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Camelina Oil Benefits, Uses, and Side Effects

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Camelina Oil Benefits, Uses, and Side Effects

Recent years have seen significant development in the plant oil industry, particularly in the sphere of nutritional engineering. Technologies are being developed to produce oils that have a high unsaturated fatty acids content. Olive oil, avocado oil, canola oil, and flaxseed oil all frequently appear on lists curating the best plant oils. What if there was another healthier option on the market?

Enter Camelina sativa, an oilseed crop that was first grown in Europe nearly 40 centuries back. There is evidence that it was a staple part of people’s diets and was used in porridge. It was widely cultivated in Europe and Russia before World War II, but after the 1940s, Camelina began to lose recognition and was almost forgotten until recently. With rising interest in the health benefits of vegetable oils, Camelina was recently rediscovered as a superfood due to its unique nutrient composition. This interest has spurred a lot of research on the Camelina crop and its development.

What Is Camelina Oil

camelina plants

Camelina oil is derived from the sativa species of the Brassicaceae or mustard plant family. It is grown commercially in many countries, including North America, Germany, Ukraine, China, and Austria. Camelina is grown in both summer and winter, as it is resistant to cold temperatures and drought. The Camelina plant requires a short maturation period, lasting between 85-100 days. As a result, it requires lower input costs and is easier to produce in comparison to other oilseed crops. In some places, such as Montana, the growth of Camelina sativa is being favored over other oilseed crops, such as canola, due to it being easy to manage and its disease resistance. 

Camelina sativa has the characteristic yellow-golden blossoms found in the mustard plant family. It grows to around 50 to 100 cm tall at maturity, and produces small, round seed pods that resemble flax seed bolls. These seed pods contain 30 to 40 percent oil content and are cold-pressed to produce Camelina carrier oil. Due to Camelina oil’s chemical composition, it has a shelf life of 18 to 24 months. To achieve maximum shelf life and preserve freshness, the oil should be kept in a cool, dark place. 

Nutrient Profile and Benefits of Camelina Oil 

The oil derived from Camelina sativa is rich in unsaturated fatty acids (UFAs), a characteristic that makes it greatly beneficial for heart health. Its nutrient composition consists of 30 to 40 percent UFAs and 25 to 30 percent proteins. Specifically, Camelina oil contains omega-3 acids, omega-6 acids, tocopherols, phytosterols, and phenolics. All of these compounds have remarkable health benefits that are discussed in the sections below.

Unsaturated Fatty Acids Can Improve Heart Health

The term ‘unsaturated’ refers to the non-linear structure of the carboxylic acid, which allows the oils to be liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fatty acids can be divided into two types: monounsaturated fatty acids (MFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PFA). Camelina oil consists of 45% polyunsaturated fatty acid and 17% monounsaturated fatty acid. PFAs include linolenic acid (omega 3) at 36-41% and linoleic acid (omega 6) at 16-20%. This yields an omega-3:omega-6 ratio of 2.5:1, which is recommended for a slew of health benefits.

Consuming unsaturated fatty acids at the recommended ratio helps lower blood cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. They are also vital for the synthesis of brain, eye, and nerve tissues, maintaining the cells and keeping the organs healthy. 

Tocopherols May Strengthen Immune System Response

Tocopherols are a group of natural compounds that act as natural antioxidants, protecting cells from free radical damage. Camelina oil contains alpha, beta, gamma, and delta tocopherols, all of which are different forms of Vitamin E. Out of these forms, alpha-tocopherol is preferentially used by the body and helps prevent blood clots and improves the immune system. 

The Camelina sativa oil contains between 50-70mg/100 g of tocopherols, which gives it powerful antioxidant properties. The oil may lower the occurrence of systemic inflammation in the body, potentially protecting it from developing heart, liver, and kidney diseases.

