Sacha Inchi Oil

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Sacha Inchi Oil

Sacha Inchi oil is one of the few exotic oils that have been discovered in the Amazon rainforest. It is pretty unique because it contains a good mix of omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 healthy fats. It is one of the highest sources of omega-3 among plants which is incredibly helpful in reducing the severity of cardiovascular disease and lowering systemic inflammation in our body. Sacha inchi oil contains 53% of its weight as omega-3, which stands right up there with other noteworthy omega-3 rich oils like flaxseed oil and perilla oil. It is quite beneficial not just for skin conditioning but also to reduce inflammation associated with problems like acne and psoriasis.

Source

It comes from a small tree known as Plukenetia Volubilis that bears a remarkable star-shaped fruit. It has been grown by the indigenous people of Peru dwelling in the Amazon rainforest, like the Ashaninka. Roasted seeds and some flesh and dried leaves of this tree are used to extract the oil, which has been practised for a few centuries. Even today, the oil is extracted using the same ingredients, but the extraction has been mechanized. 

However, commercial interest in growing these trees and producing oil has been taken up in Southeast Asian nations like Thailand. But presently the largest supplier in Peru.   

Colour, Taste and Aroma

It is light yellow and quite transparent. It feels soft and flows easily. Its taste is not pleasant and is not easy to consume on salads. Some may call it an acquired taste as it takes a few weeks to get used to consuming it. That is why, when it comes to taking sacha inchi oil internally, most people would prefer softgel capsules. Its aroma, on the contrary, is pleasant and nutty.  

Properties

There is hardly any research work on finding out the therapeutic effects of this oil. We know very little as of now. But, its impressive omega-3 content and other fatty acids render it the following properties.

  • Nutrient – First of all, it provides omega-3 and omega-6 to our body, both essential fatty acids. We need them in our diet directly as our body cannot synthesize them from other foods. Most of us get our omega-3 from fish oils (in the form of EPA and DHA). Plant oils are rich in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), converted to EPA and DHA in our body. Both EPA and DHA are tremendously helpful in improving the overall health status – both physically and mentally. Without omega-3 or omega-6, our body suffers from a deficiency disease that manifests itself as dermatitis, dry, scaly skin and even hair loss in some cases. That is just what we see on the outside. On the inside, too, omega-6 and, more particularly, omega-3 have a significant role in reducing inflammation. [1] 
  • Anti-inflammatory – It is powerful at reducing inflammation either when applied topically or when taken internally. Omega-3 rich oils reduce redness, pain, inflammation and soreness. It also prevents new breakouts. It can also boost natural sebum production, making the skin look radiant and youthful without increasing comedogenicity.  
  • Natural Sunscreen – Sacha inchi oil has a rich content of the gamma-tocopherol form of Vitamin E, which protects our skin from UV-B radiation-induced damage to the DNA, sunburns and swelling. Vitamin E rich oils help in reducing melasma and other forms of hyperpigmentation. [2] 
  • Skin Rejuvenating and Hydrating – Linoleic acid forms an essential component of the natural oily barrier that our skin creates over the outermost layer to keep our skin cells from losing moisture via evaporation. This is the basic mechanism that keeps our skin hydrated. Applying sacha inchi oil topically would help to repair this barrier, making the skin hold moisture better. Dehydrated skin is a temporary condition, which can be improved quickly by eating watermelons, tomatoes and cucumbers. 
  • Neuroprotective – Massage using oils rich in omega-3 can help in improving the health of nerves.  
  • Anti-Ageing – Omega-3 reduces the signs of ageing on our skin which is supplemented by the strong anti-ageing effects of Vitamin E. [1] 

In one study, sacha inchi oil was evaluated for its ability to kill a bacterium known as S. aureus. These bacteria happen to be responsible for some skin infections like impetigo, boils, carbuncles, folliculitis and cellulitis. Although it could not kill the bacteria, an interesting effect was observed. It prohibited the bacteria from adhering to skin cells. This study promises to design skin creams as they can be mixed with antibacterial oils and herb extracts where it acts an anti-adherent against the bacteria. [3] 

