Red Palm Oil is the New Coconut Oil: Latest “Miracle” Oil to Receive the Hype Treatment


red palm oil fruitlets by Tansra on flickr

Coconut oil is yesterday’s miracle.  The new oil with supposedly magical qualities is red palm oil.  Dr. Oz recently declared red palm oil as one of his 13 miracles for 2013.

“Dr. Oz’s first miracle solution of 2013 is red palm oil. An amazing fat that helps stop the signs of aging inside and out!  Learn all about this new nutrient powerhouse and how it can help you add years to your life.”

Take a look at this segment.

Red palm oil (or red palm fruit oil) is extracted from red-hued fruits of palm trees that grow in Indonesia and Malaysia.   The color of the oil remains red due to the beta carotene inside.  This precursor of vitamin A is the same compound that contributes to the color of carrots and other orange-red hued vegetables and fruits.

So it’s true that red palm oil supplies vitamin A.  In fact, the Micronutrient Initiative is exploring the use of red palm oil as part of a food-based approach to vitamin A supplementation in Africa and other parts of the world.  Vitamin A deficiency is a critical issue in developing countries, where it’s the leading cause of blindness (and can even result in death).  However, vitamin A deficiency is rare in this country, and there are certainly much better ways for all of us to get this nutrient, such as eating red or orange vegetables and fruits!

red palm oil - xyzcooperative

red palm oil by xyzcooperative on flickr

Joe Schwarcz recently analyzed Dr. Oz’s claims about red palm oil in an excellent article in the Montreal Gazette called “The Great Oz’s wizardry must be questioned.”  I loved this line…

“As is usually the case with Oz’s miracles, there is a seed of truth that then gets fertilized with lots of verbal manure until it grows into a tree that bears fruit dripping with unsubstantiated hype.”

Dr. Schwarcz, director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society, does a great job of breaking down each of the “miracles’ about red palm oil — from losing weight and belly fat to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and heart disease — and then providing a much-needed reality check.  The Dr. Oz segment featured Canadian homeopath Bryce Wylde, who used various “stunts” to try and illustrate the miraculous qualities of the oil, such as showing a sliced apple that has turned brown.

“We all know the culinary trick…of putting lemon juice or lime juice on our fruit salad or apple. That protects it, keeps it white.  Well red palm oil does the exact same thing in our brains, protecting it.  That special form of vitamin E is actually going to increase blood circulation, it’s going to reduce incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s, so it’s going to protect our most important organ.”

Scott Gavura of Science-Based Medicine has also skillfully broken down these claims in a comprehensive piece called “The Dr. Oz Red Palm Oil (non-) Miracle.”  He wrote that there is no direct evidence to substantiate this claim.

“Antioxidants have been proposed as possible preventive treatments for dementia, given oxidative stress may be a component of the degenerative changes observed with the disease.  Trials studying vitamin E supplementation for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease have shown no effect, though it may have a role in the treatment of established disease.  It’s been similarly disappointing with beta carotene, where no clear benefit has been demonstrated.”

Joe Schwarcz wrote that Dr. Oz may have been referring to a study in which 74 seniors with mild dementia were compared with 158 healthy seniors.

“People with dementia had lower lovels of beta carotene and vitamin C in their blood. Again, this does not prove that the lower levels are responsible for the condition; they may just signal that a diet is poorer in fruits and vegetables.  Tocotrienols, the ‘special form of vitamin E’ that Oz talked about, have shown some borderline effects in Alzheimer’s patients at doses way higher than found in red palm oil.  There is not evidence for preventing the disease.”

Huffington Post Living Canada also wrote about the red palm oil segment, “I Don’t Buy What Dr. Oz is Trying to Sell.”  In response to the stunt with a sewer pipe that tried to show how the oil flushes through our arteries.  Michael Kruse wrote:

“An actual check of the facts reveals a lot of research into the alpha-tocotrienol found in the unprocessed oil. Supplementation with this chemical did show promise in lowering bad LDL cholesterol, and one rat study showed the potential of red palm fruit oil to limit the amount of damage to the heart during a heart attack. However, most of the studies into red palm fruit oil and alpha-tocotrienol, and their effects on improving the cardiovascular system have been done using faceless cells in a dish or in animals like mice and rabbits, with very few studies involving actual humans. None of the studies actually studied the effect of red palm fruit oil on your chance of dying from a heart attack or other cardiovascular event.”

Dr. Oz. excalimed that this demo was indicative of how red palm oil reduces cholesterol in a month by 40 percent, better than drugs.  But Dr. Schwarcz said a search of Pubmed revealed no such study.

Perhaps the most attractive claim that could entice folks to run out and try this oil is the notion that it can blast belly fat.  If you watch the segment, Dr. Oz lights a small candle and then a bigger flare to illustrate how red palm oil can ignite your metabolism and torch your belly fat.  Not so fast.   Dr. Schwarcz wrote:8543819800_a0985316fc_o

“The message seemed to be that the body burns most fats slowly, but it burns red palm oil with great efficiency, thus preventing weight gain. Where does this come from?  Possibly some confusion about medium chain trigylcerides, which are somewhat faster metabolized than other fats. But these are not found in palm oil. Oz and his homeopath expert were as confused about this as about the rest of the red palm oil info they belched out.”

Everything is just so over blown.  Just like what we saw happen with raspberry ketones and green coffee bean extract, the companies selling red palm oil are now touting the Dr. Oz segment and using his endorsement to sell products. You’ll find jars of extra-virgin red palm  jars in health food stores and online, along with recipes and suggested regimens to take daily spoonfuls of this superfood.

The evidence simply isn’t there.  Yes, red palm oil provides vitamin E and vitamin A, but there are better ways to get these nutrients.  The oil will not “melt away” belly fat or bring down cholesterol levels.  Even if a rat study showed any slight benefit, switching oils will likely have a trivial effect compared to other positive changes you could make.

Maybe you want to experiment cooking with red palm oil.  That’s fine.  Just don’t feel the need to take it by the spoonfuls or flat-out switch from olive oil — where the science is strong.  Plus, there’s an environmental impact in your oil selection.  There are orangutan protection advocates who have launched a campaign to shame Dr. Oz for recommending palm oil because this red oil threathens red apes, and other creatures in the jungles of Borneo and Sumatra.

Dr. Oz predicts that red palm oil will be the next big thing.  It’s his #1 new miracle for 2013. I hope he’s wrong about this one.

 image of red palm fruit oil by dailyamazon on flickr

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