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The Super Omega: Omega 7 & Sea Buckthorn Oil

Sea Buckthorn Oil

Sea buckthorn is a berry-filled bush, native to northern Europe, Russia, China and Canada and has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. In ancient times, sea buckthorn was used to treat fever, abscesses, coughs and colds, reduce inflammation, and counteract toxins1Sea buckthorn berries are nutritional powerhouses, containing 190 different nutrients2.

So what nutrients does Sea Buckthorn contain?

Derived from both the fruit pulp (from the berries) and the seeds, sea buckthorn oil is rich in a wide variety of nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin E, and healthy plant compounds known as carotenoids, polyphenols, and flavonoids. It is also an excellent source of the healthy fatty acids omega 3, 6, 7 and 9. These nutrients contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and/or lipid-lowering properties and directly contribute to sea buckthorn oil’s wide range of health benefits:

Sea Buckthorn Oil’s Health Benefits

Many of the health benefits of sea buckthorn can be attributed to its ‘standout’ nutrient, the omega-7 fatty acid known as palmitoleic acid. Palmitoleic acid is the most prevalent of the fatty acids in sea buckthorn oil. Sea Buckthorn is one of only two known plant species containing this high of a concentration of an omega-7 fatty acid3.

Although most all the attention regarding the health benefits of omega fatty acids has centered around omega-3’s, the ‘buzz’ surrounding the omega-7 known as palmitoleic acid has been growing. As one of the major plant sources of this fatty acid, sea buckthorn’s notoriety is also expected to grow.

What makes palmitoleic acid, or Omega-7, so special?

Palmitoleic acid is one of the most abundant fatty acids in our blood and tissues, particularly in fat and liver tissue. Although our body produces palmitoleic acid, it is mainly obtained through our diet. As an omega-7 fatty acid, palmitoleic acid has recently been shown to act as a ‘signaling’ molecule in our body, regulating several metabolic processes in the body and facilitating communication between fat and muscle tissue. This omega-7 fatty acid has recently earned a new and unique classification as a lipid(fat)-controlling hormone, giving rise to the scientific term lipokine4. 

7 Health Benefits of Palmitoleic Acid (Omega-7)

1. Diabetes Management & Blood Sugar Control

The discovery of palmitoleic acid’s role as a fat-controlling hormone appears to be in line with research studies demonstrating its ability to help manage Type 2 Diabetes. Abdominal fat is strongly linked to insulin resistance, a condition in which insulin becomes less able to lower the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Recent research supports a strong association between blood levels of palmitoleic acid and increased insulin sensitivity – this increased insulin sensitivity helps our body regulate blood sugar much more effectively5. Both our body’s natural production of palmitoleic acid and its dietary form have been linked to a reduced onset of diabetes, providing a potential preventative treatment option. In addition to its function as a lipid-controlling hormone, palmitoleic acid has been shown to influence the survival of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, improving insulin secretion and directly affecting the cell’s ability to utilize glucose6.

2. Management of Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease risk and Type 2 Diabetes and is characterized by central obesity (apple shape), insulin resistance, elevated blood sugar, unhealthy levels of fat and cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Palmitoleic acid can be a potential treatment for metabolic syndrome because of its hormone-like effect on fat metabolism, its role of enhancing blood sugar sensitivity by protecting insulin-producing cells, its ability to improve healthy cholesterol and fat levels, and its role in managing blood pressure.

3. Obesity Management

Preliminary research also supports the role of palmitoleic acid in improving body weight and fat metabolism. Studies have demonstrated its ability to suppress fat synthesis, reduce fat storage, and boost energy expenditure7 8.

4. Heart Health

A study investigating the effects of dietary palmitoleic acid supplementation in individuals diagnosed with unhealthy fat and cholesterol levels showed significant reductions in the levels of both ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides and a significant increase in the level of ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol. In addition, levels of an inflammatory compound linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease were also sharply decreased after taking the palmitoleic acid supplement9. Other studies, done on both humans and animals, revealed additional cardiovascular benefits associated with this fatty acid working in synergy with other anti-inflammatory/antioxidant compounds in sea buckthorn oil10. The combination of lipid-controlling effects of palmitoleic acid and the anti-inflammatory/antioxidant compounds in sea buckthorn oil have been shown to decrease blood vessel damage, improve blood vessel function, and counter arterial plaque formation in both healthy subjects and in those with cardiac and metabolic risk factors (i.e. obesity and Type 2 diabetes).

