year study titled Palm oil antioxidant effects in patients with hyperlipidaemia and carotid stenosis-2 year experience by Kooyenga et al 1997 published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study investigated the antioxidant properties of a γ-tocotrienol and α-tocopherol enriched fraction of palm oil, in patients with carotid atherosclerosis. Serum lipids, fatty acid peroxides, platelet aggregation, and carotid artery stenosis were measured over a 24-month period in 50 patients with cerebrovascular disease.
The study revealed that, both antioxidant and placebo groups displayed significantly increased collagen-induced platelet aggregation responses (p<0.05) as compared with entry values. Serum total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglyceride values remained unchanged in both groups, as did the plasma high density lipoprotein cholesterol values. Palm oil tocols appear to benefit the course of carotid atherosclerosis.
A more recent 2018 study review conducted by Ismail et al titled Systematic review of palm oil consumption and the risk of cardiovascular disease. They systematically searched Central, Medline and Embase databases up to June 2017 without restriction on setting or language. They performed separate searches based on the outcomes: coronary heart disease and stroke, using keywords related to these outcomes and palm oil. They further searched for published interventional and observational studies in adults. They concluded that, In view of the abundance of palm oil in the market, quantifying its true association with CVD outcomes is challenging. The present review could not establish strong evidence for or against palm oil consumption relating to cardiovascular disease risk and cardiovascular disease-specific mortality.
A healthy diet and lifestyle are key to slowing the progression of heart disease. Besides including heart-healthy fats, like red palm oil, in your diet, getting enough exercise, eating plenty of anti-inflammatory foods and keeping your stress levels in check can also help reverse and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
3. Boosts Brain Health
Palm oil is jam-packed with tocotrienols, a form of vitamin E that has potent antioxidant properties and can support healthy brain function. This can have far-reaching benefits and may aid in everything from slowing dementia to enhancing cognition.
A recent 2017 animal study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that tocotrienols were able to improve cognitive function in mice. The study was conducted by Ibrahim et al titled Tocotrienol-Rich Fraction Modulates Amyloid Pathology and Improves Cognitive Function in AβPP/PS1 Mice’.
A 2015 study by Ahmad et al titled Tocotrienol offers better protection than tocopherol from free radical-induced damage of rat bone published in the Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiology . the study revealed that the palm oil tocotrienol mixture was better than pure alpha-tocopherol acetate in protecting bone against FeNTA (free radical)-induced elevation of bone-resorbing cytokines.
Another study in 2011 composed of 121 people with brain lesions found that twice daily supplementation with tocotrienols helped block the growth of lesions. The study conducted by Gopalan et al titled Clinical investigation of the protective effects of palm vitamin E tocotrienols on brain white matter was published in the journal Stroke.
A previous 2004 study by Sen et al titled Tocotrienol: the natural vitamin E to defend the nervous system? Published in the Ann NY Academy of Science point towards tocotrienol as a potent neuroprotective form of natural vitamin E.
A subsequent 2007 study by the same author Sen et al titled Tocotrienols: the emerging face of natural vitamin E published in the journal Vitam Horm. warrants strategic investment into the lesser known forms of vitamin E. This will enable prudent selection of the appropriate vitamin E molecule for studies addressing a specific health need. Besides palm oil, other brain foods that can help boost memory and focus include blueberries, broccoli, leafy green vegetables and salmon.
4. Enhances Vitamin A Status
Red palm oil is an excellent source of beta-carotene , a type of carotenoid that is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is an incredibly important nutrient that’s involved in many aspects of health, from maintaining healthy vision to promoting immune function. In fact, vitamin A deficiency can cause symptoms like dry eyes, frequent infections and even blindness according to McLaren DS 1999
Palm oil is often used as a supplement to help improve vitamin A status in those who are at risk for deficiency. A study from the National Institute of Nutrition, Indian Council of Medical Research in India, for example, showed that treating pregnant women with red palm oil increased vitamin A levels for both them and their babies. The study titled Red palm oil supplementation: a feasible diet-based approach to improve the vitamin A status of pregnant women and their infants’ authored by Radhika et al 2003 in the journal Food and Nutrition Bulletin. This study, a double-blinded, randomized, controlled study was designed to study the effect of dietary supplementation with red palm oil during pregnancy on maternal and neonatal vitamin A status. A total of 170 women were recruited at 16 to 24 weeks of gestation and randomly assigned to an experimental group that received red palm oil to supply approximately one recommended dietary amount (RDA) (2,400 micrograms) of beta-carotene or to a control group that received an equivalent volume of groundnut oil. The women received the oils for a period of 8 weeks, starting at 26 to 28 weeks of gestation and extending to 34 to 36 weeks of gestation.
