Pine Nut oil

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Pine nut oil is an aromatic, delicious nut oil which has been used since ages in traditional cuisines of Russia and areas around the Mediterranean for flavoring the foods. At a point of time it was used as currency in Russia, which goes to show its importance and widespread availability. Although pine nut oil can be expelled from any of the edible pine nuts obtained from the numerous varieties of pine trees, it is the Siberian pine nut oil (PNO) and Korean pine nut oil that have gained prominence as a powerful nutritional supplement. It is mainly used to suppress appetite, reduce high blood pressure, alleviate fatty liver problem and to achieve a healthier lipid profile. But these health benefits need to be understood in detail before deciding to incorporate any kind of pine nut oil in diet. Most of the unique health benefits of siberian or korean pine nut oil are due to the presence of a fatty acid in them called pinolenic acid. This healthy fat is found in almost all pines, but the highest amounts per 100 gm are found in pine nuts from Siberia and secondly from the Korean peninsula.  

We must also note the other health benefits of pine nut oil as it can be beneficial for skin and hair conditioning. It is loaded with the essential fatty acid called linoleic acid (LA) which is an essential requirement of our body as well as oleic acid which is a potent moisturizer for skin. Its versatility in low temperature cooking and as a flavoring agent for breads is amazing.  

Pine Nut oil
Pine Nut oil (Image:Shutterstock)

Source

Pine nuts are shed by the huge pine trees. These conifers belong to Pinus genus of flora that contains most of the coniferous trees like pines, spruces, cedars and hemlocks. They grow naturally in cold climates and elevated terrains. Pine nuts are wheat yellow in color, very small and slim in size and are warm, nutty to taste.  

Pine nuts are easily harvested, shelled and then expelled using mechanical press to yield organic, cold pressed, virgin pine nut oil.  

Color, Aroma and Taste

Color of the oil is more radiant and brighter than the nut. It is golden yellow but minor differences exist in pine nut oils sourced from pines of different varieties. Its aroma is only a faint nutty. It tastes reminiscent of pine nuts with hint of a woody aroma as well. 

Properties

Pine nut oil is light in consistency because of dominance of MUFA (monounsaturated fatty acids) and PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) that have low viscosity, low density and low solidification temperatures.  

When it is used topically, healthy fats are readily absorbed by the skin and they provide some therapeutic benefits in return.  

  • Nutrient – Linoleic acid (LA) is an essential fatty acid which means our body needs it through diet. Pine nut oil is almost 50% linoleic acid. This is necessary to treat deficiency of LA in our body.  
  • Skin Repair – Linoleic acid is required by our skin to create its natural barrier which prevents water from evaporating from the surface of our skin. This keeps our skin hydrated and moisturized.  
  • Protective – The barrier that I mentioned is also the primary defense mechanism of our body to keep toxins and pathogens away, otherwise they could have easily leached into our body through the skin. Thus, it has an important immune function as well. 
  • Anti-Dryness – Linoleic acid, Oleic acid and stearic acid in particular are helpful in reducing skin dryness. 

Health Benefits and Uses

Pine nut oil for the Skin

It is a product of colder climates and is thus excellent for skin care in cold, dry climates. The cold season is very low on moisture as natural humidity of air is negligible. Such intense dry air leaves the skin flaky and chapped. The colder the climate, the greater is the drying impact. One can directly apply pine nut oil onto the skin exposed to the cold, mainly the palm and face. Pine nut oil flows easily, so only a small quantity is needed.  

It is also warming in nature and thus it prevents the skin from severe cold. Healthy fats provide natural insulation against cold and keep the skin hydrated. In traditional cultures of Siberia (it is a very large region drained by such massive rivers as Yenisey and Lena), it is used to improve the quality of nails.  

Pine nut oil for Hair

A few drops of pure pine nut oil can be massaged into hair shafts to detangle hair. This detangling effect is because of a small amount of Vitamin E present in the nut oil.  

Health Benefits of Pine Nut oil as a Supplement 

Siberian and Korean pine nut oils are popular supplements. They are sold as gelatin bound capsules also, like fish oil. A few of the health benefits mentioned by supplement firms have been confirmed through medical research.  

