Most people are aware that essential fatty acids are a necessary part of a healthy diet, and are familiar with omega 3’s, omega 6’s, and omega 9’s. But you may not have heard of omega 7’s, also known as palmitoleic acid. This rare fatty acid occurs abundantly in Siberian sea buckthorn berries (Hippophae rhamnoides), and has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic, Chinese, Greek, Russian, and Tibetan medicine. In Tibet, the berries are revered as the “Holy Fruit of the Himalayas.”
Siberian sea buckthorn oil (pressed from the bright orange colored berry and seeds of the plant) has come to the attention of the Western medical community because of its unique fatty acid profile—it’s the only known plant that contains all four essential fatty acids. Studies show that omega-7 fatty acids contribute to healthy skin, hair, and nails; enhance cardiovascular function; boost brain health; and improve gastrointestinal health. Sea buckthorn is also distinctive in that the fruits and seeds contain an extensive array of antioxidant compounds.
Sea buckthorn is perhaps best known for promoting healthy skin (both internally and topically)—including healing from burns, sores, wounds, and eczema. It’s also used to treat conditions of the mucous membranes, such as ulcers and lesions. The health benefits are much wider ranging, though—traditional uses include treating abscesses, pulmonary disorders, cough, colds, fever, inflammation, toxicity, constipation, tumors, and gynecological diseases. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) sea buckthorn is recommended as a pain reliever, cough suppressant, expectorant, digestive tonic, and blood flow promoter.
A Nutritional Powerhouse
Because of its promising potential in the treatment of a variety of conditions, Siberian sea buckthorn has attracted significant scientific attention over the last two decades, with Russia and some of the former Soviet republics leading the way in research efforts.
Scientific analysis shows that sea buckthorn oil contains a distinctively rich concentration and spectrum of essential fatty acids (EFAs), carotenoids, tocopherols and phytosterols. The EFA content of sea buckthorn oil extract is 80-95% with the primary EFAs in the seed oil linoleic (34%), alpha-linolenic (25%), and oleic (19%) acid. The primary fatty acids in the pulp oil are palmitic (33%), oleic (26%), and palmitoleic (25%). Other EFAs in sea buckthorn include pentadecenoic (C15:1), heptadecenoic, eicosenoic, eicosadienoic, erucic, and nervonic. Among the variety of carotenes found in sea buckthorn are alfa- and beta-carotenes, lycopene, cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, taraxanthin and phytofluin. Tocopherols are mostly represented by vitamin E and gamma-tocopherol, and phytosterols include beta-sitosterol, beta-amirol and erithrodiol.
Russian scientists have developed sophisticated technology in the production of high quality Siberian sea buckthorn oil concentrate (SSBOC). The antioxidant capacity of the SSBOC corresponds to the total concentration of carotenoids, which also gives the oil a rich orange color (similar to the color of the berries).6, 37 Independent lab analysis of the concentrated SSBOC demonstrate a carotenoid profile that includes: b-carotene 997 mg/L, lycopene 689 mg/L, astaxanthin 56 mg/L, lutein 56 mg/L, a-carotene 344 mg/L, and other carotenoids 2111 mg/L. This high quality concentrated oil is the one that I use and recommend in my clinical practice.