Another study by Sommerburg et al looked at the effects of red palm oil on 16 participants with cystic fibrosis , a condition that affects the secretory glands and causes difficulty absorbing fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A. Supplementing with two to three tablespoons of palm oil per day for eight weeks was found to increase their vitamin A levels. The study titled ‘Supplementation with red palm oil increases β-carotene and vitamin A blood levels in patients with cystic fibrosis’ was published in the journal Mediators Inflamm. To help maintain healthy levels of vitamin A and prevent negative side effects, be sure to include a few servings of other vitamin A foods in your diet, such as carrots, sweet potatoes and kale.
5. Reduces Oxidative Stress
Free radicals are highly reactive compounds that form in your body as a result of factors like stress, a poor diet, or exposure to pollutants and pesticides. They can build up in your body over time, leading to oxidative stress, inflammation, cell damage and even chronic disease. Antioxidants, on the other hand, are compounds that can neutralize harmful free radicals to prevent damage to your cells. The study conducted by Lien et al 2008 titled ‘Free Radicals, Antioxidants in Disease and Health’ was published in the journal International Journal Biomedical Sci ence. Red palm oil is high in beneficial antioxidants and has also been shown to reduce the inflammation and oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
In one study published in the British Journal of Biomedical Science, it was reported that despite the high levels of saturated fat in palm oil, the oil did not contribute to atherosclerosis and/or arterial thrombosis. The study conducted by Oguntibeju et al 2009 titled Red palm oil: nutritional, physiological and therapeutic roles in improving human wellbeing and quality of life. Researchers suggested that this is due to the ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats in the oil, as well as its rich nutrient profile.
The tocotrienols found in palm oil also help support the heart against stress, suggesting its protective properties against heart disease . Other cardiovascular benefits associated with palm oil consumption include:
i. Reduced free radical damage and inflammation
ii. Improved blood circulation
iii. Regulated cholesterol levels
iv. Reduced blood pressure
Studies suggest that palm oil’s antioxidant properties help prevent various types of cancers. According to findings, tocotrienols exhibit their potent antioxidant properties and aid in inhibiting the development of skin, stomach, pancreas, lung, liver, breast, prostate, colon, and other cancers. Regular vitamin E cannot perform this. Palm oil’s antioxidant supply is also found to help prevent neurological degeneration by stopping free radicals that damage brain and nerve tissues, and promoting circulation, which increases your protection against diseases like dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other mental conditions.
A 2013 animal study by Varatharajan et al titled Antioxidant and pro-oxidant effects of oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) leaves extract in experimental diabetic nephropathy: a duration-dependent outcome published in the journal BMC Complement Altern Medicine in Malaysia evaluated the antioxidant activity of palm leaves extract (OPLE) in mice with diabetes. After just four weeks, OPLE was found to cause improvements in kidney dysfunction and fibrosis, two conditions commonly associated with diabetic neuropathy . Not only that, but it was also found to decrease markers of oxidative stress and inflammation as well.To really knock out oxidative stress, make sure you pair palm oil with a balanced diet as well as plenty of other high antioxidant foods , such as turmeric, ginger, dark chocolate and pecans.
6. Improves Skin and Hair Health
What you eat can make a big impact on the health of your skin and hair. In fact, many people swear by using red palm oil for skin and claim that it can do everything from improve the appearance of scars to fight off acne. This is because it’s rich in vitamin E, a nutrient that plays a central role in skin health.
One study conducted by Jaffary et al titled Effects of oral vitamin E on treatment of atopic dermatitis: A randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences reported that taking vitamin E by mouth for four months significantly improved symptoms of atopic dermatitis compared to a placebo. This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial comprised seventy participants with mild-to-moderate AD, based on the Hanifin and Rajka diagnostic criteria. The patients were randomly selected from teaching skin clinics in Isfahan, Iran. They were randomly assigned to two groups of equal number, receiving vitamin E (400 IU/day) and placebo for four 4 months. Each month, the extent, severity, and subjective symptoms including itch and sleeplessness were measured by SCORAD index. Other research has suggested that vitamin E may be useful in the treatment of wounds, pressure ulcers and psoriasis . One of such is the study conducted by Mohammad Abid Keen and Iffat Hassan 2016 titled Vitamin E in dermatology published in the Indian Dermatology Online J ournal
Red palm oil for hair growth is also commonly used thanks to its rich tocotrienol content. A study in 2010 conducted by Beoy et al titled Effects of Tocotrienol Supplementation on Hair Growth in Human Volunteers published in the journal Tropical Life Science Res earch comprising 37 participants with hair loss found that taking tocotrienol for eight months increased the number of hairs by 34.5 percent. Meanwhile, the placebo group actually saw a 0.1 percent decrease in the number of hairs by the end of the study.
