The sea buckthorn plant (Hippophae rhamnoides) is a thorny, deciduous, temperate bush plant native to the Himalayas but is now widely naturalised in coastal areas around the UK. The plant has been used to treat a wide variety of diseases in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine, as well as in many cultures around the world, for centuries.
Sea buckthorn oil, extracted from the berries of the plant, has become noted for its high levels of nutritionally and medicinally important components. This nutritional powerhouse contains approximately 190 bioactive substances, including a unique mix of both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, 14 vitamins and B complex vitamins, carotenoids, strong antioxidants, flavonoids, around 11 minerals, phospholipids, anthocyanins and approximately 18 amino acids.1
Sea buckthorn oil is unique in both the qualitative and quantitative composition of its fatty acids, particularly the presence of the fatty acid omega-7, which is higher than in any other plant. Very uncommon within the plant kingdom, omega-7 is difficult to obtain through the diet. Sea buckthorn is one of the few plants that present this fatty acid in abundance, with other dietary sources including macadamia nuts and tropical oils such as palm kernel and coconut oil.2
Fatty acids have key roles in several metabolic and structural functions in the body. They are important compounds of cell membranes (responsible for the transport of vitamins), and regulate the concentration of lipids in plasma. Furthermore, fatty acids produce a number of precursors such as eicosanoides, steroid hormones and biliary acid, all of which are fundamental for the adequate functioning of the body. In addition, fatty acids are the most important energetic nutrient and it is recommended that at least 20% of the total energy intake should come from fats.3
Omega-7 fatty acid is a primary component of the cells that make up mucous membranes. Mucous membranes line the surface of the digestive system (oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon and rectum), respiratory tract (nasal mucosa, trachea and bronchi), urological (urethra, bladder, ureters) and the female genitalia (part of the vulva and vagina), as well as the inside of the eye. The high antioxidant levels in sea buckthorn oil, combined with its abundance of omega-7 fatty acids, play an important role in keeping the natural structure of mucous membranes hydrated and healthy by promoting tissue regeneration and reducing inflammation.
Sea buckthorn oil can be used as an effective treatment for several ailments:
Several studies emphasize the beneficial effects of omega-7 for those suffering with vaginal inflammatory atrophy (a thinning and drying of the vagina characterised by discomfort, feelings of dryness, burning and itching). Vaginal inflammatory atrophy affects up to 1 in 3 women, mainly during or after the menopause and is linked to low levels of oestrogen. Oestrogen is important for the structure of the urogenital area, where it maintains the elasticity and moisture of the epithelial barrier. Sea buckthorn oil has demonstrated marked improvements in the dryness and integrity of the vaginal epithelium, so can be considered a good alternative to conventional oestrogen hormone treatment.4
The benefits of omega-7 have also been demonstrated in dry eye syndrome. Dry eye is a common condition characterised by symptoms of visual disturbance and discomfort; notably a sensation of having sand in the eye, which manifests in tearing, blurred vision, burning, inflammation and redness. Artificial tears are a common treatment in dry eye. Although this relieves the symptoms, it does not address the causative factors or the inflammation that accompanies dry eye.
Oral sea buckthorn oil supplementation has been shown to restore tear secretion to its normal value in people with dry eye. Omega-7 fatty acids can preserve tear secretion and suppress inflammatory cytokines in the lacrimal gland. Sea buckthorn oil is also rich in carotenoids, tocopherols and tocotrienols, so its mechanism in the alleviation of dry eye syndrome is also a result of the attenuation of inflammation and oxidative damage.5
The unique mix of fatty acids found in sea buckthorn oil ensures multidirectional effects in different layers of the epidermis, thus playing an essential protective and reparative role in skin health.
- Omega 7 stimulates cell regeneration in the epidermis and plays an important role in wound healing and reducing scars
- Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) is extremely important for skin health as a component of the intracellular cement that binds the cells of the epidermis. GLA improves blood circulation, increasing the supply of nourishment and oxygen to skin, and removes excess toxins, resulting in improved skin structure, appearance and tone
- Linoleic acid (LA) also stimulates cell regeneration and regulates the function of the sebaceous glands
- The saturated fats palmitic and stearic acids strengthen the effect of the skin as a protective barrier, as well as having smoothing and softening properties
- Alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA) reduces the inflammation caused by harmful UV radiation, thus reducing the effects of sunburn, soothing irritation and accelerates the regeneration of the damaged lipid layer of the epidermis
Sea buckthorn oil also contains several complex lipids:
- Phospholipids and glycolipids give moisture to the skin, improve elasticity and reduce inflammation, whilst accelerating skin regeneration and cell renewal
- Sterols strengthen the lipid barrier of the skin, protect from harmful external substances and reduce excessive water loss through the epidermis, thereby improving skin elasticity and firmness
Other active components found in sea buckthorn oil also exert a positive effect on skin health:
- Vitamin A, in the form of carotenoids, provides regenerative and anti-wrinkle properties
- Vitamin C (the content of which is 15 times higher than in oranges) evens skin tone and has an antioxidant effect, protecting the skin from harmful UVA and UVB radiation1
Sea buckthorn also strengthens the structure of the hair, and can therefore be used as an effective remedy against hair loss and balding.