For Suppressing Appetite

Korean pine nut oil has demonstrated ability to significantly increase the secretion of digestive hormones CCK-8 (Cholecystokinin) which tells our brain that we have had enough food. It is the satiety hormone. Increased secretion of this hormone makes us feel satisfied with the food that we have eaten faster than what would have normally happened. The authors of this study believe that this effect could be due to the pinolenic acid in pine nut oil. Thus, korean pine nut oil and also siberian pine nut oil (because it also contains similar levels of pinolenic acid) can help people with food cravings to manage these urges to some extent. This would help in sticking to a nutritious diet regimen and achieving weight goals. However, there is a catch. This effect was observed specifically in overweight women who had aged past their menopause. [1] A previous study also noted similar effects in overweight women where pinolenic acid contributed to feelings of fulness by affecting cholecystokinin and another gut hormone called GLP-1 (glucagon like peptide). [2]  

Benefits for Fat Digestion and Prevention from Fatty Liver Disease

People who eat a fat rich diet (45% of daily energy coming solely from fats) are at an increasing risk for fatty liver disease (also called hepatic steatosis). It may occur via any of multiple mechanisms but the end result is that the liver becomes taxed and sluggish. This further impacts the healthy digestion and absorption of nutrients from the food that we take because liver is responsible for secretion of a number of digestive enzymes, like bile and for carrying out the innumerable enzymatic biochemical reactions that run our body. It’s the chemical engine of our body. Thus, it is very important to maintain a healthy liver status.  

Now, if pinolenic acid is taken in diet or as supplement, it decreases the rate of accumulation of fats in the liver. [3] This may not prevent fatty liver disease for a prolonged period of time, but it surely delays it. The ultimate solution to preventing such a disease is to focus on a healthy, nutritious diet with proper balance among the macro-nutrients and then among the micro-nutrients. 

Siberian pine nut oil has cholesterol lowering ability. It can help to achieve a healthier profile of lipids (fats) in the blood that are measured in the lipid test. Over a longer period of time, a healthier lipid profile can lead to reduction in total body fat, which may also be helpful in high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes. [4] 

Helpful in Hypertension

High blood pressure is often a complex, untreatable chronic condition which can only be managed through a healthier diet, regular cardiovascular exercise and a lifestyle that has minimal stresses. Certain foods choices and supplements can help to achieve a reduced resting blood pressure. Siberian pine nut oil has shown efficacy in reducing systolic blood pressure. However, if you are taking blood pressure medication, like calcium channel blockers, you should consult the doctor before starting siberian pine nut oil. The fatty acids or phytonutrients in the nut oil may interact negatively with medication. [4] 

Activates the Immune System

Supplements containing pinolenic acid were fed to rats in conjunction with a high fat diet. The pinolenic acid caused an increase in production of a protein called interleukin-1-beta. This protein triggers inflammatory responses in the body which also awakens the immune system to take note. [5] However, one should not be quick to draw the conclusion that entire pine nut oil is pro-inflammatory. Its other constituents, like oleic acid have strong inflammatory action so the overall effect needs to considered.  

Anti-Breast Cancer

A widely cited study has found that pinolenic acid inhibits the metastasis (growth of secondary cancerous cells) of breast cancer cells by hindering their ability to move around among other body tissues. This could hold immense significance as pinolenic acid may turn out to be helpful in other forms of cancer as well. [6] 

Pinolenic acid also acts as an antioxidant in the body as it prevents the peroxidation of lipids (fats). This term “peroxidation” is a technical term for the gradual degradation of healthy fats in our body by free radicals from our environment, like from pollutants. As we age, this degradation of fats in our body forms part of a complex mechanism that accomplishes ageing in our body. There is nothing that can completely stop this gradual decay (at present!), but it can surely be slowed so that we can prevent premature ageing. Pine nut oil can aid in this, besides a host of powerful antioxidants, some of which are commonly known like resveratrol and glutathione. Moreover, pine nut oil may also be beneficial in type –2 diabetes in managing blood glucose levels. This needs to be evaluated further.  

Nutritional and Medicinal Information

Pine nuts are incredibly rich in healthy fats. As such, a small quantity of nuts yields a good amount of oil. The composition of fats in pine nut oil is precursor for its health benefits.  