The National Institute of Health (NIH) just launched a long term study (July 2018) to determine the effects of palmitoleic acid-rich oil on heart health as well as on satiety and weight management. This clinical trial’s anticipated completion date is the summer of 2020. You can read more about the study at this link: Dietary Omega-7 Palmitoleic Acid-Rich Oil on Lipoprotein Metabolism and Satiety in Adults.

5. Liver Health

Palmitoleic acid protects the liver by decreasing the inflammation of fat in this organ11Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is defined as an excessive accumulation of fat in the liver, is one of the most common conditions associated with obesity and insulin resistance. A recent study using animal models concluded that palmitoleic acid supplementation led to a reduction in insulin resistance, decreasing both fat inflammation and  accumulation in the liver12.

6. Skin Health

Sea buckthorn oil’s unique blend of nutrients gives it a special ability to protect the skin and enhance the regeneration of skin cells. These compounds include palmitoleic acid and gamma-linolenic-acid (GLA), in addition to other nutrients that promote healthy skin, such as vitamins C and E, and carotenoids and plant sterols. GLA boosts the supply of nutrients and oxygen to the skin by improving blood flow and has demonstrated protective effects against skin infections, allergies, and inflammation. Palmitoleic acid has been used successfully in the treatment of burns, skin infections, wounds, and inflammatory skin disorders, such as dermatitis13.

7. Digestive Health

The preventive and healing effects of sea buckthorn oil have been demonstrated in the treatment of stomach ulcers, reducing both their size and preventing their formation.

Takeaway

Sea buckthorn oil contains an abundance of unique nutrients, eliciting its widespread use in traditional medicine for over several centuries. Its reputation as a healthy omega fatty acid has just recently started gaining popularity in the Western world and research on palmitoleic acid is generating additional interest for consumers and medical professionals alike. As an important source of antioxidants and healthy fats, this oil has been shown to to benefit heart, blood sugar and skin health, and shows promise in helping with weight management, digestive, and liver health. As the results of additional research on sea buckthorn oil come to light, it may prove to be a an additional source of valuable omega’s and other nutrients to be incorporated into your daily diet.

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  1. Introduction to Sea Buckthorn: http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/seabuckthorn.htm
  2. About Sea Buckthorn:  https://www.britishseabuckthorn.com/about-sea-buckthorn/
  3. Abundance of active ingredients in sea-buckthorn oil: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5438513/
  4. The Role of the Novel Lipokine Palmitoleic Acid in Health and Disease: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5227969/
  5. Circulating palmitoleate strongly and independently predicts insulin sensitivity in humans. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2809292/
  6. Implications of Palmitoleic Acid (Palmitoleate) On Glucose Homeostasis, Insulin Resistance and Diabetes https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26648072
  7. Palmitoleic acid (16:1n7) increases oxygen consumption, fatty acid oxidation and ATP content in white adipocytes: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5859716/
  8. Palmitoleic acid reduces intramuscular lipid and restores insulin sensitivity in obese sheep: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4243576/
  9. Purified palmitoleic acid for the reduction of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein and serum lipids: a double-blinded, randomized, placebo controlled study: https://www.lipidjournal.com/article/S1933-2874(14)00281-5/fulltext
  10. Sea Buckthorn Pulp Oil Treatment Prevents Atherosclerosis in Obese Children: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2013/164941/
  11. Palmitoleic Acid (N-7) Attenuates the Immunometabolic Disturbances Caused by a High-Fat Diet Independently of PPARα: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/mi/2014/582197
  12. Chronic administration of palmitoleic acid reduces insulin resistance and hepatic lipid accumulation in KK-Ay Mice with genetic type 2 diabetes: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3155149/
  13. Sea Buckthorn(Hippophae rhamnoides L.) Seed Oil: Usage in Burns,Ulcers, and Mucosal Injuries:  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123756886101203
Mary Paley

Fearless Dietitian; 30+ years as a professional dietitian; Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics at the MGH Institute of Health Professions; Lead research dietitian for several major pharmaceutical companies; Currently focused on health and wellness and the benefits of ketogenic diets for both obesity and diabetes management. MS, RDN, CDE, LD/N

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