Scientific Name(s): Argania spinosa (L.) Skeels.
Common Name(s): Ardjane, Argan, Argane, Argania, Arganier, Moroccan ironwood
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Dec 1, 2017.
Argan oil has traditionally been used for its dermatologic and hepatoprotective effects. Limited studies in animals have demonstrated anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity. However, clinical trials are lacking to support any of these uses. Clinical trials have shown benefit in treatment of cardiovascular disease risk factors. The purified oil has been used in food and as a flavoring. The oil is also used for making hard, yellowish soap.
Cardiovascular disease risk factors – 15 g/day of argan oil for up to 4 weeks has been used in clinical trials evaluating effects of dietary intake of the oil on surrogate markers of cardiovascular disease (eg, lipid profiles) in healthy subjects. Doses of 25 mL/day to 30 mL/day for 3 to 4 weeks have demonstrated antioxidant activity and improved cholesterol levels in randomized controlled trials.
Contraindications have not been identified.
Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
None well documented.
Allergic hypersensitivity reactions, including pneumonitis, have been reported with argan oil and powder.
A. spinosa is a slow-growing, spiny tree that requires little care or cultivation, surviving in poor, arid soils. It is endemic in southwestern Morocco, where it grows over 320,000 square miles. The argan tree may be either shrubby or up to 10 m in height with a gnarled, black trunk and cracked bark. The dark green leaves are alternate, 2 to 4 cm long, simple, lanceolate, and spatulate at times, with a rounded apex. Spines occur at leaf axils. Inflorescences are in clusters in spring. The greenish flowers are very small and bell shaped, with 5 petals, 5 pubescent sepals slightly connate at the base, 5 stamens, 5 staminols, and 1 style. The argan fruit is a drupe that is round, ovoid, or conical in shape, greenish-gold in color, 2 to 4 cm long, and 1.5 to 3 cm wide. The fruit ripens throughout the year and by summer is black and dry and falls from the tree. Inside the fruit is a milky pulp covered by a thick peel and a hard-shelled seed (argan nut) that is approximately one-fourth of the fresh fruit weight. Argan nuts contain up to 3 almond-like, oil-rich, white kernels containing 30% to 55% argan oil, depending on the extraction method.Charrouf 1999, FAO 2011 A synonym is Argania sideroxylon Roem. & Schult.
Argan trees support indigenous populations economically, particularly in Morocco, providing an edible and marketable oil that provides up to 25% of a daily lipid diet and can be used as an ingredient in cosmetics.Charrouf 1999
While the nut is very bitter, the purified oil is as sweet as walnut oil and has been used in food and as a flavoring. The oil is also used for making hard, yellowish soap.FAO 2011
Argan oil and preparations have been used in traditional Moroccan medicine for centuries to cure skin diseases.Bellakhdar 1991 As a cosmetic, the oil is traditionally indicated to eliminate pimples, particularly juvenile acne and chicken pox pustules. It is also recommended to relieve dry skin and slow the appearance of wrinkles.Bellakhdar 1991, Charrouf 1999
Argan oil is typically administered orally and has traditionally been prescribed as a choleretic and hepatoprotective agent, and in treatment of hypercholesterolemia and atherosclerosis.Bellakhdar 1991, Charrouf 1999
The fat composition of the argan seed kernel oil is 45% monounsaturated fatty acid, 35% polyunsaturated fatty acid, and 20% saturated fatty acids. The ratio of alpha linolenic/linoleic acid is 0.003. The ratio of oleic/linoleic acid is 1.25. Other minor compounds are phenolic compounds (3.3 mg/kg), plant sterols (295 mg per 100 g), and tocopherols (637 mg/kg), all of which have antioxidant effects.Cherki 2006, Drissi 2004
Two new oleanene saponins were isolated from the methyl alcohol extract of the shell of A. spinosa. They possess protobassic acid and 16-alpha-protobassic acid as aglycones. The disaccharide moiety linked to C-3 of the aglycon is made up of 2 glucose units; the pentasaccharide moiety linked to C-28 is made up of arabinose, xylose, and 3 rhamnose units.