Fatty acid  Carbon notation and type  Percentage  
Linoleic acid  C 18:2 (PUFA)  49% 
Oleic acid  C 18:1(MUFA)  28.3% 
Pinolenic acid  C  18:3(PUFA)  17.1% 
Palmitic acid  C 16:0 (Saturated fat)  6.3% 
Stearic acid  C 18:0 (Saturated fat)  2.5% 

Source: 7 

This data is for Siberian pine nut oil (Pinus sibirica). With linoleic acid content reaching almost 50%, pine nut oil easily figures among edible oils rich in this polyunsaturated fat. Total amount of saturated fats is less than 10% which is considered healthy for an edible oil.  

Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid for our body, which means that our body cannot manufacture it and therefore, it has to be supplied through diet. In absence of essential fatty acids, we suffer from a deficiency disease which manifests usually as dermatitis, poor skin structure which looks dehydrated and undernourished, scaling on the skin and there may even be hair loss. Linoleic acid is essential for a healthy skin.  

Oleic acid, which is the second most abundant constituent of pine nut oil is a brilliant emollient as it locks moisture within the skin. We have already extolled the virtues of pinolenic acid. Palmitic acid is a common emollient and stearic acid helps in buffering the skin back to its normal pH.      

Side Effects, Safe Dosage and Toxicity issues

Pine nut oil can be allergic to some people. Most nut oils do possess higher risk of allergies than other vegetable oils. Secondly, people with high blood pressure should consult their doctor regarding the suitability and appropriate dosage of pine nut oil, or extracted pinolenic acid that they can take. Thirdly, oils rich in linoleic acid may also turn out to be pro-inflammatory in some people. This is quite complex because LA can activate certain enzyme-based reactions in the skin whose end products can actually increase inflammation in the body. But, there is a way out. People who consume food rich in alpha-linolenic acid (commonly known as omega-3) can balance out much of the inflammatory effects of linoleic acid (an omega-6). So, one should try to maintain a balance between omega-3 rich foods (like salmon oil) and omega-6 rich oils, like sunflower oil and safflower oil in daily diet. 

Some supplement makers and sellers over-emphasize upon the benefits that pine nut oil can provide for relieving digestive problems like ulcers, constipation and gastritis. These may be some effects known in traditional healing systems of Russia or Korea. There is anecdotal evidence where people have mentioned that pine nut oil relieves gastritis and helps with nausea and GERD. However, it is not known to be effective against the Heliobacter pylori bacteria which is believed to be the cause for painful stomach ulcers.  

Pine nut oil supplements can be toxic to the body if taken in large amounts. Therefore, it is important to take a safe dosage appropriate to your ailment. Supplements are generally packed at 1000mg per soft gel capsule, which means 1 capsule contains 1gm of pine nut oil. One can safely take about 5 gm of pine nut oil per day. The best way to consume it is to use it in salad recipes. That way, we get a new taste and the health benefits together.  

Buying Guide

While buying the extra-virgin pine nut oil, one should check the credentials of the seller. It has come to light that some manufacturers may use other varieties of pine nuts, or even other seeds to expel the oil which is very difficult for a consumer to differentiate. Only labs can certify the purity of a specific pine nut oil, say Siberian. Many a times, the oil may be of pine, but diluted using cheaper vegetable oils to get more profit.  

Buying pine nut oil capsules requires even more careful selection. One should always check for approval of the supplement by your region’s food and drugs control authority.  

References

  1. The effect of Korean pine nut oil on in vitro CCK release, on appetite sensations and on gut hormones in post-menopausal overweight women, Wilrike J. Pasman et al, Lipids in Health and Disease.  
  2. The effect of Korean pine nut oil (PinnoThin™) on food intake, feeding behaviour and appetite: A double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Hughes et al, Lipids in Health and Disease. 
  3. Korean Pine Nut Oil Attenuated Hepatic Triacylglycerol Accumulation in High-Fat Diet-Induced Obese Mice. Soyoung Park et al, Nutrients 2016. 
  4. Efficiency of Siberian pine oil in complex treating of people ill with benign hypertension, Bakhtin IuV, Voprosy Pitaniia. 
  5. Impact of Korean pine nut oil on weight gain and immune responses in high-fat diet-induced obese mice. Soyoung Park et al, Nutrition Research and Practice. 
  6. Pinolenic acid inhibits human breast cancer MDA-MB-231 cell metastasis in vitro. Szu-Jung Chen et al, Food Chemistry.  
  7. Triglyceride Composition of Pinus sibirica Oil. V.I.Deineka, L.A.Deineka -Chemistry of Natural Compounds. 

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