Other top vitamin E foods that you may want to include in your diet include almonds, avocado, sunflower seeds, butternut squash and olive oil.
Sunblock” — with its high levels of carotenes, red palm oil provides protection as a commercial sunblock with SPF15, but without the dangerous components according to The Palm Oil Miracle, Bruce Fife (2007)
Red Palm Oil Side Effects and Worries
Although there are a wide array of health benefits associated with red palm oil, there are some side effects and ethical concerns that should be considered. First of all, consuming red palm oil may affect people differently. While several studies have shown that palm oil can decrease cholesterol levels, others have produced conflicting results and report that it may actually increase cholesterol concentrations for some individuals.
i. Utarwuthipong et al 2009 study titled 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 published in the Journal International Medicine Research revealed increases in cholesterol following Palm oil consumption
ii. Another research by Tholstrup et al 2011 titled Palm olein increases plasma cholesterol moderately compared with olive oil in healthy individuals published in Am J Clin Nutr. The study was a controlled double-blinded, randomized 3 × 3 wk crossover dietary intervention study included 32 healthy men who daily replaced part of their habitual dietary fat intake with ~ 17% of energy from palm olein, olive oil, or lard, respectively. Compared with intake of olive oil, palm olein and lard increased total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol
iii. The third study by Bautista et al 2011 titled Effects of palm oil and dietary cholesterol on plasma lipoproteins: results from a dietary crossover trial in free-living subjects published in the European Journal Clinical Nutrition was a Randomized crossover trial of Twenty-eight healthy male students aged 20-34. Their findings suggest that non-extreme short-term changes in Palm oil and dietary cholesterol consumption lead to significant elevations in plasma TC and LDL-c.
iv. Another study conducted by Sun Y et al 2015 titled Palm Oil Consumption Increases LDL Cholesterol Compared with Vegetable Oils Low in Saturated Fat in a Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials, published in the journal Nutrition. The study authors systematically reviewed the effect of palm oil consumption on blood lipids compared with other cooking oils using data from clinical trials. They searched PubMed and the Cochrane Library for trials of at least 2 wk duration that compared the effects of palm oil consumption with any of the predefined comparison oils: vegetable oils low in saturated fat, trans fat-containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, and animal fats. Data were pooled by using random-effects meta-analysis. They concluded that Palm oil consumption results in higher LDL cholesterol than do vegetable oils low in saturated fat and higher HDL cholesterol than do trans-fat-containing oils in humans. The effects of palm oil on blood lipids are as expected on the basis of its high saturated fat content, which supports the reduction in palm oil use by replacement with vegetable oils low in saturated and Trans fat
So from this review, it’s best to use palm oil in moderation and use it in combination with other healthy fats in your diet.
Furthermore, much of the palm oil on the market today is heavily processed and oxidized for cooking purposes unlike our fore fathers era when I was in the village. When heavily processed this way, it reduces the palm oil of its health-promoting properties and can have negative influences on our health. So in purchasing, be vigilant and make sure to buy unrefined and cold-pressed palm oil to avoid any adversarial health effects.
There are also some concerns over the environmental impacts of palm oil production. The growing market has placed a strain on countries like Malaysia and Indonesia where a large amount of palm oil is produced. Unfortunately, this has led to palm oil deforestation as forests and peatlands have been destroyed in order to keep up with the increased demands. This could also be said in Ghana case as it has had disturbing consequences, causing habitat loss for wildlife and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. There have also been reports of human rights violations by the corporations that produce palm oil with issues like unsafe working conditions and low wages drawing particular concern.
