A Dose of Safflower Oil Each Day Might Help Keep Heart Disease at Bay

March 21, 2011

Safflower oil can improve good cholesterol, blood sugar, insulin sensitivity, and inflammation in obese postmenopausal women who have Type 2 diabetes.

A daily dose of safflower oil for 16 weeks can improve such health measures as good cholesterol, blood sugar, insulin sensitivity, and inflammation in obese postmenopausal women who have Type 2 diabetes, according to new research.

This finding comes about 18 months after the same researchers discovered that safflower oil reduced abdominal fat and increased muscle tissue in this group of women after 16 weeks of daily supplementation.

These new findings have led the chief researcher to suggest that a daily dose of safflower oil in the diet, about 1.75 teaspoons, is a safe way to help reduce cardiovascular disease risk.

“The women in the study didn’t replace what was in their diet with safflower oil. They added it to what they were already doing. And that says to me that certain people need a little more of this type of good fat, particularly when they’re obese women who already have diabetes,” Martha Belury, PhD, professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

“I believe these findings suggest that people consciously make sure they get a serving of healthy oil in their diets each day, maybe an oil and vinegar dressing on a salad, or some oil for cooking. And this recommendation can be extended to everyone.” The research appears online and is scheduled for future print publication in the journal Clinical Nutrition.

Safflower oil contains linoleic acid, which is a polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). Research dating back to the 1960s has suggested that these dietary oils from plant sources can help prevent heart disease, said Belury, who holds the Carol S. Kennedy professorship in nutrition. But attention to these fats has declined as omega-3 fish oils have gained popularity among consumers, she said.

“The health benefits of omega-3 PUFAs seem convincing, but I think there’s also a place for omega-6 PUFAs. We’ve known for a long time that polyunsaturated oils are very beneficial for cardiovascular disease prevention, and these data we are adding now show that these oils can also help with other aspects of metabolic syndrome, including even glycemic control,” Belury said. “We suspect it could be through a mechanism that is not yet identified.”

Belury is an investigator with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. This research was also supported by an unrestricted gift from the Cognis Corp., which also provided the supplements; the National Center for Research Resources; the Clinical Research Center at Ohio State; and the National Institutes of Health.

In the first study, published in September 2009, Belury and colleagues had compared the effects of safflower oil and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a compound naturally found in some meat and dairy products, on obese postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes. CLA had a reputation from previous studies for contributing to weight loss. Safflower oil’s association with reduced abdominal fat took the researchers by surprise.

For this current research, the scientists performed a secondary analysis of data collected from that clinical trial, applying a powerful statistical analysis to the results and also checking to see how long it took for any effects of the oils to appear in the women’s health profiles. The scientists had taken blood samples every four weeks during the study to obtain these measures.

In almost all cases in this analysis, safflower oil supplementation improved metabolic measures while CLA did not show any effects for glycemic or lipid control. Sixteen weeks of CLA supplementation did reduce total body fat and lowered the women’s body mass index, a common health measure of weight relative to height.