Red palm oil is a unique nutritious vegetable oil derived from the fruits of the palm tree (Elaeis guineensis). It is the only oil in nature that provides a bouquet of antioxidants and phytonutrients such as tocotrienols/tocopherol (vitamin E), mixed-carotenes with high level of alpha-carotene (pro-vitamin A), plant squalene, phytosterol complex and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). No other vegetable oil has such unique natural combination of phytonutrients.
It is no wonder that Dr. Mehmet Oz recently proclaimed red palm oil as his most miraculous find for 2013 in addressing the aging process.
Red palm oil gets its name from its characteristic dark red color because of its high content of carotenoidsthe same nutrients that give carrots, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables their orange and red colors. These natural carotenoids (mainly alpha- and beta-carotene) are readily available source of pro-vitamin A, yielding 15 times more beta-carotene than carrots. Thus, red palm oil is considered the richest source of natural mixed-carotenes in nature.
Another interesting attribute is the composition of carotenoids in red palm oil mirrors that of carrots.
In nature, there are eight forms of vitamin Efour tocopherols and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma and delta). Tocotrienols differ from tocopherols by having an unsaturated side tail that results in significantly different biological activities in the former. Tocotrienol is also called the unsaturated vitamin E."
Tocopherols are generally present in common vegetable oils (e.g., soy, canola and sunflower). Tocotrienols, on the other hand, are concentrated in cereal grains (e.g. oat, barley, rye and rice bran), with the highest level found in virgin red palm oil.
While similar in structure to tocopherol, the tocotrienols have been shown in human clinical trials to possess unique biological health benefits, that are not shown by the regular tocopherol vitamin E.
Science: Red Palm Oil Carotenoids and Tocotrienols
Researchers from different countries have studied the beneficial health benefits of the main phytonutrients in red palm oil, such as the vitamin E (tocotrienols/tocopherol) and the pro-vitamin A (mixed-carotenes).
Manorama and Rukmini investigated the use of red palm oil as a readily available and inexpensive source of beta-carotene and vitamin A in the human diet.1 They demonstrated that red palm oil is nutritionally and readily acceptable, especially as a natural source of vitamin A.
They showed after 30 days of supplementation with a snack containing either 50,000 IU of vitamin A or 4 g of red palm oil, childrens serum retinol (vitamin A) levels were interestingly, the same in the two groups, but the beta-carotene levels had more than tripled in the children given red palm oil.
Serum retinol and -carotene concentrations in 18 schoolchildren before and after supplementation with red palm oil or a high dose of vitamin A for 30 days.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated more than 190 million school-aged children and 19 million pregnant women suffer from vitamin A deficiencies in the under-developed nations of Africa and Southeast Asia. Hence, red palm oil is possibly the world's most widely and readily available natural source of vitamin A in preventing vitamin A deficiency as well as to support eye health.
In addition, a series of NIH-funded research that spans more than a decade, showedtocotrienols extracted from red palm oil support brain health by triggering and increasing blood circulation through collateral arteries to the area of the brain that suffered ischemic stroke. Oral supplementation with tocotrienols (as Tocomin SupraBio® from Carotech) in human subjects, showed tocotrienols are well absorbed and distributed to main organs and tissues, such as the brain, liver, heart muscle, adipose tissue, blood and skin, the only human tissue distribution study with tocotrienols.2 The levels reached in the brain are more than sufficient to confer neuroprotection.
Researchers in the United States and Malaysia have been studying the cardiovascular protective effects of tocotrienols in red palm oil. This lipid-soluble unsaturated form of vitamin E possesses protective properties (non-antioxidant mechanisms) in supporting healthy cholesterol level and blood vessel.
Human studies revealed oral intake of tocotrienol complex (42 to 300 mg) extracted from red palm oil reduced total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) Cholesterols level significantly, after one to six months of supplementation.3,4,5,6
An animal study showed supplementation with tocotrienols (from red palm oil) for eight weeks, was found to reduce body fat mass, while alpha-tocopherol (60 mg/kg of body weight/d) was ineffective.7 In addition, in vitro studies found gamma-tocotrienol was the most potent anti-proliferative and anti-adipogenic form of tocotrienols.8,9,10
Various negative studies for both vitamin E (i.e, alpha-tocopherol) and beta-carotene were due to the fact that these studies used a single form (isomer) of the respective bioactive, such as alpha-tocopherol alone or beta-carotene alone. As a result from these studies, the market is moving toward taking what nature producesas a wholesome complex of bioactives/phytonutrients naturally found in our diet as opposed to a single ingredient formulation. Mimicking nature is the best way for supplementation. Therefore, it is important to take what nature produces such as the unique combination of phytonutrients naturally found in red palm oil that work synergistically to confer the optimum functionality and health benefits.
Of late, there have been some concerns with palm oil over environmental issues. Fortunately, sustainable and eco-friendly red palm oil products are available and certified sustainable by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Manufacturers and consumers need to ensure the red palm oil products that they use are manufactured by companies/plantations located in Peninsular Malaysia, who are members of and subscribe to the criteria of the RSPO.
Two red palm oil products are in the marketregular red palm cooking oil and red palm oil concentrate. The regular red palm oil is mainly used for food and cooking applications; whereas the red palm oil concentrate is for dietary supplement application (softgel capsule delivery dosage). Red palm oil concentrate allows dietary supplement companies to encapsulate and deliver the required dosage and health benefits of red palm oil (as recommended by Dr. Oz) in a tiny softgel capsule delivery dosage. Hence, reducing fat and calories intake but at the same time, maintaining the level of phytonutrients found in 2 tablespoons of red palm oil.
Bryan See is regional product manager at Carotech Inc.
1. Manorama at al. "Red palm oil for combating vitamin A deficiency." Asia Pacific J Clin Nutr 1997;6 (1):569.
2. Patel V et al. "Oral Tocotrienols are Transported to Human Tissues and Delay the Progression of the Model for End-Stage Liver Disease Score in Patients." The Journal of Nutrition, 2012;142 (3), 513-9.
Tan TS et. al. "Effect of palm oil vitamin E concentrate on serum and lipoprotein lipids in human." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1991 Apr;53(4 Suppl):1027S-1030S.
3. Qureshi et. al. "Response of hypercholesterolemic subjects to administration of tocotrienols" Lipids, 1995 Dec;30(12):1171-7
4. Ajuluchukwu et al. "Comparative study of the effect of tocotrienols and alpha-tocopherol on fasting serum lipid profiles." Niger Postgrad Med J., 2007 Mar;14(1):30-3
5. Yuen KH et al. "Effects of mixed-tocotrienols in hypercholesterolemic subjects." Functional Foods in Health and Disease, 2011: 3:106-117
6. Ima-Nirwana S. et al. "Effects of tocopherols and tocotrienols on body composition and bone calcium content in adrenalectomized rats replaced with dexamethasone." J Med Food. 2004 Spring;7(1):45-51
7. Ng LT et al. "Gamma-Tocotrienol induced cell cycle arrest and apoptosis via activating the Bax-mediated mitochondrial and AMPK signaling pathways in 3T3-L1 adipocytes." Food Chem Toxicol. 2013 Sep;59:501-13.
8. Tsuda K. et al." γ-tocotrienol attenuates TNF-α-induced changes in secretion and gene expression of MCP-1, IL-6 and adiponectin in 3T3-L1 adipocytes." Molecular Medicine Reports. 2012; 5:905-909.
9. Kondo K. et al. "Tocotrienol Suppresses Adipocyte Differentiation and Akt Phosphorylation in 3T3-L1 Preadipocytes." J. Nutr. 2009;139: 51-57.