Omega-7 may play a role in lowering cholesterol levels. In animal studies, the addition of omega-7 saw a reduction of LDL-cholesterol, coupled with an increase in HDL-cholesterol in subjects with hyperlipidaemia, suggesting the benefits of omega-7 in maintaining cardiovascular health.6 Further studies have suggested that it is the combined effects of the various fatty acids in sea buckthorn, as well as the plant sterols, that exert a cholesterol lowering effect.
There is a strong correlation between the Mediterranean diet and protection against cardiovascular disease, mainly due to the substantial intake of olive oil in the diet, and its high levels of oleic acid (omega-9), which is also abundant in sea buckthorn oil.
ALA demonstrates potent cardio-protective activity, such as, the reduction of plaque calcification and plasma lipid numbers; the maintenance of endothelial function; the reduction of blood pressure; and the exhibition of antithrombotic, anti arrhythmic and anti-inflammatory effects. ALA can also contribute to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels.2
Sea buckthorn is a good source of palmitoleic acid (PA) and has been reported to have beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity. One study found that PA supplementation in mice fed with a high-fat diet stimulated the uptake of glucose and impaired the lipogenesis in the liver.7 Further research demonstrated an increased insulin sensitivity in the liver and muscle, which improved hypertriglyceridemia and hyperglycemia in diabetic rats when they were fed 300 mg/kg of PA daily for 4 weeks.8 Other animal studies show that sea buckthorn may help to reduce blood sugar levels by increasing insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity.9 In a small human study, sea buckthorn oil helped to minimize blood sugar spikes after a carb-rich meal10 and in epidemiologic studies, higher intake has been associated with lower levels of inflammation and a lower risk of diabetes. It has also been demonstrated that palmitoleate induces beta-cell proliferation and improves secretory function in both animals and humans and may prevent beta-cell apoptosis induced by glucose.11
Sea buckthorn oil has been shown to have positive effects on the immune system, with a large part of this attributed to the high flavonoid content of the oil. Sea buckthorn may therefore help to strengthen the immune system and help to protect the body against infection. Some studies have demonstrated the protective effects of sea buckthorn against gram negative bacteria, influenza and other viruses.12-14
Sea buckthorn possesses a wide range of biological and pharmacological activities, including anticancer properties. There is much research that shows a higher dietary intake of phenolic compounds and an associated lower risk of cancer. The antitumor activity of sea buckthorn can be attributed to its antioxidant compounds, such as flavonoids. These protect cells from oxidative damage that can lead to genetic mutation.13
Sea buckthorn contains several constituents with potentially hepatoprotective properties, including vitamin E and carotenoids, all of which may help to protect liver cells from damage. In one study, the protective effects of sea buckthorn seed oil on carbon tetrachloride-induced hepatic damage in mice showed significant results.15 In a further study, subjects with cirrhosis were given 15 grams of sea buckthorn extract or a placebo three times per day for six months. Those in the sea buckthorn group increased their blood markers of liver function significantly compared to the placebo group.16 Other research has demonstrated that those with non-alcoholic liver disease saw blood cholesterol, triglyceride and liver enzyme levels improve significantly with the addition of sea buckthorn compared to those given a placebo.17,18
Sea buckthorn may be beneficial against diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. Omega-7 is effective in supporting and promoting healthy mucous membranes, which line the digestive system. Sea-buckthorn oil has therefore been shown to have a soothing effect on inflammation of the alimentary system, duodenum or in diarrhea. It has also been successfully used in the treatment of chronic gastric ulcer disease.1
If you have questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters, please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time.
Amanda Williams and the Cytoplan Editorial Team
- Zielińska, A. and Nowak, I. (2017) ‘Abundance of active ingredients in sea-buckthorn oil’, Lipids in Health and Disease. BioMed Central Ltd. doi: 10.1186/s12944-017-0469-7.