Palm Oil: to use or Not ? Dr. Axe has this to say:
‘Red palm oil has a unique flavor and high smoke point, making it suitable for cooking many types of dishes. It also boasts a long list of potential health benefits, from relieving inflammation to improving heart health’. It best to become a well-informed consumer and making smarter decisions about which brands you buy, you can ensure that you’re gaining the health benefits of palm oil without the potential downsides.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is an organization focused on improving sustainability and producing oil that is environmentally friendly. It has created a set of guidelines and standards that producers must adhere to in order to be RSPO-certified. According to its website to be accessed at https://rspo.org/ , these principles include:
- Commitment to transparency
- Compliance with applicable laws and regulations
- Commitment to long-term economic and financial viability
- Use of appropriate best practices by growers and millers
- Environmental responsibility and conservation of natural resources and biodiversity
- Responsible consideration of employees, and of individuals and communities affected by growers and mills
- Responsible development of new plantings
- Commitment to continuous improvement in key areas of activity
By opting for RSPO-certified products or those quality products from producers you know in Ghana, you can rest assured that you’re purchasing from producers with sustainable practices who are dedicated to protecting both wildlife and the environment.
Economic impact of Palm Oil for 1D1F
Palm oil can significantly contribute to national economies, driving rapid economic growth and contributing to the alleviation of rural poverty. Palm oil is fast becoming a resource for biodiesel and as a fuel in electrical stations.
In Indonesia, the average income in a complete financial year of an oil palm plantation is up to $2,500 per hectare, compared to only $250 for a rice plantation. There are an estimated 25 million Indonesians living indirectly from palm oil production.
Nevertheless, unsustainable production also has potentially negative economic consequences at local and global levels in contributing to habitat destruction, pollution and climate change.
A worker unloading palm oil fruit, Malaysia © Pison Jaujip
I. Malaysia exported 16.7 million tonnes of palm oil in 2010, with a value of about US$15 billion, equivalent to over 9% of the country’s total exports.
II. Indonesia exported 16.4 million tonnes , with a value of US$14.8 billion, equivalent to over 12% of exports.
III. The palm oil industry is a significant contributor to rural income in Indonesia. At a local level, oil palm development has played a significant role in reducing rural poverty and improving infrastructure.
IV. The industry directly and indirectly provides employment for over 0.8 million people in Malaysia and over 1.7 million in Indonesia .
V. In 2008, over 41% of oil palm plantations were owned by small land holders, producing 6.6 million tonnes of palm oil.
VI. In 1997, the average net income of oil palm smallholders was seven times that of farmers involved in subsistence production of food crops.
I. The European Union (EU) imported over 9 million tonnes (€5.4bn) of palm oil and palm kernel meal in 2012.
II. These imports led to an indirect contribution to GDP of €2.7bn, an indirect contribution of €1.2bn in tax revenue and indirect contribution to employment of 67,000 jobs (indicating that more than seven workers are employed in the downstream supply chain for every thousand tonnes imported).
III. In the United Kingdom alone, palm oil imports created 6,800 jobs and contributed £330 million to GDP and £140 million to tax revenues.
I. The palm oil industry through deforestation contributes to the release of greenhouse gas emissions. Tropical deforestation accounts for about 10% of total global warming emissions, and emissions from oil palm cultivation alone in Indonesia accounted for an estimated 2-9% of all tropical land use emissions from 2000 to 2010.
II. Southeast Asia will be seriously affected by the adverse impacts of climate change. Heat stress, drought, climate-associated pests and diseases, flooding, and typhoons will all contribute to the decline in the production of palm oil, threatening local livelihoods tied to agricultural production.
III. A study by WRI in Brazil and Guatemala reveals the economic impacts of securing land rights for local people has significant economic benefits in terms of climate change, preventing the release of over 5.4 billion tons of CO2 over 20 years, with the benefits from carbon capture and averted emissions amounting to $161.7 billion over 20 years in Brazil and $605 million in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve over the same period.
Deforestation in Malaysia
Disclaimer: As pertains to all my previous articles, they are for educational purposes and not to be use as substitute to medical advice.
Dr. Raphael Nyarkotey Obu, PhD, Is an honorary Professor of Naturopathic Medicine with research interest in Naturopathic & Holistic Urology, Vinnytsia State Pedagogical University, Ukraine. Formulated of FDA approved Men’s Formula for Prostate Health, Women’s Formula for wellness & Nyarkotey Tea for cardiovascular Health. 0241083423/0541234556…office: Nyarkotey College of Holistic Medicine, Tema Community 7, Post office.