Wheat germ oil is one of the most powerful antioxidant oils that can be applied directly on the skin in undiluted form. While many essential oils have much higher antioxidant levels, they cannot simply be applied undiluted. Wheat germ oil, as many would be knowing, has the highest concentration of vitamin E among foods which acts as a powerful antioxidant in our body. Wheat germ oil is most commonly used for improving skin tone, natural sun protection, anti-ageing and scar healing. However, there are many more health benefits to this oil as it can also be ingested as a daily supplement. Its health benefits are superior to any synthetic vitamin E capsule because apart from vitamin E, it contains essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) and also contains a special compound called octacosanol, which possesses remarkable properties.
Wheat germ oil should ideally be cold pressed from the germ of the wheat kernel. There are many different varieties of wheat but the most common in bread wheat (Triticum aestivum). In most wheat milling operations, the brownish bran (also husk) is removed to make the flour whiter. Germ is removed from wheat flour because germ contains unsaturated fats (mainly PUFAs) that go rancid very quickly, which hampers the storage of flour. So, manufacturers don’t prefer it. One would get bran and germ only in whole grain products. If we eat wheat that is not whole wheat, we are missing out on healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins like B5 and E, and healthy natural fiber.
Most wheat germ oil is extracted using solvents like hexane. Cold pressed wheat germ oil made from GMO free and organically raised wheat is rare, and difficult to identify in the wide and complex market. Why do we stress so much on cold pressing? Well, there are scientific reasons to go for cold pressed oils because heat damages natural fats and denatures micro-nutrients like phospholipids.
Color and Aroma
The color of wheat germ oil varies from a golden yellow with hints of brown to a slightly amber yellow. When placed in a glass bottle, it develops a brilliant orange meniscus. When it is refined, it would look more yellowish. Its aroma is unpleasant and has been described as being even worse than fish liver oils. It is often described as sweaty.
- Antioxidant – It is a bonafide antioxidant for the skin and the cells of our entire body due to its supreme vitamin E content. 
- Anti-ageing – Vitamin E reduces the rate of lipid peroxidation, a process in which free radicals damage the outer coverings of our cells, leading to slow but steady ageing. Lipid peroxidation is central to ageing. Wheat germ oil also prevents photoageing (ageing caused by UV rays) which manifests as drier skin, fine lines, wrinkles and sagging. 
- Anti-inflammatory – It finds use as a topical agent to relieve inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. The exact mechanism of wheat germ oil’s anti-inflammatory effects is not known but it is widely believed that it could very well be linked to its antioxidant effects. 
- Anti-stress – Wheat germ oil alleviates sleep troubles caused by stress. This study was conducted on rats, and it could have similar effects on humans. This effect is due to octacosanol. It reduces levels of corticosterone in blood which is an indication of lowering of stress which subsequently leads to improvement in non-REM sleep. 
- Neuroprotective – Vitamin E protects our neurons and plays a role in reducing the risk of several neurodegenerative diseases.  Octacosanol has been found to alleviate Parkinsons. 
- Anti-fatigue – Octacosanol is noted for its ability to reduce fatigue in athletes that train for endurance sports, like long distance running and swimming. 
- Cardioprotective – Wheat germ oil reduces cholesterol and trigylcerides in people who suffer from high cholesterol. Together with its antioxidant effects, it improves the cardiovascular system. This effect comes from vitamin E as well as octacosanol. 
- Colon health – wheat germ oil has been found to modify bacteria in our gut. It brings about a shift towards healthier bacteria species, like bifidobacterial and lactobacillus.
Health Benefits and Uses
Many sellers would try to portray wheat germ oil as panacea for all skincare problems. However, it is not so. For certain conditions, wheat germ oil is quite effective, but for some others, there are not very conclusive results.