Health Benefits and Uses

Sacha Inchi Oil for Skin

It is light and spreads very well. It moisturizes and lubricates the skin. Our body absorbs omega-3 and omega-6 easily from the skin. As we start to get more omega-3, skin starts to show results. Natural sebum production increases, making skin look radiant. There is reduced dryness, and the skin feels softer. Long term application (for months) may also cause the skin to appear lighter in complexion. This effect is attributed to Vitamin E.  

Sacha inchi oil’s best applicability is for inflammatory conditions in nature, mainly acne, psoriasis and eczema. It can be applied even on active acne because it is only low comedogenic as per ratings. Its comedogenicity is either 0 or 1. It may not help much with killing the bacteria responsible for acne or reducing the natural oiliness, but it does reduce the redness around pimples and pustules. A general redness develops on the entire cheeks and sides of the forehead, where acne prominently forms. This happens because our skin cells are inflamed, and we may also contribute to it by picking on the pimples. Sacha inchi oil is gentle on our skin. Alpha-linolenic acid is readily metabolized in our skin into EPA and DHA that are strongly anti-inflammatory. [1] 

Sacha inchi oil, rich in omega-3, is also helpful in psoriasis and eczema when applied topically. That is because it reduces the formation of pro-inflammatory compounds in our skin and, in turn, increases the formation of anti-inflammatory compounds. Alpha-linolenic acid, as mentioned earlier, gets converted to EPA and DHA within the skin itself. Enzymes reside in the skin, like lipoxygenase (called LOX) and cyclooxygenase (called COX) act on the EPA and DHA, creating solid anti-inflammatory eicosanoids. This reduces redness and pain associated with inflammation, helping the skin to clear up. But the effect may not be as prominent as eating fish rich in EPA and DHA, like cod or salmon. Sacha inchi contains alpha-linolenic acid, which our body has to convert to EPA and DHA. This conversion is only about 10% effective; some experts say it may be even lesser. Salmon delivers EPA and DHA directly, so it is a more potent source of omega-3. Nevertheless, topical application of sacha inchi oil can help alleviate eczema and psoriasis symptoms to some extent.  

Sacha Inchi Oil for Hair

Vitamin E rich oils are fantastic for adding lustre to hair. It also nourishes the hair, prevents hair proteins from degrading in intense sun, and keeps the hair safe from extreme dryness and frizz. It also acts as a detangler, which is quite helpful for people with thick, voluminous hair that tends to develop knots.

Sacha Inchi Oil for Diabetes

In a pilot study, sacha inchi oil was given as a supplement. At lower doses of 5 ml per day, it reduced total cholesterol in patients suffering from elevated cholesterol. It also increased HDL cholesterol and increased insulin levels in the blood at higher doses of 10 ml per day. This looks promising prima facie. More studies are needed to firmly establish the ability of sacha inchi oil to improve our lipid profile and aid in cardiovascular disease as well as in diabetes. [4] These benefits can be attributed to omega-3.  

Nutritional and Medicinal Information

Let us first look at the composition of fatty acids (especially the relative amounts of omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fats). 

Fatty acid Carbon notation and type Percentage  
α-Linolenic acid C 18: 3 (omega-3) 45 – 53% 
Linoleic acid C 18: 2 (omega-6) 34 – 39% 
Oleic acid C 18: 1 (omega-9) 6 – 10% 

Source: 5 

It is not the only oil to contain such a profile that delivers reasonable amounts of omega-3,6 and nine from it. Another oil with a similar profile is Perilla oil (which comes mainly from Korea). Although such a profile is rare, it does not make it some miracle oil. It is just that these three healthy fats are not generally found in balanced proportion in other commonly used edible plant-based oils. Some oils, like olive oil, are very rich in oleic acid, while others, like sunflower oil, are very rich in linoleic acid. Omega-3 is also rare in plant sources, is found in considerable amounts only in flaxseed, perilla, chia seed and sacha inchi seed, besides walnut oil, canola oil and soybean oil.  

