Perilla Oil

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Perilla oil is one of the highest plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids (in the form of alpha linolenic acid) which makes it a powerhouse of health benefits for the body internally as well for skin care. Perilla oil comes from toasted perilla seeds that form part of the traditional cuisine of Korea. It is here that perilla oil was being expelled for centuries and is still a staple in Korean cooking, along with sesame oil. Currently, it is gaining prominence for its use as nutritional supplement to avail all the benefits that omega-3 has to offer.  

Source

Perilla is a small shrub (Perilla frutescans) which bears small yet beautiful white flowers at the tip of the shoots. The plant looks somewhat similar to basil. When it ripens in the Korean highlands, the fields are awash with the colors of green and dark purple. Leaves are used to prepare vegetable dishes and it tastes sweet and aromatic like the anise. Seeds are small, like mustard seeds but much more aromatic. They release a nutty aroma when toasted and taste fatty and slightly minty when eating. Initially the seeds are light grey with a tint of red but when they are heated dry over a low flame, they start to turn darker grey and after a point of time when they are done, they start to crackle. This is the indication to stop toasting and start making dishes or condiments or to expel oil. Sometimes, untoasted seed is also used to expel oil, but this untoasted oil is not used for cooking. It is used to make traditional paints and varnishes in Japan, because it is a drying oil, like linseed oil.   

Perilla Oil
Perilla Oil (Image:Shutterstock)

Toasted seeds are traditionally expelled using a mechanical press to yield organic, cold pressed, virgin perilla oil. Perilla can be found in the highlands of Southern China as well as the Himalayas in India but it is not used as frequently to extract oil as in Korea. In China, it is known as wild basil or huíhuísū. Japanese call it shiso which is only one of the few prominent varieties of perilla. There are a few others as well. In western Himalayas, it is called as bhangira (or bhanjira). In the Indian state of Manipur, these seeds are commonly eaten as a spicy, nutty condiment called as Thoiding Ashuba. As the global demand for perilla is soaring, there is much more interest in its cultivation. Larger firms are taking interest in manufacturing and selling perilla oil but many of them sell refined oil which does not match up to the cold pressed oil in terms of health benefits.  

Color, Taste and Aroma

It looks greenish yellow in color. It has a thick consistency and tastes quite oily but with a mild nutty aroma. It is not similar to sesame oil as it has an earthen taste when it is added to salads.  

Properties

  • Anti-Inflammatory – Omega-3 fatty acid is really powerful at calming systemic inflammation. Quite often, inflammation is the result of a faulty diet that is heavily dependent on processed sugars, refined wheat products like white bread and processed cheese. A diet rich in perilla oil (any oil rich in omega-3) would reduce generation of inflammation by our immune system and thus reduce pain. [1] 
  • Analgesic – As a result of lowered inflammation, pain is also minimized. Joint pain due to arthritis is a common manifestation of systemic inflammation.  
  • Neuroprotective – Perilla oil specifically has been found to reduce nerve degeneration caused by free radicals in animal studies. [2] 
  • Blood Flow Enhancer – Another study shows that consumption of perilla oil improves blood flow in arteries by delaying thrombosis (formation of blood clots). It has something to do with how platelets form blood clots. Nevertheless, small dose of perilla oil would serve as an aid to the cardiovascular system. [4] 
  • Hepatoprotective – Perilla oil reduces the risk of developing hepatitis for those who already suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease caused by eating a high fat diet. It improves gut health slightly;  by shifting our gut flora back to equilibrium. This is beneficial because in our times, gut flora is disbalanced due to excessive prescription of antibiotics. However, fish oil is more effective than perilla oil at restoring gut flora as we shall see below. [4] 
  • Nutrient – Omega-3, just like omega-6 is an essential fatty acid. We need to eat foods that are rich in both of them, as our body cannot synthesize these fats. Without them, we suffer from a deficiency disease which manifests on the skin as dermatitis and a host of skin problems. Deficiency of these 2 classes of fats also affects our absorption of nutrients in the intestines, on which our entire health depends.  

