Amaranth Oil

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Amaranth oil is a truly unique edible oil because it contains some of the highest concentration of a natural compound known as squalene. This natural chemical is essential for achieving healthy skin function, manufacture of hormones and lipids like cholesterol in our body. Cholesterol is actually very healthy for the body, but only till its concentration remains within limits. Most of the unique health benefits of amaranth oil are attributed to the presence of squalene. Amaranth oil is also quite effective in alleviating psoriasis, certain forms of dermatitis and acne. When taken internally, it is helpful in achieving a better cardiovascular health.  

Source

Amaranth is a grain. It is a light and easy to digest grain that has been grown since millenia in Central America, Africa and the Indian subcontinent. It is either ground into flour or popped like popcorn. Its plant bears distinguished deep purplish pink flowers at the top of the stalks and the fields look mesmerizingly beautiful.  

Amaranth Oil
Amaranth Oil (Image:Shutterstock)

There are three varieties of amaranth that have been domesticated and used as grain, but only two of them are used to yield oil. These are Amaranthus cruentus and Amaranthus hypochondriacus. The oil is expelled via either the traditional method of mechanical pressing or the modern methods of solvent extraction. However, to preserve the content of phytonutrients, it is better to go for cold mechanical pressing. This ensures that the oil contains optimum amount of vitamin E and squalene apart from the healthy fats. 

Color, Taste and Aroma

It is brilliant yellow in color with greenish tones. Its smell is mild and slightly bitter with a faint earthy aroma, which is grounding to the senses. Its taste however is really bland. Some people who are quite perceptive may note a mild nutty taste. Like other grain oils, it has an astringent nature also.   

Properties

A unique blend of unsaturated and saturated fatty acids, vitamin E in both the forms – tocopherols and tocotrienols and then squalene along with other micro-nutrients like phospholipids and phytosterols lend this oil remarkable therapeutic properties.  

  • Emollient – Squalene and oleic acid are very good emollients. Squalene is a major component of our body’ natural oil sebum (it makes up 13% of sebum). It thus keeps the skin moisturized, preventing moisture from escaping out. [1] 
  • Skin Protective – It plays a role in creating the lipid barrier (fatty layer) on the outermost layer of our skin that keeps toxins and microbes out. This role is donned by squalene and linoleic acid. In fact, about 50% of amaranth oil is linoleic acid.   
  • Nutrient – Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid which is required by the body from diet as we cannot synthesize it. Applying amaranth oil on the skin or drinking it can easily provide us the linoleic acid that we need. Without it, humans suffer from a deficiency disease that leads to scaling, extreme dryness, dermatitis and even hair loss in some cases. Squalene is also a nutrient for the body as well as the skin. Both squalene and Vitamin E exert strong antioxidant activity and protect our skin cells from UV induced damage. Thus, it helps to keep ageing at bay. [2] 
  • Antioxidant – Amaranth oil is incredibly adept at scavenging singlet oxygen (a type of free radical oxygen) that oxidizes the healthy fats in our skin cells and thus leads to conditions of photoageing (in the form of fine lines, wrinkles and even pigmentation) and sun sensitivity.[2] 
  • Anti-inflammatory – Applying amaranth oil on the skin is helpful in alleviating psoriasis and dermatitis, both of which are inflammatory responses of our immune system. 
  • Skin softener – This is attributed to vitamin E. Regular application of vitamin E rich natural oils makes the skin softer to touch by reducing the roughness of epidermis.  
  • Scar Fading – Vitamin E is effective in diminishing scars and making the differences in skin color around the scar less prominent. Scar is visibly reduced. 
  • Anti-Cancer – Studies conducted on animals suggest that squalene can prevent certain cancers from proliferating (spreading), specifically tumors of the lungs and colon cancer. [3] 
  • Anti-Radiation – There is some research suggesting that squalene may also have preventive effect when we are exposed to harmful radioactive radiation.{Find out ref} 

When it is taken internally, amaranth oil acts as a cardioprotective, helps in achieving a balanced lipid profile, provides strong antioxidant power to our blood and the squalene in it assists our body in making the all-important hormones.  

Health Benefits and Uses

Amaranth oil for Skin Care

It can be applied directly on the skin without any need for dilution. Amaranth oil is light and non-greasy. It does not leave a residue on the skin as it is easily absorbed. Regular application makes the skin softer and smoother. Linoleic acid in it improves the structure of the skin matrix and repairs the lipid barrier.  

  • Acne – Amaranth can be applied directly on active acne as it is non-comedogenic and anti-inflammatory. One can add about 4 drops of tea tree oil to 100 ml of amaranth oil and apply this mixture on active acne, even the most troublesome form – the cystic acne. Even in cosmetic formulations, amaranth oil is used as a carrier vehicle for transporting nutrients and active compounds to the inner layers of skin. So, it provides the antibacterials in tea tree essential oil to the skin cells in a more effective manner. 
  • Psoriasis – The lubricating properties of squalane are helpful in providing natural moisturization to skin affected by psoriasis. It thus helps to keep skin healthier despite the scaling. However, it is not enough to deal with a condition as resilient as psoriasis. But it can be used for general skin care as it is non-sensitizing.  
  • Atopic eczema – It is a form of dermatitis which can be relieved somewhat by amaranth oil. This effect is also attributed to the high amounts of squalene in it. Like psoriasis, eczema and its various forms are also chronic and require multiple strategies to alleviate them. [4] 

For general skin care, amaranth oil can be used for all those purposes for which squalene (and its derivative squalane) are used in topical creams and solutions. So, one can use amaranth oil as a bath oil, to remove eye makeup, as a lip moisturizer, to soften nail cuticles, as a night oil to tone the skin and smoothen out wrinkles. A small amount of amaranth oil can be added to face packs to enhance the delivery of nutrients to the skin.  