The Many Health Benefits of Sea Buckthorn Oil
Several recent studies have demonstrated that consuming physiological doses of mixed carotenoids in a fatty acid base, such as Siberian sea buckthorn oil concentrate, offers much better absorption and health benefits than other forms of supplemental carotenoids.38-40
Clinical studies on Siberian sea buckthorn oil concentrate have demonstrated the following benefits:
- Anti-ulcerogenic:7 SSBOC was tested on indomethacin- and stress-induced ulcer models, and found to be active in preventing gastric injury.8 The results of another recent study found that the SSBOC has both preventive and curative effects against experimental gastric ulcers in rats.11 Gastrobiol—a new preparation comprising a mixture of lyophilized sea-buckthorn oil, vitamin U, and magnesium oxide, produces a pronounced antiulcerous action on the mucous membranes of the stomach and duodenum. The regenerative effect of gastrobiol is more pronounced than that of pure sea-buckthorn oil and methyluracil.47
- Anti-oxidative: Due to the high carotenoid content and phenols present in SSBOC it can be used as a dietary supplement to prevent oxidative stress (especially by people who smoke, in order to prevent nicotine-induced oxidative stress).7,9 In another study, SSBOC showed marked cellular-protective properties, which could be attributed to the anti-oxidant activity.12 SSBOC caused a significant change in the glutathione redox system, indicating that sea buckthorn seed oil could contribute to the antioxidant effects.34 In another study, SSBOC demonstrated antioxidant protection from sulfur dioxide.35
- Radiation protective benefits:10 Studies show that SSBOC demonstrates radioprotective attributes including free radical scavenging, acceleration of stem cell proliferation and immunostimulation.13
- Improves atopic dermatitis.32
- Increases HDL lipoprotein cholesterol.32
- Protects against cerebral infraction.33
- Improves blood counts after chemotherapy.36
Clearly, the medicinal uses of sea buckthorn oil are well documented. Preparations of Siberian sea buckthorn oil are approved for clinical use in Russia, where it is formally listed in the Russian Pharmacopeia.
The approved uses of Siberian sea buckthorn in Russia include:
- Prevent or treat coronary heart disease and other circulatory disorders.
- Reduce inflammation.
- Increase the regeneration of epithelial cells.
- Protective effect against exposure to radiation.
- Anti-tumor action.
- Increase the detoxifying functions of the liver (stimulates bile secretion).
- Relax the smooth muscles of the stomach and intestines.1-3
Adaptogenic Support: With my decades of research into adaptogens, I find it especially interesting that Siberian sea buckthorn has adaptogenic properties. Research shows that the long-term administration of sea buckthorn extract improves the hormonal-metabolic organism status in animals disturbed by stress (in this case, immobilization). In this study, the administration of sea buckthorn extract led to normalization of the altered functional activity of the neuro-endocrine system (disturbed adrenocorticotropin, 11-deoxycortisol, insulin, urea, and glucose levels) by affecting the production of glucocorticoids and increasing the hypothalamus sensitivity with respect to regulatory signals.31
Cardiovascular Health: The rich concentration of unsaturated fatty acids, phytosterols, carotenoids and flavonoids in sea buckthorn seed oil (SBT) are known to have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system. In one study, the anti-atherogenic activity of supercritical CO(2) extracted SBT seed oil was evaluated in white albino rabbits fed a high cholesterol diet for 60 days. Observations suggest that supercritical CO(2) extracted SBT seed oil has significant anti-atherogenic and cardioprotective activity.50
Another study looked at the effects of sea buckthorn powder on microvessels in the left ventricular wall, hematological parameters, cardiovascular performance and plasma constituents in spontaneously hypertensive stroke-prone animals. The animals were fed ad libitum with blocks of chow supplemented with sea buckthorn powder at a concentration of 0.7 g/kg in the powdered chow, while control animals were given unsupplemented chow. The animals taking the chow with added sea buckthorn had improved metabolic processes and a reduction of hypertensive stress on the ventricular microvessels. 52
Cerebral edema caused by vascular leakage is a major problem in various injuries of the CNS, such as stroke, head injury and high-altitude illness. This study suggests that SBT seed oil possesses significant protection against hypoxia and curtailed hypoxia induced enhanced vascular leakage in the brain.55
Regular consumption of sea buckthorn berries has also been shown to reduce levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), the pro-inflammatory protein associated with inflammation, diabetes and heart disease. Consumption of sea buckthorn was associated with an average 0.059 mg/l decrease, which suggests significant benefits for cardiovascular health.47
