Red palm oil is being touted by some health gurus as a remedy for the effects of aging on the body. Dr. Oz calls it a “stop sign” for aging because of its deep orange-red color. However, most health care professionals look at these so-called magic bullets with a dose of skepticism. This document reviews the potential benefits and risks of using red palm oil.
What Is Red Palm Oil?
Red palm oil comes from the fruit of the oil palm tree. Palm kernel oil, which is different, comes from the seed of the oil palm tree.1 Red palm oil is a mixture (about 50/50) of saturated and unsaturated vegetable fats. Red palm oil also has vitamin E and vitamin A (aka carotenes). Carotenes cause the deep orange-red color of the oil.
Palm oil is also often found in foods. But the palm oil used in processed foods is different from red palm oil because it’s refined, with bleaching and deodorization. These processes destroy some of the carotene content. However, the fat composition of the oil remains the same.3
Despite the fact that red palm oil has saturated fat, it is said to behave more like an unsaturated fat, such as olive oil.1
Benefits of Red Palm Oil
The mainstream hype is that taking one or two tablespoons of red palm oil per day can lower cholesterol, protect the brain, improve circulation, help with weight loss, etc.
There are a number of lab and animal studies with red palm oil, palm oil, and constituents of palm oil. However, good quality evidence for any benefits, such as human studies looking at cardiovascular outcomes with the use of unmodified red palm oil, is lacking.
A number of human studies suggest palm oil may have an anticlotting effect.1 However, there is conflicting evidence for this with some sources reporting an increase in clotting.2
Downsides of Red Palm Oil
There are no side effects reported with red palm oil in clinical trials. There’s a hypothetical interaction with blood thinning drugs due to the possibility of red palm oil’s effects on clotting.
Despite a potential lack of adverse effects, growing and harvesting red palm oil may have negative effects on the environment. Oil palm plantations are replacing huge swaths of native rainforests in Asia. One of the results of this is a shrinking endangered orangutan habitat.
The only good evidence for using red palm oil is for preventing vitamin A deficiency, which makes sense due to its carotene content. However, good evidence for other health benefits is lacking.
Stick to improving your diet, exercising more and using drugs that have proven benefits (like metformin for diabetics).