Medically reviewed on February 19, 2018
Scientific Name(s): Carthamus tinctorius L. Family: Asteraceae (daisies)
Common Name(s): Safflower , American saffron , zafran , bastard saffron , false saffron , dyer's saffron , Gami Honghwain .
Safflower has been used as a laxative and as a dietary supplement to modify lipid profiles and treat fevers. However, clinical trials are lacking.
Foods are commonly cooked in safflower oil. There are few clinical trials to support dosage; however, 10 g of oil per day has been used as placebo.
Contraindications have not yet been identified.
Information is limited. Abortifacient and emmenagogue effects have been suggested.
None well documented.
Allergy to the flowers has been reported. Safflower oil used in clinical trials as a control appears to be generally well tolerated.
Research reveals little or no information regarding toxicity with the use of safflower oil.
Safflower is native to the Middle East and is widely cultivated throughout Europe and the United States. This annual reaches approximately 1 m in height with a single, smooth, upright stem. Its shiny oval, spiny-edged leaves alternate around the stem. The plant produces profuse yellow to deep red flowers. Seeds are produced in August and are enclosed in a mass of down. 1
Although safflower is recognized primarily as a source of healthy edible oil, traditional uses have not focused on the oil. Rather, safflower was originally valued for the yellow and red dyes yielded by its flowers. These dyes have been used for centuries to color cosmetics and fabrics. The use of safflower extract to dye the wrappings of mummies has been reported. 2 Safflower had been used as a replacement for saffron, but lost its popularity because of its lack of taste. Traditional uses of safflower tea included inducing sweating and reducing fever. The oil has been employed as a laxative and has been used as a solvent in paints. 2
Safflower oil is characterized by the presence of a high proportion of n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids that include linoleic (approximately 75%), oleic (13%), palmitic (6%), stearic (3%), and other minor straight-chained fatty acids. 3 , 4 , 5 Alpha and gamma tocopherol content has also been described. 6 Although safflower oil is a rich source of linoleic acid, the activity of delta 6-desaturase is required for its conversion to dihomogammalinolenic acid (DHGA) and arachidonic acid. By contrast, evening primrose oil appears to be a more bioavailable source of fatty acids for the production of DHGA than safflower oil. 7
Uses and Pharmacology
Safflower oil is used as a control or comparator agent in many clinical trials and experiments evaluating effects against conditions such as dyslipidemia, diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, and cancer. 5 , 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 , 14 , 15 , 16 Quality clinical trials specifically investigating the effects of safflower are lacking.Cardiovascular
Safflower oil consumption has been reported to have variable and/or inconsistent effects on plasma lipids. 7 , 18 , 19 , 20 , 21 , 22 Studies investigating the effects of phospholipids from safflower and soybean showed decreased hepatic lipid levels via decreased liver cholesterol and increased fecal neutral steroid. 23
A decreased expression of adhesion molecules, induced by oxidized low-density lipoprotein, has been observed following consumption in meals rich in safflower. The clinical importance of this effect is unclear. 6 , 24 , 25 Effects of safflower oil on platelet linoleic acid and thromboxane B2 levels were equivocal in small studies. 26CNS
There is some suggestion from animal studies that a moderate dietary intake of essential fatty acids may be required to maintain the integrity of CNS function. 27
However, safflower oil-induced n-3 deficiency (high n-6 to n-3 ratio) had a deleterious effect on cognition in mice. 28 In another experiment with mice, a safflower oil-rich diet (ie, depleted n-3 fatty acids) resulted in a decrease in insulin-degrading enzyme associated with an increase in beta-amyloid levels similar to those found in Alzheimer disease. 29 Therefore, a low dietary intake of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids is considered a candidate risk factor for the development of Alzheimer disease, as well as for decreased cognition. 28 , 29Other effects
N-(p-coumaroyl) serotonin is a potent antioxidant compound present in safflower oil and has been shown to exert growth-promoting activity for mouse fibroblasts and human fibroblasts in vitro. Antioxidant activity and inhibitory effect on proinflammatory cytokine production from human monocytes were observed at similar doses. 9Estrogen-related osteoporosis
Safflower seed extract showed a protective effect in experiments. 8Pruritis in renal disease
Safflower oil supplementation resulted in clinically unimportant reductions in symptoms of pruritus. 30
Few trials have used safflower oil as the agent under investigation.
Nine capsules of safflower oil per day as placebo were used to provide 80 calories/day and contained alpha-linoleic acid 800 mg, oleic acid 160 mg, and palmitic acid 100 mg per capsule. 11 Another trial used 10 g of safflower oil per day as placebo. 17
Transcutaneous safflower oil 3 mL 4 times a day has been administered by massage to neonates. Absorption was demonstrated because the lipid profile of the neonates altered with this method of administration. 22
None well documented.
Case reports of immunoglobulin E-mediated allergy (eg, rhinitis, urticaria, asthma) to the flowers exist. 33 Trials using safflower oil as the control agent report few adverse reactions.
Research reveals little toxicologic information. Foods are often cooked in safflower oil, and the oil is commonly used as a placebo in clinical trials. A study to determine the safety of safflower oil showed no adverse reactions on liver enzymes and renal parameters (uric acid, blood urea nitrogen, and creatinine) at 10 g of oil per day. 17
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9. Takii T, Hayashi M, Hiroma H, et al. Serotonin derivative, N-(p-Coumaroyl) serotonin, isolated from safflower ( Carthamus tinctorius L.) oil cake augments the proliferation of normal human and mouse fibroblasts in synergy with basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) or epidermal growth factor (EGF). J Biochem . 1999;125(5):910-915.
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20. Williams MJA, Sutherland WH, McCormick MP, Yeoman D, de Jong SA, Walker RJ. Normal endothelial function after meals rich in olive or safflower oil previously used for deep frying. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis . 2001;11:147-152.
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26. Herbel BK, McGuire MK, McGuire MA, Shultz TD. Safflower oil consumption does not increase plasma conjugated linoleic acid concentrations in humans. Am J Clin Nutr . 1998;67(2):332-337.
27. Okuyama H. Minimum requirements of n-3 and n-6 essential fatty acids for the function of the central nervous system and for the prevention of chronic disease. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med . 1992;200(2):174-176.
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33. Compes E, Bartolomé B, Fernández-Nieto M, Sastre J, Cuesta J. Occupational asthma from dried flowers of Carthamus tinctorious (safflower) and Achillea millefolium (yarrow). Allergy . 2006;61(10):1239-12340.
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