Fatty acid composition of argan oil triglycerides includes myristic 0% to 0.2%; pentadecanoic 0% to 0.1%; palmitic 11.7% to 14.3%; palmitoleic 0% to 0.2%; heptadecanoic 0% to 0.1%; stearic 5% to 5.9%; oleic 45.2% to 48.1%; linoleic 31.5% to 34.9%; linolenic 0% to 0.6%; nonadecenoic 0% to 0.1%; arachidic 0% to 0.4%; gadoleic 0% to 0.5%; and behenic 0% to 0.1%.Charrouf 1999
The unsaponifiable fraction composition, reported in 1984, was as follows: carotenes (37%), tocopherols (8%), triterpene alcohols (20%), sterols (20%), and xantophylls (5%). The 3 major triterpene alcohols are butyrospermol (18.1%), tirucallol (27.9%), and beta-amyrine (27.3%); the 4 minor triterpene alcohols are lupeol (7.1%), 24-methylene cycloartanol (4.5%), citrostadienol (3.9%), and cycloeucalenol (less than 5%).Charrouf 1999
Argan oil is approximately 2 times richer in tocopherol than olive oil (620 mg/kg vs 320 mg/kg). The main tocopherol is alpha-tocopherol (69%), while beta- and gamma-tocopherol are found in roughly equal proportions (16% and 13%, respectively); delta-tocopherol is a minor component (2%). Beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol, known antioxidative agents, are likely responsible for the good conservation properties of the oil. Argan oil is less sensitive to oxidation and rancidity than olive oil. This stability has been attributed to the presence of tocopherols (620 mg/kg) and polyphenols, such as caffeic acid and oleuropeine.Charrouf 1999
Four sterols have been found in argan oil, including the major sterols spinasterol and schottenol (44% and 48%, respectively) and 2 minor sterols (stigmasta-8,22-dien-3b-ol [22-E, 24-S] and stigmasta-7,24-28-dien-3b-ol [24-Z]), both isolated in 4% yield. There are no D-5 sterols, which are most common in vegetable oil.Charrouf 1999, Farines 1981
The kernel produces argan oil; the seed is roasted before the oil is expressed in order to eliminate saponins. The nut is then ground and mixed with tepid water. The oil floats and is separated by precipitation. At this stage, it is brownish and has an acrid, unpleasant taste. When left to rest, residues deposit and the color lightens, but the oil keeps a very strong flavor. It is sometimes consumed in that form or purified through emulsion with water or by adding some bread. The oil content rarely drops below 66% in healthy seeds.FAO 2011
Uses and Pharmacology
Peripheral and central analgesic effects were evaluated in a study in mice and rats fed A. spinosa cakes. For the crude saponins, peripheral analgesic activity was obtained at doses between 50 and 500 mg/kg per oral administration, with maximal effectiveness at 500 mg/kg. No central analgesic activity was observed.Alaoui 1998
In an animal model, long-term treatment with argan oil prevented the development of hypertension, substantially modifying mean blood pressure from the fifth week of treatment without altering heart rate and body weight in 4-week-old spontaneously hypertensive male rats (n=12) compared with normotensive Wistar-Kyoto rats (n=12).Berrougui 2004 Treatment with virgin argan oil for 3 weeks to diabetic hypertensive rats prevented increases in blood pressure (remaining constant at 131 mm Hg after 21 days) compared to untreated animals (157 mm Hg) (P<0.001).Bellahcen 2013
Anti-inflammatory effects of A. spinosa have been demonstrated. Rat paw edema, induced by carrageenin and experimental trauma, was reduced with administration of crude argan saponin at a dose of 10 mg/kg orally. At doses of approximately 50 to 100 mg/kg orally, anti-inflammatory activity of crude argan saponin was similar to that with indomethacin treatment.Alaoui 1998
Cardiovascular disease risk factors
Argan oil is rich in oleic and linoleic acid. Oleic acid is an unsaturated acid that is difficult to oxidize. It is involved in the fluidity of lipoproteins and, as a consequence, the generation of high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Dietary linoleic acid serves as a precursor for biosynthesis of arachidonic acid through cyclooxygenase and 5-lipoxygenase. It has long been accepted as having hypocholesterolemic effects. More recently, linoleic acid derivatives, particularly gamma-linolenic acid, were found to be even more potent in reducing blood cholesterol in humans and rats. Linoleic acid in artisan argan oil extract is more stable because of the low concentration of conjugated dienes, which are the main precursors in oxidative reactions. It has also been reported that a dietary intake of gamma-linolenic acid 3 to 8 mmol/day reduces serum total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. Decreases in cholesterol concentration could be due to low intestinal absorption of cholesterol because of the activity of saponins in argan oil. Other compounds present in argan oil that could prevent lipoprotein structural alteration are beta-carotenes and alpha-tocopherol.Berrougui 2003
Animal and in vitro data
In a study evaluating dietary argan oil on serum lipid composition in rats, LDL, cholesterol, triglycerides, and body weight were reduced.Berrougui 2003 In a study evaluating the beneficial properties of virgin argan oil phenolic extracts on cholesterol in human THP-1 macrophages, argan oil extract protected LDL from oxidation by direct or indirect antioxidant activity. The extract increased cholesterol efflux by increasing HDL lipid-bilayer fluidity. However, further studies are needed to clarify the exact action on lipoprotein oxidation and reverse cholesterol transport. These results support the use of argan oil as a dietary supplement.Berrougui 2006