Wheat germ oil should definitely be on the top of your list of natural anti-ageing substances. When wheat germ oil is applied onto the skin, it gets absorbed quickly and reaches the various layers of the skin, from the outermost lipid barrier to the epidermis and down into the dermis. It also gets accumulated into sebum secreting glands. Firstly, vitamin E in the form on alpha-tocopherol absorbs a portion of the incident UV radiation. It is well established that exposure to high ultraviolet rays leads to accelerated ageing. This can be seen in the early appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, low production of sebum and sagging skin. Vitamin E rich oils, like sweet almond, amaranth oil or wheat germ oil, reduce the rate at which skin gets damaged by UV radiation, helping to maintain a youthful skin.
Wheat germ oil has one problem though. Natural, unrefined wheat germ oil has an unpleasant aroma. It might not be practical to use it during daytime when one is busy and socially active. Its aroma is difficult to overpower, even with essential oils. Another alternative is to use refined wheat germ oil.
Linus Pauling Institute notes that although vitamin E provides powerful defense against free radical damage caused by UV rays, the vitamin molecule itself gets damaged while protecting our skin cells. In this situation, vitamin C comes to the rescue. Vitamin C resuscitates the Vitamin E and enables it to keep performing its function. So, to avail maximum anti-ageing benefit from wheat germ oil, one should either apply a vitamin C rich ingredient along with the oil or take copious amounts of Vitamin C rich foods in our diet.  Regular application of vitamin E rich oils on the face and intake of vitamin C rich foods can lead to skin tightening due to improvements in the structural composition of the skin from the protein-based layers of the dermis (collagen and elastic) to the outer layers.
For small regions of the skin, one can apply wheat germ oil without dilution. However, for application over large areas, it would be prudent to dissolve it in a base oil so that it can be applied liberally. Coconut oil, olive oil and sesame oil are suitable choices for base oil.
Wheat germ oil should not be used on acne because it is very comedogenic. It has a comedogenic rating of 5 which is the highest potential for clogging pores and causing breakouts. Oils rich in Vitamin E are often used to reduce appearance of various kinds of scars. This includes acne scars of various types – pinhole scars, boxcar scars or pit scars. Wheat germ oil is also popularly used to diminish appearance of scars left behind by cuts and wounds. It is being used widely on stretch marks. Although many people testify that wheat germ oil has considerably lessened appearance of scars, the medical community is not so certain.
Medical studies indicate that vitamin E does not lead to any measurable improvement in healing of scars. On the contrary, there are enough cases to suggest that it leads to contact dermatitis.  But they do admit that medical studies are sometimes not able to bring out a complete picture.  It is not clear whether it is any more effective than commonly used body oils like coconut oil, olive oil or sesame oil for scar healing and stretch mark removal.
Nevertheless, wheat germ oil can be tried for scar healing. But one should first apply it on a non-sensitive region as a patch test to ensure that it does not cause any allergic reaction.
In a medical study, it was found that when vitamin E was applied onto the skin for two to four weeks, it improved capacity of skin to bind water. Our skin’s outermost fat based protective layer prevents water inside our body from evaporating out. This mechanism keeps our skin and our insides hydrated. Lack of adequate moisture in the skin increases the risk of itching and inflammatory conditions. Over time, as our skin further loses its ability to retain water, the skin begins to appear drier and visible crisscross pattern of cracks appear. These cracks resemble a dry river bed. Oils rich in Vitamin E play a role in preventing the skin from losing its water holding capacities. Skin rich in moisture looks plump, feels softer and has a youthful appearance.  There is no medical proof to suggest that wheat germ oil may cause skin lightening.
Wheat Germ Oil and Hair Growth?
It is widely touted as an oil to regrow hair. But there is no solid evidence to back this up. Mixing small amounts of wheat germ oil in light base oils (like olive or grapeseed) can be applied onto the hair shafts to add shine and glow. Vitamin E does play a role in preventing hair damage caused by over exposure to harsh sunlight. Sun damaged hair look frayed and quite weak. Wheat germ oil can prevent this condition. However, there is one more risk. Since wheat germ oil is highly comedogenic, it may lead to pimples in the scalp. This should be avoided. If you do intend to use wheat germ oil on the hair, do it sparingly. Scalp must be washed with copious water to rinse off the thick oil.