Phytosterols Can Lower Blood Cholesterol

Phytosterols are bioactive compounds found in foods of plant origin. The highest concentration of phytosterols occurs in vegetable oils, such as flax seed oil, olive oil, and canola oil. Phytosterols are similar to cholesterol molecules in terms of their structure and function, making them beneficial for lowering blood cholesterol. At the point of absorption, phytosterol molecules replace cholesterol molecules, effectively reducing the concentration of cholesterol in the bloodstream. 

Camelina oil is abundant in phytosterols, although the exact percentage varies by crop. Out of the different types of sterols, beta-sitosterol is present most abundantly at 1884 ppm. Beta-sitosterol, in addition to improving cholesterol levels, is also known to have anti-cancer activity. 

How Does Camelina Oil Compare to Other Oils?

In terms of production and cultivation, Camelina oilseed is preferred over other oilseeds as it requires lower agricultural input and can better withstand diseases. Camelina oil also has a better shelf life in comparison with other seed carrier oils, such as grapeseed oil, avocado oil, and rosehip seed oil, averaging between 12-24 months. This is because Camelina seeds have high levels of antioxidants which help preserve the oil. 

In terms of health benefits, Camelina sativa oilseeds contain ideal levels of unsaturated fatty acids relative to other oils recognized for promoting cardiovascular health. Camelina oil comprises 39 percent omega-3, significantly higher than olive oil, rapeseed oil, and other frequently used seed oils. The ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in Camelina is also closest to the scientifically recommended proportion. Additionally, Camelina oil has a higher smoke point when compared to olive oil, making it excellent for cooking and baking purposes. 

These properties make Camelina oil suitable and even preferred as an alternative to rapeseed, canola, mustard seed, and olive oil in cooking and skincare applications.

Common Applications of Camelina Oil

The initial use of Camelina oil in the United States was as a biofuel due to several factors, including its rich oil content, suitable fatty acid composition, and stable seed maturation rate. In the last decade, interest has resurged in the use of Camelina seed oil as biodiesel and feedstock. Other industrial applications of Camelina oil include use as coatings, adhesives, and agrochemicals. 

Additionally, Camelina oil is gaining popularity as an ingredient in personal care products due to its abundantly potentially beneficial pharmacological properties. It has also been declared safe for consumption since 2010, and is used in cooking and baking; however, you’ll want to choose a Camelina oil that specifically says it is safe for ingestion. 

Uses and Benefits of Camelina Oil

As research on Camelina sativa progresses, newer biological and health applications are emerging. Due to its renewed discovery as a ‘superfood,’ literature has extensively been published to investigate the benefits of Camelina seed oil for various health benefits. There is particular emphasis on its restorative properties thanks to its nutrient composition. The sections following discuss the health benefits of Camelina oil for different body parts. 

Camelina Oil for Skin

When applied topically, Camelina oil delivers exceptional potential benefits to the skin, including repairing the skin barrier, nourishing the skin with essential fatty acids (EFAs), and reducing inflammation. Camelina oil has high levels of EFAs, making it particularly suitable for topical formulations. According to scientific research, EFAs are more advantageous in topical application instead of oral ingestion. This is because when essential fatty acids are ingested, they are broken down by the liver and are less absorbed in skin tissue. 

Camelina oil is rich in EFAs (such as omega-3) that help reduce transepidermal water loss. Low transepidermal water loss results in improved skin barrier function, which is vital for protecting the skin from bacteria and inflammation. Camelina oil can be used in skincare as an emollient to treat conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. 

Camelina oil also contains tocopherols that induce antioxidant benefits in the skin. Tocopherols in topical formulations help reduce UV-induced radical damage. Skin cells that are damaged by UV rays make the skin appear dull and aged. Camelina oil can be formulated in creams to potentially reduce the effects of aging on the skin. 

Camelina Oil for Hair

With its high levels of fatty acids and vitamin E, Camelina oil is a remarkable treatment for attaining shiny, healthy hair. Essential fatty acids, such as linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid, are present in Camelina oil in significantly high amounts relative to other oils. This is useful in maintaining balanced oil production in the scalp, reducing flakiness and dryness. As such, Camelina oil serves as an effective treatment for dandruff and dry scalp

The fatty acids also moisturize the hair follicles and add hydration to dried hair strands. Camelina oil can be used in hair massages to add luster and shine to the hair without weighing it down. 