Consumption of virgin argan oil is associated with low levels of plasma LDL cholesterol in healthy subjects compared with nonconsumers living in southwest Morocco. In addition, a higher plasma content of vitamin E accompanied with lower lipoperoxides suggests an antioxidant effect. The values of plasma lipid, lipoprotein, and apolipoprotein parameters between argan oil consumers and nonconsumers are as follows: LDL cholesterol levels were significantly lower in the consumers group compared with nonconsumers (2.47±0.81 mmol/L vs 2.83±0.77 mmol/L; P<0.05); lipoprotein(a) concentrations were lower in the consumers group (25.14±17.73 mg/dL vs 33.67±20.01 mg/dL; P<0.05); plasma total cholesterol and apolipoprotein B levels were lower in consumers without reaching statistical significance; a reduction of apolipoprotein B in LDL particles was observed in the consumers group (41.14±13.89 mg/dL vs 54.96±27.35 mg/dL; P<0.05).Drissi 2004 A controlled trial in 40 healthy Algerian subjects investigated the effects of Algerian argan oil on lipid parameters, markers of oxidation, and antioxidant status. Argan oil was consumed at a dose of 15 g/day for 30 days and was comprised of oleic acid (45.01%), linoleic acid (35.39%), saturated fatty acids (17.7%; palmitic and stearic), and linolenic acid (0.2%), with very low levels of vitamin E and polyphenols (56.34 and 52.36 mg/kg, respectively). Although Algerian argan oil appears to contain less vitamin E than Moroccan argan oil or extra virgin olive oil, it was sufficient to elicit a significant reduction in the oxidation of circulating and cellular lipids (P<0.05) compared with controls according to measures of plasma and erythrocyte levels of hydroperoxies (lipoperoxides) and thiobarbituric acid-reacting substances. However, neither plasma oxygen radical absorbance capacity nor oxidation of protein (carbonyls) was affected. Additionally, triacyl glycerol, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol levels decreased by 20.97% (P<0.05), 14.63% (P<0.05), and 16.05% (P<0.001), respectively. The susceptibility of LDL to oxidation was also decreased.Sour 2012
In patients with dyslipidemia, consumption of argan oil 25 mL/day instead of butter for 3 weeks improved total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol as well as cardiovascular risk factors, including platelet aggregation activity (P=0.03), thromboxane B2 levels (P<0.05), and platelet oxidative status (malondialdehyde and glutathione peroxidase; P=0.02 each). Total and LDL cholesterol decreased by 23.8% (P=0.004) and 25.6% (P=0.02), respectively. HDL cholesterol aso improved, with an increase of 26% (P=0.01).Haimeur 2013 The effect of virgin argan oil on lipid parameters was also investigated in a randomized, controlled crossover study of patients with end-stage renal disease on hemodialysis (N=37). Patients were randomized to their usual diet, or their usual diet supplemented with virgin argan oil 30 mL/day for 4 weeks. Compared with the control diet, consumption of virgin argan oil improved triglycerides (−0.18 g/L), total cholesterol (−0.09 g/L), LDL (−0.11 g/L), and HDL (+0.06 g/L) (P=0.03, P=0.02, P=0.03, and P=0.01, respectively). Argan oil supplementation also provided significant improvement in oxidative stress compared with the control diet, based on improvements in vitamin E (P<0.001) and malondialdehyde (MDA) levels (P=0.002).Eljaoudi 2015
Moroccans have traditionally used the rich oil of the argan tree for cooking or for spreading on toast.Bellakhdar 1991, Charrouf 1999 The oil is reportedly high in vitamins A and E and unsaturated fatty acids, and is also used as a flavoring.Argania 2011
As a component of medical nutrition therapy for patients with type 2 diabetes, the American Diabetes Association Standards of Care (2014) recommends higher quality dietary fat intake, as an alternative to decreased fat intake, by replacing saturated and/or trans fats with mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids in the diet. This Mediterranean-style approach to eating may improve glycemic control and cardiovascular disease risk factors (moderate quality evidence).ADA 2014
A randomized trial conducted in healthy young Moroccan male students at the Health Careers Institute investigated the effect of virgin argan oil and extra virgin olive oil on androgenic hormones as well as anthropometric markers. All participants were given butter during a 2-week stabilization period followed by 3 weeks of argan or olive oil. The authors reported increases in testosterone and luteinizing hormone from the end of the stabilization period to the end of the intervention period, with no difference observed between the 2 oil treatments. However, data for androgen levels compared with baseline were not reported. Compared with the end of the stabilization period, no anthropometric parameters changed.Derouiche 2013
Cardiovascular disease risk factors
15 g/day of argan oil for up to 4 weeks has been used in clinical trials evaluating effects of dietary intake of the oil on surrogate markers of cardiovascular disease (eg, lipid profiles) in healthy subjects.Drissi 2004, Sour 2012 Doses of 25 mL/day to 30 mL/day for 3 to 4 weeks have demonstrated antioxidant activity and improved cholesterol levels in randomized controlled trials.Eljaoudi 2015, Haimeur 2013
Pregnancy / Lactation
Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
None well documented.
A 34-year-old Moroccan man exhibited an allergic reaction to argan oil that first presented as rhinitis and conjunctivitis upon smelling the oil. After ingestion of the oil, he experienced epigastralgia, hypersalivation, and throat discomfort, and 20 minutes later generalized erythema, urticaria, and decreased peak flow.Astier 2010 In a case series, 9 workers in an argan industrial processing plant who experienced flu-like symptoms after handling argan cakes were subjected to a test challenge of argan powder. Of the 6 workers who had a positive respiratory response to the test challenge, 2 were diagnosed with argan hypersensitivity pneumonitis.Paris 2015
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