What is Safflower Oil?
One of a number of edible oils believed to be beneficial to your health, safflower oil does come along with certain risks. This article will try to inform you as fully as possible on its potential benefits and its negative effects. With any luck, you will be able to make a more informed decision and way up the benefits against the potential risks.
If you are unfamiliar with safflower oil, let me start by saying that it is derived from the safflower plant’s seeds. The safflower plant is known scientifically as Carthamus tinctorius L and is an annual crop belonging to the Asteraceae family.
The safflower plant is native to much of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. In India, it is known as kusum while in China it is called hongua. It is among the world’s oldest cultivated crops with a history dating back some 4,000 years to ancient Egypt. However, it was not until the middle of the last century that safflower plant production went into full swing.
India produces the largest amount of commercial safflower in the world with California and Mexico following closely behind. As well as California, safflower is cultivated in other Western states of the U.S including Arizona, Dakota, Idaho, Colorado and Nebraska.
The Uses of Safflower Oil
Safflower has a long history of use for a variety of reasons. It was used by the people of ancient Egypt as a coloring agent or a dye for clothing. These days it has a variety of other uses which include the following:
- As a Spice: The dried plant is often used as a replacement in cooking for the far more expensive spice -saffron.
- As an ingredient in industry: Up until the mid 20th century, the primary uses of safflower oil was as an ingredient in varnishes, manufacturing paints and surface coating.
- Artist’s solvent: Safflower oil is mixed with oil paints as an alternative to linseed oil.
- Hair Conditioning: Safflower oil was historically used in parts of Asia like China by women who wanted to keep their hair looking healthy and shiny.
Safflower oil Nutrition and Composition
There are actually two kind of safflower. The first type is one that produces oil which is rich in oleic acid which is a monounsaturated fatty acid. The other has higher levels of polyunsaturated fatty acid otherwise known as linoleic acid. The ratio of unsaturated fat to saturated fats in safflower oil is around 10:1.
- The oleic variety of oil has around 78% monounsaturated fats, 15% polyunsaturated and 7% saturated fat.
- The linoleic variety of safflower oil contains around 75% more polyunsaturated fats than other oils such as olive oil, peanut oil or soybean oil.
Safflower oil contains high concentrations of omega-6 fatty acid but has no omega-3 fats. It is considered best to maintain a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fats. While they are both important for health, omega-6 tends to be consumed to excess these days in the standard western diets.
The Health Benefits of Safflower Oil
1) For Heart Health
Safflower oil is extremely rich in omega-6 fatty acid. Despite the concerns that our diets contain too much of these acids, omega-6 is vital to the body’s health. Otherwise referred to as linoleic acid, it helps maintain the body’s cholesterol levels at a healthy level.
Keeping cholesterol in check is absolutely essential to your heart and your overall health. Making sure that your cholesterol levels are healthy means that you reduce your risk of heart attacks, stroke and atherosclerosis or the hardening of your arteries.
2) For Diabetes
The omega-6 fatty acids mentioned previously can also help maintain proper blood sugar level and help people suffering from type 2 diabetes to keep their blood glucose in check. Switching to a more healthy oil like safflower may also help prevent the disease from developing in the first place.
3) For Obesity and Weight Control
Safflower oil is probably a healthy choice for people who are overweight and looking to get back in shape. It contains a good supply of Omega-6 fatty acid which can help the body utilize its fat stores as opposed to simply storing it in the body.
Of course, we are not suggesting that safflower oil in and of itself will help you to lose the pounds, but when compared to many other oils, it makes for a better choice. It works very well as a cooking oil so replacing a less healthy oil and switching to safflower may help you to make marginal reductions in weight in the long term.
4) For Hair Health
The oleic acid found in safflower oil is extremely beneficial for both the hair and the scalp. This nutrient can improve circulation to the scalp, stimulate hair growth and actually strengthen hair follicles resulting in healthier and stronger hair.
Its ability to keep your hair healthy and promote a glowing appearance means that it is a popular ingredient in cosmetic hair products.
5) For the Skin
The linoleic acid content of safflower oil is perfect for improving the health and appearance of the skin. The fatty acids work in combination with sebum to unclog the skin’s pores resulting in fewer whiteheads and blackheads which in turn may help protect against acne.
Linoleic acid can also stimulate new skin cell regeneration helping clear up scars and other nasty skin blemishes. As with any treatment for scarring and blemishes, you can not expect short term results and will need a fair bit of patience before you start seeing any noticeable results.
6) For Immune Health
It is possible that safflower oil can help contribute to immune system health because the healthy fatty acids in the oil can regulate the body’s prostaglandins. These hormone like substances help our body’s to function more effectively and can help immune system function. This means our bodies are better able to protect themselves from sicknesses including colds and flu.
The linoleic acid in safflower oil is responsible for a number of bodily functions including the regulation of hormonal fluctuations common during menstruation. It is possible that safflower oil can ease the symptoms that affect many women during their period including mood swings and irritability. It can act in a similar way to hormonal supplements less the unwanted side effects.
8) Arthritis and Muscle Pain
Massaging safflower oil externally into the skin can help ease muscle pain or joint pain like arthritis. It can also help ease the pain suffered from injury.
Safflower Oil Precautions
Safflower oil is likely safe for external use on the skin and hair but there are some precautions that should be noted before taking the oil internally.
- Safflower oil should not be consumed in the days leading up to surgery nor the period following surgery unless you get approval from your doctor. Because the oil can may impede the blood clotting process, it may increase the risk of bleeding after surgery.
- Taking safflower oil with anticoagulant medications or NDAIDs like ibuprofen can also increase the risk of hemorrhaging.
- People with an allergy to ragweed, daisies, sunflowers or marigolds should avoid safflower oil.
- Pregnant women should not take the oil internally because it can stimulate uterine contractions.
- People with low blood pressure should not take the oil internally.
- Reported side effects include vomiting, nausea, loose stools and diarrhea.