Health Benefits and Uses

Perilla Oil for Skin 

Primarily, eating perilla oil as a cooking oil provides omega-3 to our body. This prevents essential fatty acid deficiency and its symptoms like dermatitis, scaly skin, hair loss, depigmentation of hair and sluggish wound healing. [5] Anti-inflammatory effect of omega-3 helps to calm down inflammation from the inside. This helps to reduce the painful swelling and redness caused by skin conditions like acne, psoriasis and eczema. It also helps in bacterial skin problems like boils, carbuncles, cellulitis, folliculitis that are caused by the Staphylococcus bacteria. All of these effects are done by omega-3 from the inside. One does not need to smear the skin with perilla oil.  

It also helps to achieve an even toned skin as it reduces patches of redness left over by pimples. Omega-3 is even more needed by people with chronic dry, cracked and dehydrated skin as it helps their skin to achieve a gentle radiance that healthy skin has. This natural radiance is caused by a healthy amount of sebum being secreted.  

Perilla Oil as Massage for Arthritis

It has a high density and viscosity though not as much as castor oil. Although castor oil is the oil of choice to develop oil-based ointments and salves for application on painful, sore joints but having perilla oil at home is handy. It can be applied directly to the inflamed joints as a soft massage. The oil should be allowed to sit in so that it is absorbed by the skin cells. Therein, it reduces inflammation. However, massage using any oil is only one part of the natural treatment process. Arthritis is a result of severe inflammation which has been accumulating over years. It needs to be addressed using changes in diet patterns and suitable gentle exercises to aid mobility.  

Improved Gut Health

Consumption of perilla oil was compared with fish oil on their ability to restore healthy microbes in our intestines (both small and large). People eating a high fat diet are susceptible to depletion of healthy microbes which affects digestion of grains to a great extent. Healthy gut microbes like Lactobacillus, keep the harmful ones in check. This is a very important function of healthy gut flora in boosting our immune system.  

The study found that fish oil and perilla oil both aid in recovery of gram-positive bacteria in our gut. They both reduce bacteria of genus Provotella (they cause respiratory infections like pneumonia, emphysema and middle ear infections) and Escherichia (they are the perpetrators of food poisoning and diarrhea, dysentery and urinary tract infections). Most notorious is the Escherichia Coli, which can be deadly.  

However, fish oil was found to be much superior in boosting the levels of a bacteria known as Akkermansia muciniphila which has been discovered fairly recently. It plays a role in modulating obesity and inflammatory responses of the gut, like the irritable bowel syndrome. We are only beginning to realize the immense importance of the role played by healthy micro-organisms in promoting better health and lowering the incidence of chronic conditions in our body. It may so happen that even after consuming a healthier diet, the expected results are not seen. This may be because of a poor composition of gut flora which is depriving our body of extracting all the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that we can get from the food that we consume on a daily basis. 

Omega-3 fat is also helpful in achieving a better cardiovascular health. It lowers the risk of atherosclerosis. It is also helpful in type-2 diabetes. Omega-3 (Alpha-linolenic acid) is metabolised in our body into EPA and DHA. These two fats are very helpful for the brain and nervous system. DHA reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s. Both of them also help in achieving a healthier lipid profile, that is, a reduced total cholesterol and a higher HDL cholesterol to LDL cholesterol ratio. [1] 

However, fish oils directly contain EPA and DHA. These are the molecules that provide the health benefits attributed to omega-3 fats. Plant based sources, like perilla oil or flaxseed oil only provide ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which our body has to convert to EPA and DHA. This conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is quite weak in humans. Therefore, fish oils provide more usable form of omega-3 than plant derived oils. Thus, we can say that fish oil has more bio-available omega-3. [6] 

Nutritional and Medicinal Information

Perilla seed oil is one of the highest plant-based sources of ALA. Its complete fat distribution is as follows. 

