Red Palm Oil, Latest Diet Miracle Promoted By Dr. Oz; Does It Work?

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New Jersey resident Frank Dietl sued Dr. Mehmet Oz, pictured, on Monday, claiming the celebrity doctor's "knapsack rice footsie" insomnia cure caused third-degree burns.

With the New Year come plenty of New Year’s resolutions, and for many that means losing weight or getting healthier in 2013. On the latest episode of his show, Dr. Mehmet Oz promotes red palm oil as a diet miracle. But is red palm oil a diet miracle or quackery?

Red palm oil was featured on the latest episode of “The Dr. Oz Show” as a potential metabolism booster and cholesterol reducer. Red palm oil could also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, he said.

Red palm oil may indeed have some benefits, but research has been far from conclusive about its  properties.

When Oz is talking about the benefits of ingesting red palm oil, it’s two chemicals found in it, carotene and tocotrienol, that are supposed to offer the diet miracle.

Carotene, which gets converted into Vitamin A and gives vegetables like carrots their orange color,  can be found in red palm oil, among other oils. There are numerous possible benefits from beta-carotene, and that common saying about eating carrots for better eyes and skin is true. According to the United States National Library of Medicine, beta-carotene may be effective in reducing the risk of breast cancer for high-risk women, those who have a family history of breast cancer for example,  reducing ovarian cancer risk for post-menopausal women and strengthening the elderly in general.

Again these benefits are unproven, and more studies are needed to determine the true benefits of beta-carotene, although the NLM and the National Institutes of Health recommend vegetables rich in beta-carotene as part of a normal diet. A recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease does suggest that beta-carotene, along with Vitamin C, could be useful in forestalling the disease.

The study involved 74 seniors with mild dementia and a control group of 158 seniors; blood samples were taken from both groups. The researchers found that the people with mild dementia had lower levels of Vitamin C and beta-carotene compared to the control group. The researchers concluded that a larger study would be needed to verify the results, and the study did not test beta-carotene independent of Vitamin C.

Tocotrienol is the other chemical in red palm oil that could have beneficial properties. Tocotrienol is a form of Vitamin E, and much like carotene, we can get Vitamin E through the foods as well as in supplement form. According to the NLM, Vitamin E could help slow memory loss in patients with moderate Alzheimer’s disease but does not appear to arrest the progress of the disease from mild to severe. Vitamin E could also be effective in aiding the treatment of dementia and bladder cancer.

The Cancer Society of America also noted that, in meta-studies of several trials using Vitamin E, the supplement did not lower the risk of heart disease and there is some evidence to suggest that too much Vitamin E could actually shorten lifespan and increase the risk of certain cancers.

There is one recent study, published in the journal Nutrients in October 2012, which was conducted on rats that were fed a high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet for 16 weeks. The rats were then given tocotrienol-rich fraction, which can be found in red palm oil. The TRF treatment seemed to improve ventricular function, reduced cardiac stiffness and high blood pressure and improved liver function.  While TRF treatment did help reduce fat deposits found in the omentum, tissue that surrounds organs, it did not help cut abdominal fat.

This study seems to be what Oz is talking about when touting the benefits of red palm oil, but it's no reason to run out and buy cases of the product. The study was conducted on rats that were given an unnatural and unhealthy diet. The results are encouraging but more tests are needed, including on humans, before any possible benefits could be determined.

Red palm oil seems like another one of Oz’s miracles that should be taken with a grain of salt. As with anything, consult your actual doctor, not just Dr. Oz, although he is a very respected cardiac surgeon. Discuss with your doctor any medications you are taking before taking supplements and ask about ways to improve your health through dietary and lifestyle changes.

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