Myths and Facts

Red Palm Oil

January 11, 2017   /
Elaine M. Hinzey, RD, LDN

Dr. Oz touted red palm oil as the first “miracle solution of 2013” and claims that it “helps stop the signs of aging inside and out!” On his television show, Dr. Oz claimed that red palm oil will help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, combat heart disease, and aid weight loss. He contends that although palm oil is high in saturated fat, it removes plaque buildup in the arteries. Furthermore, it goes straight to the liver and is immediately burnt for energy.

Palm oil is high in vitamin A (carotene) and vitamin E (tocotrienol), both of which are lost during the refining process, so are not found in the palm oil frequently used in processed foods. Red palm oil contains more tocotrienol than any other foodstuff. Tocotrienol is a unique form of vitamin E that is not found in other common vegetable oils. About half of the tocopherols remain after palm oil is refined.

According to WebMD®, palm oil is used to prevent vitamin A deficiency (possibly effective), and for treating malaria (possibly ineffective), high blood pressure (insufficient evidence), and cyanide poisoning (insufficient evidence). According to the Cambridge World History of Food, red palm oil is readily absorbed and shows a digestibility of 97% or greater, which is similar to that of other common edible oils.

No studies exist specifically on red palm oil and Alzheimer’s prevention, and studies on antioxidants, such as vitamin A and vitamin E, were disappointing overall in regards to protecting the brain. In addition, no proof is available to show that red palm oil, or the antioxidants in it, would aid in the prevention of heart disease. In fact, the research is quite inconclusive and often contradictory, with some studies finding no effect, some finding decrease in both low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), some finding an increase in HDL, etc.

No viable research reveals that palm oil can cause weight loss in general or a “spot reduction” of tummy fat. Coconut oil (another saturated fat) that Dr. Oz also described as a “weight loss miracle” has very limited evidence for its purported weight loss benefits.

It seems that vitamin A is good for the eyes and skin, and is effective in some studies at reducing breast cancer risk among high-risk women, reducing ovarian cancer risk for postmenopausal women, and increasing strength in the elderly. Along with vitamin C, a study recently published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that beta-carotene might help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals with mild dementia were found to have lower blood levels of vitamin C and beta-carotene. However, more research is definitely necessary before it is possible to make such sweeping statements.

Vitamin E may slow memory loss in people who already have moderate Alzheimer’s disease, but it does not seem to stop mild Alzheimer’s from progressing to severe Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers also have studied vitamin E for its positive effects on bladder cancer. In meta-analysis of multiple trials using vitamin E, it did not lower the risk of heart disease, but evidence did indicate that it might shorten life span and increase the risk of some types of cancers.

Dr. Oz’s claims probably were based on a study published in the Journal Nutrients in October 2012, where rats were fed a diet high in both carbohydrate and fat for 16 weeks and were then given tocotrienol-rich fraction, which seemed to improve ventricular function, reduce cardiac stiffness, decrease blood pressure, and improve liver function. It did not decrease abdominal fat, although it did seem to decrease the adipose deposits in the tissues surrounding organs (the omentum).


References and recommended readings

Chowdhury N. Researchers probe the potential health benefits of palm oil. Time Web site.,8599,2115331,00.html. Accessed August 8, 2013.

Favura S. The Dr. Oz red palm oil (non-) miracle. Science-Based Medicine Web site. Published January 10, 2013. Accessed January 16, 2013.

II.E.3.—palm oil. In: Kiple KF, Ornelas KC, eds. The Cambridge World History of Food. New York City, NY: Cambridge University Press; 2000. Web site. Accessed August 8, 2013.

Miracle fat: red palm fruit oil, pt 1. The Dr. Oz Show Web site. Accessed August 8, 2013.

Miracle fat: red palm fruit oil, pt 2. The Dr. Oz Show Web site. Accessed August 8, 2013.

Palm oil. WebMD Web site. Accessed August 8, 2013.

Poladian C. Red palm oil, latest diet miracle promoted by Dr. Oz; does it work? International Business Times Web site. Published January 3, 2013. Accessed August 8, 2013.