Another important benefit of carotenoid-rich Siberian sea buckthorn oil is that it lowers the oxidative stress that can be induced by fish oils. Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for cardiovascular health, but these fragile oils are highly susceptible to oxidation. However, the addition of Siberian sea buckthorn concentrate to fish oil guards against oxidation. Researchers were able to determine the protective benefits of sea buckthorn oil by measuring the vivo oxidative stability of LDL and DNA degradation products in urine. An additional advantage is that the carotenoid mixture enhanced the plasma triglyceride-lowering effect of the fish oil.30
Defense Against Toxins: Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a common air pollutant. Micronuclei in the polychromatic erythrocytes (PCE) of mouse bone marrow and the ratio between organ and body weight of treated mice were determined and analyzed in vivo to study the injury induced by sulfur dioxide inhalation on organs, and the protective effect of sea buckthorn seed oil against this injury. The studies showed that SO2 inhalation induced the change of the ratio between organ and body of mouse organs, such as liver, lung, kidney, and spleen, and a significant increase in the number of micronucleated bone marrow polychromatic erythrocytes (mnPCE), while sea buckthorn seed oil offered protection against such injury.35
Skin Healing Effects: Plant carotenoids, such as those found in Siberian sea buckthorn, protect plants from free radical damage caused by oxygen and sunlight. Clinical evidence shows that these same carotenoids and flavonoids can offer similar protection for humans. Carotenoids have shown to provide significant protection against UV photo-suppression of cellular immune responses and to increase skin pigmentation.14
Sea buckthorn extract (SBE) oil was studied to determine the possible mechanism of action on experimental burn wounds in rats. Researchers determined that SBE oil possesses significant healing potential in burn wounds and has a positive influence on the various phases of wound repair.56 To investigate the efficacy of sea buckthorn (SBT) seed oil on promoting skin and mucosa epithelization in the healing of burn wounds, five adult sheep were subjected to 3rd degree flame burns. Researchers found that SBT seed oil has significant wound healing activity in full-thickness burns and split-thickness harvested wounds.58
Cancer Protective Properties: The cytotoxic effects of isorhamnetin, a flavonol aglycone found in sea buckthorn seed oil concentrate, showed dose- and time-dependency against BEL-7402 cells (a hepatocellular carcinoma), with IC(50) equal to 74.4+/-1.13 microg ml(-1) after treatment with isorhamnetin for 72 h. The amount of isorhamnetin accumulated in BEL-7402 cells showed that isorhamnetin was able to permeate cell membranes. The treatment resulted in the appearance of a hypodiploid peak (sub-G(0)/G(1) peak), probably due to the presence of cells in apoptosis and apoptotic bodies with DNA content less than 2n. According to researchers, this is the first report against human hepatocellular carcinoma cells.45
A study investigated the oil from Hippophae rhamnoides (OHR) in supporting the hematopoitic reconstitution after high dose chemotherapy. The counts of erythrocytes of OHR group were significantly elevated. The blood cell counts in myelosuppression mice fed with OHR exceeded those in control group, and the mortality was decreased. OHR can improve the hematopoiesis of erythroid linage. Like G-CSF, OHR can stimulate the recovery of hematopoiesis after chemotherapy.36
Additional research investigated the effects of Hippophae rhamnoides seed oil on rats with experimental hepatocirrhosis. The researchers determined the seed oil of H. rhamnoides to effectively alleviate liver injury caused by CCl4.44 The leaf extract has also shown potent liver protective effects against CC14.51
And in yet another study, SBE oil was shown to protect against colon cancer by inhibiting the cancer-inducing effects of heterocyclic amine compounds, which are known to increase colon cancer risk.57
A summary of the main proposed mechanisms of carotenoids for cancer inhibition:
- Scavenge oxidative injury, reducing damage to lipids, proteins, and DNA. In particular, oxidized DNA bases such as hydroxy-deoxyguanosine (80HdG) may cause mutations, and are implicated in the development of cancer.
- Enhances gap-junction communication. Enhancement of gap-junctional communication has been shown to suppress tumor cell replication.
- Inhibition of the mitogen pathway insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-1.
- Inhibition of HMG CO-enzyme A reductase.14-28
Safety and Dosage Recommendations
It’s important to note that several grades of sea buckthorn oil are available. Low grade oils are used mostly in the cosmetic industry, while super concentrated grades are optimal for internal usage. The more concentrated the oil, the higher the level of carotenoids present in the oil. Understandably, the super concentrated form of sea buckthorn oil costs 4 to 5 times that of the lower grade product.
When using sea buckthorn oil internally, it is essential to use the highest grade possible, and to also consider the freshness of the product. Siberian sea buckthorn oil is safe and well-tolerated when used within the recommended daily dosage range of 1-3 ml of super concentrated oil.
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