Amaranth oil for Heart Health

Consumption of a small amount of amaranth oil as a supplement has been found to improve the lipid profile of our blood. This study found that taking amaranth oil (containing squalene) reduced total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL) and VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol forms. It also lowered triglycerides marginally. All this contributes to a healthy blood that has lesser chances of developing atherogenic plaques (that block our major arteries) which ultimately lead to heart attacks.  

It was also found to be beneficial in hypertension, wherein taking amaranth oil decreased systolic as well as diastolic blood pressures. It also acted as an antioxidant when taken internally and protected cell membranes from oxidative damage. [5] 

Squalene is essential for synthesis of cholesterol and many other forms of hormone compounds. Thus, it may be playing a role in the proper generation of hormones in our body, like adrenaline, testosterone, and estrogen that are very important for healthy body and mind. Squalene, as many people know is commercially extracted from the liver of deep-sea sharks. The people of Japan and Polynesia have traditionally assigned great significance to shark liver stating that it is very good for improved vigor and vitality in life. This may further suggest a link between a diet rich in squalene and a healthy endocrine (hormonal) system of our body. [3] 

Nutritional and Medicinal Information

Here we dissect the exact composition of amaranth oil and analyze as to why it is unique. Amaranth grains are rich in oil, consequently their yield is good.  

Breakdown of fatty acids in amaranth oil reveals that it is mainly made up of four lipids.  

Fatty acid  Carbon notation and type  Composition 
Linoleic acid  C 18:2 (PUFA)  50% 
Oleic acid  C 18:1 (MUFA)  23% 
Palmitic acid  C 16:0 (Saturated fat)  19% 
Stearic acid  C 18:0 (Saturated fat)  3% 

Source: 5 

Saturated fats make up maximum of 22% of this edible oil, which is what makes it healthy for internal consumption in small amounts. However, it is not recommended as a cooking oil. Besides the dominant linoleic acid, we also have a good amount of oleic acid and palmitic acid. Palmitic acid is a good cleanser of the skin, which makes it helpful in conditions like acne and psoriasis.  

Vitamin E is present in amaranth oil both in the forms of tocopherols (which are more common) and tocotrienols (which are a rarity). Now, these tocotrienol forms of vitamin E are found in useful amounts in oils extracted from grains like wheat germ, rice bran and oat bran. They demonstrate similar antioxidant capacity as the tocopherol forms. But, recently, research interest has kindled to explore the specific health benefits that tocotrienols provide, and we are beginning to find striking ones. Turns out that the radiation protective benefits that I mentioned above could be because of delta-tocotrienol which has been found to protect bone marrow of rats from gamma radiation. [6] 

Amaranth oil has the highest concentration of plant derived squalene. 100 gm of amaranth oil contains as much as 5.9 gm of squalene, which is really concentrated. Other select few oils that nature has bestowed with squalene are olive oil, wheat germ oil and rice bran oil. Olive oil contains about 280 mg of squalene per 100 gm of oil, which even less than one-tenth of what amaranth has. That is why amaranth oil is a sustainable substitute for shark liver oil. If more and more squalene is extracted from amaranth then that would reduce pressure on hunting of sharks which would be great for the sharks and for the health of oceans.  

Cold pressed amaranth oil contains a class of fats called phospholipids. They play a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of the membranes (outer coverings) of our cells. They are responsible for lending advanced moisturization properties to oils.  

The physical and chemical properties of amaranth oil are also worth looking at. 

Density   
Acid number  2.9 mg KOH/gm of oil 
Iodine number   130 
Peroxide number   2.4 
Comedogenicity  0 

Source: 5 

Side Effects, Safe Dosage and Toxicity Issues

It is generally considered as safe with little to no toxicity at normal doses. There are little chances of allergy or skin sensitivity. However, very high levels of linoleic acid may lead to some inflammation in certain people. That is because linoleic acid is very capricious. Most of the times it reduces inflammation but some of its metabolites are pro-inflammatory also. If that is the case, you may try altering your diet to one that is rich in omega-3 fats which balances out the inflammatory tendencies of linoleic acid (which is an omega-6). As regards optimum dosage of amaranth oil, specifically with respect to the amount of squalene a person needs, depends on the condition. Dosages between 3gm to 18gm of oil per day are used in studies, so the ideal dosage may be advised by a doctor.  

Buying and Storage

Amaranth oil is really quite expensive. Some people may try to sell amaranth oil adulterated with cheaper edible oils (like sunflower is a common adulterant) in order to get unfair profits. It is best to purchase from a reputed manufacturer with a long history of production and sale of amaranth oil.  

Some of the products are not amaranth seed oil but actually amaranth essential oil whose health benefits we do not know. Amaranth oil is reputed for its temperature stability as it remains liquid even at low temperatures, which is great for people living in colder climates. There is no need to refrigerate it as it is best kept at a cool place inside the house away from sunlight.  

References

  1. Moisturizers – The Slippery Road, Anisha Sethi et al, Indian Journal of Dermatology.  
  2. Squalane and its potential clinical uses. Kelly GS, Alternative Medicine Review. 
  3. Squalene – PubChem 
  4. The importance and perspective of plant-based squalene in cosmetology.Wolosik K. et al, Journal of Cosmetic Science.  
  5. Amaranth oil application for coronary heart disease and hypertension. Danik M. Martirosyan et al, Lipids in Health and Disease.  
  6. δ-tocotrienol protects mouse and human hematopoietic progenitors from γ-irradiation through extracellular signal-regulated kinase/mammalian target of rapamycin signaling. Xiang Hong Li et al, Haematologica.  

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