Safflower oil is equally popular for cooking and as it is for boosting weight loss and skin health. Research backs up some of the claims but also suggests that this oil may be good for the heart, brain, and blood vessels. Its serotonin-like polyphenols reduce inflammation and may enhance cognition. Read on to learn more about safflower oil, with mechanisms, dosage, and side effects. What Is Safflower Oil?
Carthamus tinctorius , known as safﬂower or false saffron, is one of the oldest known crops . It was first cultivated 4,000 years ago [ 1 , 2 ].
This thistle-like plant is part of the daisy family ( Asteraceae ) and thrives in hot and dry climates. Safflower oil was first cultivated in China, India, Iran, and Egypt. It was then introduced to western countries between the 5th and 14th centuries [ 3 , 4 ].
The safflower plant is grown primarily as an oilseed crop , but its flowers have also been cultivated for culinary, textile, and medicinal purposes [ 4 , 3 ].
Safflower oil is popular for cooking and deep frying due to its high smoke point. It is a clear oil with a neutral taste that makes it a common addition to salads. Nutritionally, safflower oil is similar to sunflower oil. However, it contains some unique bioactive compounds that sunflower oil lacks [ 5 ]. Bioactive Components
The oil content of safflower seeds ranges from 23 – 40% [ 6 , 4 ]. Mostly polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids: linoleic acid 55 – 82%
Very small amounts of saturated fatty acids (palmitic acid up to 7% and stearic acids 1 – 6%)
Linoleic and oleic acids in safflower oil provide concentrated sources of omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, respectively [ 9 , 2 ].
Cultivation programs in the 1960s created a safflower oil high in oleic acid (70 – 80%) and low in linoleic acid. Due to its high oleic acid content, this oil has a longer shelf life. Many other plant oils are naturally rich in oleic acid. But this special type of safflower oil is richer in oleic acid than olive oil , the usual best source of this omega-9 fatty acid (with ~66% oleic acid) [ 2 ].
Safflower oil is rich in antioxidant polyphenols (lignans, flavones, and serotonins), which have wide-ranging health benefits. Lignans and flavone polyphenols are phytoestrogens, plant compounds that can mimic estrogen [ 10 , 11 ]. Mechanism of Action
In cell studies, safflower oil blocked a key inflammatory pathway called NF-κB and turn off genes that increase immune-activating cytokines, making it a potentially potent anti-inflammatory [ 12 , 13 , 7 ].
It also reduced inflammatory enzymes that can damage the placenta in pregnant diabetic rats [ 14 ].
Safflower oil improved bone mass in animals by increasing growth hormones ( IGF-I , IGF-II) and their proteins [ 15 ].
It protected against small intestine ulcers from NSAID drugs (like Motrin) in mice [ 16 ].
Phospholipids in safflower oil lowered blood and liver cholesterol in rats by reducing cholesterol absorption in the small intestine [ 8 ].
Polyphenols in safflower seed oil have demonstrated activity against:
Safflower polyphenols prevented LDL from being transformed into oxidized LDL, which can block arteries. These active compounds prevented plaque buildup even in mice genetically lacking APOE . Its polyphenols also prevent arteries from becoming thick and rigid [ 18 , 17 ]. Antioxidant Activity
Polyphenols from safflower oil enhanced antioxidant defense and reduced damage in numerous cellular and animal studies [ 20 , 18 , 21 , 22 ].
Antioxidant serotonins from safflower oil neutralized free radicals and inflammatory cytokines in human white blood cells exposed to LPS . LPS is a bacterial toxin that often enters the bloodstream of people with leaky gut and can trigger inflammation in the whole body [ 22 ]. Potential Benefits of Safflower Oil
Safflower oil is safe to consume in food, but it has not been approved by the FDA for medical use. Speak with your doctor before making significant changes to your diet or supplements. 1) Heart Health
Safflower oil reduced triglycerides , LDL , and total cholesterol in a large meta-analysis of human trials. When it comes to the breakdown of its effects compared to other oils and fats, safflower oil was [ 23 ]: Better at reducing LDL than saturated fats like butter or lard (a mix of saturated and unsaturated fats)
Better at reducing triglycerides than butter or beef fat
Worse at increasing HDL cholesterol than most other oils or fats, including sunflower, olive, palm, coconut oil, and beef fat
In one clinical trial, 8g/day of safflower oil reduced inflammation and increased HDL in 35 obese, post-menopausal women with type 2 diabetes over 16 weeks. But keep in mind that many other oils and fats may be more effective at increasing HDL [ 24 ].
In another clinical trial, 24g/day of safflower oil reduced total cholesterol and LDL in 37 healthy adults [ 25 ].In multiple animal studies, diets rich in safflower oil or safflower phospholipids reduced blood and/or liver cholesterol and increased HDL levels. For example, safflower oil decreased liver cholesterol by an impressive 44% in lambs. Triglyceride levels varied in most animal studies [ 26 , 27 , 28 , 8 , 29 , 30 ].Compared to beef tallow, diets high in safflower oil were much more effective at reducing blood triglycerides in rats [ 31 ].Two serotonin polyphenols from safflower oil improved recovery and reduced damage after heart attacks in a heart tissue study [ 21 ].However, high-oleic-acid safflower oil (30mL/day) had no beneficial effect on lipid levels in one study on twelve post-menopausal women [ 32 ].The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of safflower oil for any of the below-listed uses. Remember to speak with a doctor before making significant changes to your diet, and never use safflower oil as a replacement for something your doctor recommends […]