Sea Buckthorn: A true unsung hero in the functional food world
One of the unsung heroes that brings a powerful punch to the functional food world is sea buckthorn.
Don’t let fancy marketing fool you into believing that sea buckthorn is a new discovery. The benefits of this powerful food were recognized by ancient civilizations like the greeks who were noted as being the first to discover it powerful benefits 1,200 years ago. The greeks were not the only ones who appreciated this spectacular food. Sea buckthorn was also noted in both Chinese and Tibetan texts over 1000 years ago and to this day, are an important part of traditional chinese medicine.
The missing piece in the fatty acid puzzle
While the benefits of fatty acids have been studied for a long time and the research is very solid showing why we need them on a daily basis, there are some important facts being left out of this story. If you are under the impression that omega 3 & 6 fatty acids are the only players in this “game of health”, you are dead wrong. A very powerful fatty acid that seems to be overlooked is the omega 7’s. While there are only a small selection of foods that contain the omega 7 fatty acids (also known as palmitoleic acid) like certain fatty fish and macadamia nuts, sea buckthorn is a real superstar in this department. Sea buckthorn brings to the table not only a unique fatty acid profile (as it also contains a nice balance of omega 3,6 and 9 fatty acids) but, also naturally contains close to 200 different nutrients and bioactive substances including vitamins, phenolic compounds, fatty acids and free amino acids.
Based on the potential that omega 7 fatty acids have on metabolic function, the Cleveland clinic performed a randomized controlled human study using a purified supplement form of the omega 7’s. The purpose of this study was to see if daily supplementation could improve lipid profiles and reduce specific inflammation markers over a 30 day period. The subjects were adults with existing risk factors (overweight/obese, low or moderate levels of inflammation and abnormal lipid profiles) for both cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The subjects got 220 mg of omega 7’s once daily with food or a placebo and blood work was taken at both the beginning and end of the study.
The results showed “At 30 days, there were significant mean (95% confidence interval [CI]) reductions in CRP (21.9 [22.3 to 21.4] mg/L), triglyceride (230.2 [240.2 to 225.3] mg/dL), and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) (28.9 [212.0 to 25.8] mg/dL), and a significant increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) (2.4 [1.5, 3.3] mg/dL) in the intervention group compared with control. These changes equated to 44%, 15%, and 8% reductions in CRP, triglyceride, and LDL respectively, and a 5% increase in HDL compared with control”. (1)
Therefore it was established
“Purified palmitoleic acid may be useful in the treatment of hypertriglyceridemia with the beneficial added effects of decreasing LDL and hs-CRP and raising HDL. Further study is needed to elucidate mechanisms and establish appropriate human doses”. (1)
In another human study, the omega 7 fatty acid palmitoleic acid was used to investigate its ability to predict insulin sensitivity in 100 subjects at high risk for type 2 diabetes. The purpose of this study was to see if it was able to predict insulin sensitivity in humans the same way it did in mice. The results stated “Circulating palmitoleate (OGTT:F ratio = 8.2, P = 0.005; clamp:F ratio = 7.8, P = 0.007) but not total FFAs (OGTT:F ratio = 0.6, P = 0.42; clamp:F ratio = 0.7, P = 0.40) correlated positively with insulin sensitivity, independently of age, sex, and adiposity. High baseline palmitoleate predicted a larger increase in insulin sensitivity. For 1-SD increase in palmitoleate, the odds ratio for being in the highest versus the lowest tertile of adjusted change in insulin sensitivity was 2.35 (95% CI 1.16-5.35)”. (2)
It was concluded
“Circulating palmitoleate strongly and independently predicts insulin sensitivity, suggesting that it plays an important role in the pathophysiology of insulin resistance in humans”. (2)
But wait, there’s more………………
Because sea buckthorn oil contains an abundance of substances (around 200 constituents) unique to other plant based oils, this food has been researched for its ability to have multi-directional effects. A review published in the journal Lipids Health and Disease 2017, a review and breakdown was done discussing the nourishing benefits of the oils extracted from sea buckthorn. It was determined that sea buckthorn has a very unique fatty acid profile.
“Sea-buckthorn oil contains saturated fatty acids in the form of palmitic acid C16:0 (30–33 wt.%) and stearic acid C18:0 (<1 wt.%), and it has a wide range of essential unsaturated fatty acids (UFA), in particular so called PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) [12, 61–63]. They include alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) C18:3 (30 wt.%), gamma-linolenic acid (omega-6) C18:3 (35.5 wt.%), linolic acid (omega-6) C18:2 (5–7 wt.%), oleic acid (omega-9) C18:1 (14–18 wt.%) and eicosanoic acid (omega-9) C20:1 (2 wt.%) [3, 12, 14, 15, 61–63] (Table (Table2).2). Such a high content of unique gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) has a significant effect on the transport of nutrients”. (3)
Due to this unique fatty acid profile and the fact it contains the rare omega 7 fatty acids, sea buckthorn has tremendous applications for nourishing the skin. It was stated “it should be noted that this oil contains rare palmitoleic acid (omega-7) which is a component of skin lipids and stimulates regenerative processes in the epidermis and wound healing. Thanks to it, sea-buckthorn oil activates physiological skin functions and reduces scars”(3) Part of this unique fatty acid profile includes phospholipids and glycolipids which according to this paper “exhibit skin moisturizing and soften the epidermis, improve elasticity of the skin, reduce inflammation of the skin, accelerate skin regeneration and cell renewal”. (3)
Based on the research it was was concluded “sea-buckthorn and its oil may be considered to be one of the most valuable natural products in the world. The beneficial effect of various active ingredients contained in sea-buckthorn oil has been recognised in food industry as well as in medicine, pharmacology and cosmetic industry where this oil is used more and more often in skin care preparations or as an adjunctive treatment”. (3)
I think our world is filled with beautiful treasures that don’t make it to the forefront simply because they are not “marketable” or exciting enough. That is one of the reasons i really enjoy writing these articles for nwwildfoods.com. This company takes the time to provide the customer with beautiful foods that have a wonderful history and are backed by quality science. As i had stated in my last article, superfoods and functional foods are respected by cultures all over the world and the knowledge of the people indigenous to where these foods grow is considered sacred and sea buckthorn is no exception to this rule.
2)Stefan N1, Kantartzis K, Celebi N, Staiger H, Machann J, Schick F, Cegan A, Elcnerova M, Schleicher E, Fritsche A, Häring HU. 2010. “Circulating palmitoleate strongly and independently predicts insulin sensitivity in humans”. Pubmed.gov. Referenced 8/24/18
3)Aleksandra Zielińska and Izabela Nowak. 2017. “Abundance of active ingredients in sea-buckthorn oil”. Pubmed.gov Referenced 8/24/18 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5438513/