Wheat Germ Oil as a supplement during Endurance training
Research studies have noted that wheat germ oil helps to lower fatigue in people when they are subjected to sustained endurance exercises. People who were on placebo started to show signs of fatigue after a few weeks of being on the strenuous exercise regimen, whereas those who were taking wheat germ oil as a supplement displayed an improved performance. The explanation lies in an improved neurological functioning of the heart. This effect is attributed to octacosanol in wheat germ oil. 
Endurance training is especially beneficial for improving the tone of our cardiovascular system and it helps middle aged men and women a lot. However, many people who have lived a sedentary lifestyle often find it tough to follow a schedule of vigorous physical activity. In most cases, it is because the respiratory and circulatory system are not well conditioned, and it takes time for our body to reach to that level. In the meantime, many people drop out of endurance training, or for that matter, any training program, because of accumulation of fatigue.
It is important to consult your doctor before making use of wheat germ oil as a supplement, so that appropriate dosage, possible side effects and drug interactions can be known beforehand.
Prevention of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Vitamin E’s antioxidant efficacy improves cardiovascular system and the skin. Another organ system that relies heavily on vitamin E is the neurological system. It is well known that if we suffer from a deficiency of vitamin E (mainly alpha-tocopherol form), then we are subjected to an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases. Adequate intake of vitamin E from excellent sources is needed to prevent diseases like ataxia, Parkinsons, neuromuscular dystrophy, peripheral neuropathy and diseases of the retina.  Although vitamin E has many forms (tocopherols and tocotrienols), it is the alpha-tocopherol form that is primarily used by our body. Incidentally, wheat germ oil contains most of its vitamin E in this form.
Wheat germ oil vs synthetic Vitamin E?
We have already mentioned that wheat germ oil contains vitamin E in the most usable form, the alpha tocopherol. Most synthetic vitamin E capsules contains all the 8 forms of vitamin E. Vitamin E from Wheat germ oil is more bioavailable. On a per milligram basis, our body is able to absorb more vitamin E from natural sources than from synthetic sources made in the lab.
Nutritional and Medicinal Information
Wheat germ oil’s chemical composition of fatty acids is mentioned below.
|Fatty acid||Carbon notation||Percentage|
|Palmitic acid||C 16:0 (Saturated)||16.6 %|
|Stearic acid||C 18:0 (Saturated)||0.5 %|
|Palmitoleic acid||C 16:1 (MUFA)||0.5 %|
|Oleic acid||C 18:1 omega-9 MUFA||14.6 %|
|Linoleic acid||C 18:2 omega-6 PUFA||54.8 %|
|Alpha-linolenic acid||C 18:3 omega-3 PUFA||6.9 %|
Wheat germ oil has a balanced representation of healthy fatty acids. Palmitic acid is a widely used emollient. It is added to creams and lotions to enhance hydration of the skin. Oleic acid is also a powerful emollient playing a role in keeping the skin moisturized and elastic. Olive oil is dominated by this compound. Linoleic acid and Alpha-linolenic acid are the only essential fatty acids. They are essential because if they are absent, we suffer from deficiency disease. Its symptoms are very wide spread, ranging from internal symptoms like hyperlipidemia and thrombocytopenia to visible symptoms like hair loss, depigmentation of hair, appearance of scaly rashes, slower speed of wound healing and even growth issues in children. But this kind of deficiency is not very common because we generally get sufficient amounts of omega-6 from cooking oils that we use, and omega-3 from fish and some nuts.
Oils that are disproportionately rich in omega-6 vis a vis omega-3 may lead to inflammation. Omega-3 counters the inflammatory tendencies of omega-6 and is an essential nutrient in achieving a healthy, soft and elastic skin that is less prone to breakouts.