- Marsiñach, M. S. and Cuenca, A. P. (2019) ‘The impact of sea buckthorn oil fatty acids on human health’, Lipids in Health and Disease. BioMed Central Ltd. doi: 10.1186/s12944-019-1065-9.
- Yang, B. and Kallio, H. P. (2001) ‘Fatty acid composition of lipids in sea buckthorn (Hippophaë rhamnoides L.) berries of different origins’, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. American Chemical Society , 49(4), pp. 1939–1947. doi: 10.1021/jf001059s.
- Larmo, P. S. et al. (2014) ‘Effects of sea buckthorn oil intake on vaginal atrophy in postmenopausal women: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study’, Maturitas. Elsevier Ireland Ltd, 79(3), pp. 316–321. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2014.07.010.
- Larmo, P. S. et al. (2012) ‘Nutrition in the treatment of dry eye with special attention to sea buckthorn oil’, in ACS Symposium Series. American Chemical Society, pp. 533–543. doi: 10.1021/bk-2012-1093.ch030.
- Guo, X. fei et al. (2017) ‘Effect of sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides L.) on blood lipid profiles: A systematic review and meta-analysis from 11 independent randomized controlled trials’, Trends in Food Science and Technology. Elsevier Ltd, pp. 1–10. doi: 10.1016/j.tifs.2016.11.007.
- de Souza, C. O. et al. (2017) ‘Palmitoleic Acid Improves Metabolic Functions in Fatty Liver by PPARα-Dependent AMPK Activation’, Journal of Cellular Physiology. Wiley-Liss Inc., 232(8), pp. 2168–2177. doi: 10.1002/jcp.25715.
- Yang, Z. H., Miyahara, H. and Hatanaka, A. (2011) ‘Chronic administration of palmitoleic acid reduces insulin resistance and hepatic lipid accumulation in KK-Ay Mice with genetic type 2 diabetes’, Lipids in Health and Disease. Lipids Health Dis, 10. doi: 10.1186/1476-511X-10-120.
- Gao, S. et al. (2017) ‘Sea Buckthorn Fruit Oil Extract Alleviates Insulin Resistance through the PI3K/Akt Signaling Pathway in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Cells and Rats’, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. American Chemical Society, 65(7), pp. 1328–1336. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.6b04682.
- Lehtonen, H. M. et al. (2010) ‘Postprandial hyperglycemia and insulin response are affected by sea buckthorn (Hippophaë rhamnoides ssp. turkestanica) berry and its ethanol-soluble metabolites’, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Eur J Clin Nutr, 64(12), pp. 1465–1471. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2010.173.
- Palmitoleic Acid – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics (no date). Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/palmitoleic-acid (Accessed: 29 June 2020).
- Enkhtaivan, G. et al. (2017) ‘Extreme effects of Seabuckthorn extracts on influenza viruses and human cancer cells and correlation between flavonol glycosides and biological activities of extracts’, Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences. Elsevier B.V., 24(7), pp. 1646–1656. doi: 10.1016/j.sjbs.2016.01.004.
- Christaki, E. (2012) ‘Hippophae Rhamnoides L. (Sea Buckthorn): a Potential Source of Nutraceuticals’, Food and Public Health. Scientific and Academic Publishing, 2(3), pp. 69–72. doi: 10.5923/j.fph.20120203.02.
- Prabhu, A. A. (2011) ‘Review on Curative assets of Seabuckthorn’, Journal of Pharmacy Research, 4(1), pp. 164–166. Available at: http://jprsolutions.info (Accessed: 29 June 2020).
- Yu-Wen Hsu, Chia-Fang Tsai, Wen-Kang Chen, Fung-Jou Lu, Protective effects of seabuckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides L.) seed oil against carbon tetrachloride-induced hepatotoxicity in mice, Food and Chemical Toxicology, 47, 2009, 2281–2288.
- Effect of Sea buckthorn on liver fibrosis: A clinical study (2003). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4615518/ (Accessed: 29 June 2020).
- Clinical study on the treatment with Chinese medicine sea buckthorn on non-alcoholic fatty liver-Modern Journal of Integrated Traditional Chinese and Western Medicine (2012). Available at: http://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTOTAL-XDJH201214002.htm (Accessed: 29 June 2020).
- Gao, Z. et al. (2014) ‘Efficacy of Sea Buckthorn Therapy in Patients with Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease’, Chinese Medicine. Scientific Research Publishing, Inc, 05(04), pp. 223–230. doi: 10.4236/cm.2014.54027.