In addition, Camelina sativa oil possesses anti-aging properties as it contains tocopherols that reverse free radical damage. UV damage to the hair follicles and hair can cause premature graying; topical application of Camelina oil to the hair and scalp can promote pigmentation and reduce damage caused by oxidative stress. 

Camelina Oil for Brain, Nerves, and Eyes

The combination of vitamin E (tocopherols) and essential fatty acids in Camelina oil is beneficial for the development of the eyes, brain, and nerves. Research studies have established the effects of these nutrients on conditions, like age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and cognitive decline. All of these diseases involve the progressive degeneration of tissues and dysfunction of critical structures. 

Omega-3 is vital for the development of the eyes, brain, and nerves, as it surrounds the membranes in these organs. In addition, vitamin E in Camelina reduces oxidative stress and has been linked to improved cognitive performance. A diet high in vitamin E reduces the risk of Alzheimer's disease and age-related cognitive decline. By providing essential nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, Camelina oil may help maintain the integrity of the eye structures, support nerve transmission and communication, and promote brain health. 

camelina oil with wooden spoon

Camelina Oil for Reducing Pain and Inflammation

Over the past few years, a low omega-3 to omega-6 ratio has become synonymous with a low inflammation lifestyle. Camelina oil has an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of 2.5 to 1, which is the lowest among other commonly used seed oils, including olive oil and canola oil. This ratio is ideal as it decreases the release of proinflammatory substances and reduces markers of inflammation in the body. 

Inflammation plays a role in various chronic conditions, like arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. By consuming the right balance of essential fatty acids, through sources such as Camelina oil and fish oil, these conditions can be managed by suppressing inflammation in the body. Camelina oil can also be used topically in massages to potentially reduce pain perception and inflammation in patients suffering from arthritis. 

Camelina Oil for Managing Cholesterol

According to research studies, Camelina oil’s chemical composition of unsaturated fatty acids, tocopherols, and phytosterols has shown promise in reducing blood cholesterol levels. A study involving participants with high levels of bad cholesterol examined the effects of consuming fat products containing Camelina oil. The study showed that the cholesterol levels of the participants decreased. 

While both vitamin E and fatty acids contribute to this effect, the phytosterol concentration in Camelina is particularly important. Phytosterol molecules provide competition to bad cholesterol molecules, something that is beneficial for individuals at risk of heart disease. 

Does Camelina Oil Have Any Side Effects?

In 2016, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved partially refined Camelina Sativa oil as edible. It was determined to be safe for human consumption, categorized as ‘GRAS’ or generally recognized as safe. Moreover, the toxicology profile evaluated by Health Canada confirms that there is no objection to the consumption of cold-pressed Camelina sativa oil. 

However, since Camelina sativa comes from the mustard family, it might cause an allergic reaction in individuals that are allergic to mustard plants. In addition to this, Camelina sativa formulations that are indicated for topical use, such as in creams, should not be ingested. And again, you should only consume a specific Camelina oil if the labeling says it is safe for ingestion.

Final Thoughts on Camelina Oil

Camelina oil has exceptional nutritional qualities that support its use for various applications, from improving heart health and promoting balanced oil production on the scalp to nourishing the body's various systems. Its high levels of essential fatty acids, such as linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid, make it a standout among other oils, serving as a competitive alternative to olive and canola oil. 

Nevertheless, it is important to note that research and discussion on the use and advantages of Camelina oil is developing, and its use for the treatment of clinical conditions is not supported by evidence. At best, Camelina oil can be used as a support for improving symptoms of clinical conditions. And always choose a Camelina oil from a reliable retailer; we always responsibly and sustainably source our Camelina oil, and you can be confident in its composition. 

Reference: Botanics:

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