Wheat germ oil is among few oils that provide vitamins in addition to just the healthy fatty acids. Below is present the amounts of vitamins that 100 gm of oil contains.
|Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)||149.40 mg|
|Vitamin K (phylloquinone)||24.7 µg|
Wheat germ oil provides phytosterols. These are plant derived sterol compounds that resemble cholesterol in structure and play a role in reduction of cholesterol itself. However, basic refining of oil takes out the phytosterols. They can be found only in cold pressed, unrefined oils in appreciable amounts.
Side Effects, Safe Dosage and Toxicity Issues
Unrefined wheat germ oil can lead to an unpleasant response because of its oppressive aroma. Some people may experience nausea. In rare cases, it can also cause allergic reactions even when smelling it. This could be a response of the body to the volatile compounds that make up its smell. Consequently, it poses a genuine risk of causing an allergic reaction when it comes into contact with the skin.
Wheat germ oil may contain small amounts of gluten protein. Gluten (which literally means glue) is a group of proteins found in many cereals, but primarily in wheat, which give wheat dough its characteristic elasticity. Although most people digest it just fine, in some people, gluten doesn’t go down well. The body’s immune system goes into overdrive and often leads to coeliac disease and other dangerous and progressively worsening conditions. Gluten is found in the endoplasm of the seed. Now, our milling processes are not very precise so a small amount of endoplasm may be present in the germ that is used to expel wheat germ oil. However, refined products would be having lesser gluten. There is a lack of studies on the content of gluten in wheat germ oil and we need such studies for proper benchmarking. People with gluten sensitivity should avoid wheat germ oil unless a product is certified gluten free.
Appropriate dosage of wheat germ oil as supplement should be decided after consultation with a doctor. Dosage depends on the condition for which it is sought.
Buying and Storage
It is available in the form of softgel capsules and as bottled oil. A serious concern is the widening presence of GM wheat. Inadvertently, a large chunk of wheat germ oil is not GM free. At present, there are hardly any conclusive, long term studies evaluating the impact of such crops of the health of humans, animals and the ecosystem as a whole. For internal consumption, one should prefer a wheat germ oil that is refined so that it has minimal gluten.
If the oil is extracted soon after the harvesting of grains, it has minimal initial rancidity. The oil is very fresh and can last long because vitamin E protects it from rancidity. If however, the wheat germ has been kept for many days in storage without refrigeration, then the wheat germ is already quite rancid. This is measured by any oil’s peroxide value.  Manufacturers still extract wheat germ oil and refine it via bleaching and add perfumes and artificial antioxidants to mask the rancidity. Such products spoil quickly and are of hardly any positive use. It is therefore very important to buy from a reputed seller who possesses decades of experience in expelling oils.
- Vitamin E, Linus Pauling Institute at the Oregon State University.
- Effect of training and wheat germ oil on the precordial T wave of middle-aged men. J.L.Mayhew, British Journal of Sports Medicine.
- Can wheat germ have a beneficial effect on human health? A study protocol for a randomised crossover-controlled trial to evaluate its health effects. André Moreira-Rosário et al, BMJ Open.
- The effects of topical vitamin E on the cosmetic appearance of scars. Baumann L.S. and Spencer J., Dermatol Surg. 1999 Apr;25(4):311-5.
- 5.USDA Nutrient Database – Full Report (All Nutrients): 04038, Oil, wheat germ.
- Octacosanol restores stress-affected sleep in mice by alleviating stress. Kaushik et al, Scientific Reportsvolume 7, Article number: 8892 (2017).
- Anti-parkinsonian effects of octacosanol in 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6 tetrahydropyridine-treated mice. Tao Wang et al, Neural Regen Res. 2012 May 15; 7(14): 1080–1087.
- Effect of temperature and storage time of wheat germ on the oil tocopherol concentration. M.Capitani et al, Braz. J. Chem. Eng. vol.28 no.2 São Paulo Apr./June 2011.
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