Fatty Acid  Carbon notation and type  Percentage as weight of oil 
Alpha-linolenic acid  C 18: 3 (PUFA)  54 – 64% 
Linoleic acid  C 18: 2 (PUFA)  13 – 20% 
Oleic acid  C 18: 1 (MUFA)  12 – 22% 
Palmitic acid  C 16: 0 (Saturated)  5 – 7% 
Stearic acid   C 18: 0 (Saturated)   1 – 3% 

Source: 7 

Perilla oil also contains useful amounts of linoleic acid (omega-6) which is helpful in maintaining the structure of the lipid barrier of our skin. It prevents water loss from our skin and locks in the moisture. Thus, it acts as a moisturizing agent. Oleic acid is a wonderful emollient for the skin.  

Perilla seed contains an impressive range of polyphenols but they do not leach into the edible oil as they dissolve in water, not oil. It also contains aromatic compounds but they are volatile and only end up in its essential oil, like perilla ketone, apigenin and limonene.  

Omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of perilla seed oil turns out to be quite an impressive 1 : 3. Lower omega-6 in comparison to omega-3 is essential to prevent pro-inflammatory tendencies of omega-6 fatty acid. However, one should not completely eliminate omega-6 from diet. It is the balance that counts.  

Side Effects, Safe Dosage and Toxicity Issues

Although, theoretically, perilla seed oil would be helpful in type-2 diabetes because of the ALA. But, in one study, it was linked to insulin resistance when taken in large amounts. Therefore, people who are suffering from diabetes should definitely consult their doctor before taking perilla oil supplements or using it as cooking oil. [8] 

Any plant-based source of omega-3 in the form of ALA has a maximum conversion efficiency of only about 10% into the brain healthy EPA form. So, if you are taking perilla oil capsules containing 7 gm of omega-3 (as ALA), your body would be getting an equivalent of 700 mg of EPA. That is the actual bioavailable EPA (omega-3). Still, plant sources are good as an additional source of omega-3 but the best source is still the liver oil of fatty fishes like salmon, cod and mackerel. [9] 

Buying and Storage

Most commercial production comes from Korea. To find a reputed supplier, one should look for firms that are ready to share information about their product – like its bottling date, source of perilla and its variety, nutritional information and safety data.  

Oils rich in omega-3 are unsaturated oils and they are very prone to rancidity. Therefore, one has to take extra care when storing them. They stay good when they are kept in dark colored bottles in a cool place. 

References

  1. Essential Fatty Acids – Linus Pauling Institute at the Oregon State University.  
  2. Protective effects of perilla oil and alpha linolenic acid on SH-SY5Y neuronal cell death induced by hydrogen peroxide, Ah Young Lee et al, Nutrition Research and Practice.  
  3. Perilla oil improves blood flow through inhibition of platelet aggregation and thrombus formation. Ja-Young Jang et al, Laboratory Animal Research.  
  4. Perilla Oil Has Similar Protective Effects of Fish Oil on High-Fat Diet-Induced Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease and Gut Dysbiosis. Tian Y. et al, Biomedical research international. 
  5. Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency – https://med.virginia.edu/ginutrition/wp-content/uploads/sites/199/2014/06/Parrish-June-17.pdf 
  6. Omega-3 fatty acids: comparison of plant and seafood sources in human nutrition. Nettleton JA, Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 
  7. Health effects of omega-3,6,9 fatty acids: Perilla frutescens is a good example of plant oils. Mohammed Asif, Oriental Pharmacy and Experimental Medicine.  
  8. High-fat diet from perilla oil induces insulin resistance despite lower serum lipids and increases hepatic fatty acid oxidation in rats. Tao Zhang et al, Lipids in Health and Disease. 
  9. Why not Flaxseed Oil? – Harvard Health. 

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