Vitamin E in sacha inchi oil ranges from 176 to 226 mg per 100 gm of oil. A tablespoon of oil (around 14 grams) provides up to 30 mg of vitamin E, twice the RDA. This goes to show that sacha inchi is dense in Vitamin E. Most of it is in the form of gamma-tocopherol, which is a powerful antioxidant against reactive nitrogen species (RNS). They are similar to reactive oxygen species because they both are free radicals, always looking to pounce upon healthy cells and cause their decay. This gradual decay happens every minute, every second in our bodies, which accelerates our ageing process. They are also involved in the gradual development of inflammatory conditions, cardiovascular diseases, degenerative nerve syndromes and even cancers. [6] 

Vitamin E also absorbs some of the ultraviolet radiation, which makes it a mild sunscreen. It is also an anti-inflammatory. Oils rich in vitamin E are useful in acne, psoriasis, scleroderma, melasma, wound healing and atopic dermatitis. [2] 

Some manufacturers also report small amounts of Vitamin A in sacha inchi seed oil. It is around 2.5 milligram per 100 grams of oil. This converts to about 3731 IU of Vitamin A if we assume all of the 2.5 milligrams of Vitamin A is in the form of carotenoids.  

Physical and chemical properties of importance are mentioned in the table below. The ORAC value (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) is one of the most common measures of the antioxidant power of foods. The ORAC value of sacha inchi oil needs to be evaluated.  

Relative Density 0.9187 
Viscosity 35.4 centipoise 
Saponification Value 185.2 
Iodine Number 193.1 
ORAC value — 

Source: 7 

Side Effects, Safe Dosage and Toxicity Issues 

People who take sacha inchi oil internally have reported feelings of nausea after taking it. When taken in large amounts, it may cause vomiting. It is not a common irritant or sensitizer. Chances of allergy are rare but possible. One should do a patch test on the arm before using it on the face or hair. You should consult a doctor if you wish to take it internally as a supplement, as the dosage will vary depending on the condition and its severity.  

Buying and Storage

One should look for sellers who publish detailed information about their source and composition of their product. Since it is a rainforest product, one should go with sellers that have a reputation for sustainable use of natural resources. This has gained importance in recent years as the demand for oils from the Amazon rainforest is increasing in developed regions like Europe, Japan and the USA.  

Sacha inchi oil has a long shelf life of around two years despite containing high amounts of unsaturated fats. This is because vitamin e protects the oil from going rancid, maintaining its omega-3 and omega-6 content for long. However, it must be kept in a cool and dry place to make it last.     

References

  1. Essential Fatty Acids and Skin Health. Linus Pauling Institute at the Oregon State University.  
  2. Vitamin E in dermatology. Mohammad Abid Keen and Iffat Hassan. Indian Dermatology Online Journal.  
  3. Sacha Inchi Oil (Plukenetia Volubilis L.) affects adherence of Staphylococcus aureus to human skin explant and keratinocytes in vitro. Gonzales Aspajo G et al., Journal of Ethnopharmacology.  
  4. Effect of sacha inchi oil (plukenetia volúbilis l) on the lipid profile of patients with hyperlipoproteinemia.Garmendia F et al, Rev Peru Med Exp Salud Publica. 2013 
  5. Sacha Inchi Oil – Wikipedia.  
  6. Gamma tocopherol and alpha-tocopherol. Life Extension.  
  7. Chemical composition of Sacha Inchi ( Plukenetia Volubilis L.) seeds and characteristics of their lipid fraction. Luis Felipe Gutierrez et al, Grasas y Aceites. 

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