Posted by: Chris Maloney | March 29, 2012

Will Safflower Oil Help The Infants of Diabetic Mothers Or Underweight Babies?


safflower (Photo credit: agrilifetoday)

Previously I pointed out that safflower oil has not been shown to help people lose weight despite the recent hoopla generated by magazines quoting Dr. Oz.

But the argument that perhaps rat studies can be applied to humans in this situation got me thinking:  what could we say about safflower oil?

A number of studies have been done of diabetic rats.  Their offspring do much better if the mothers partake of safflower oil during pregnancy.  Ordinarily I wouldn’t advise something based solely on rat studies, but I would have to say that a switch to safflower oil by a woman with a history of gestational diabetes who is considering having another child should be discussed with her physician.

Another thing we know about safflower oil is that it really helps rats with oil deficiency.  They absorb it right through their skins, and it alters their blood.

Is the same true for humans?  In this case we have studies on premies who have been massaged with safflower oil.  The oil is absorbed through the skin.  But unlike the rat premies, the human babies who were closer to term absorbed the oil better and had better lab values.  Another, older study found little benefit to massaging oil into pre-term babies, at least not as much as giving the oil in other ways.

Massaging someone with oil is one of my favorite things to do for underage, elderly patients with no appetite.  It feels great, gives their caregivers the opportunity to care, and I suspect is absorbed to some extent.  The term babies who had blood oil changes support my suspicion.

All of this doesn’t, unfortunately, make safflower oil the new weight-loss fountain of youth.

I purchased a bottle as soon as I saw the headline.  Bottle is gone.  Weight loss?  Zero.

Mol Hum Reprod. 2011 Dec 16. [Epub ahead of print]

Folic acid and safflower oil supplementation interacts and protects embryos from maternal diabetes-induced damage.

Higa R, Kurtz M, Mazzucco MB, Musikant D, White V, Jawerbaum A.


Laboratory of Reproduction and Metabolism. CEFYBO-CONICET, School of Medicine, University of Buenos Aires. Paraguay 2155 (1121ABG) Buenos Aires, Argentina.


Maternal diabetes increases the risk for embryo malformations. Folic acid and safflower oil supplementations have been shown to reduce embryo malformations in experimental models of diabetes. We here tested whether folic acid and safflower oil supplementations interact to prevent embryo malformations in diabetic rats, and analyzed whether they act through the regulation of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), their endogenous inhibitors (TIMPs), and nitric oxide and reactive oxygen species production. Diabetes was induced by streptozotocin administration prior to mating. From day 0.5 of pregnancy, rats received or not folic acid (15 mg/kg) and/or a 6% safflower oil-supplemented diet. Embryos and decidua were explanted on day 10.5 of gestation for further analysis of embryo resorptions and malformations, MMP-2 and MMP-9 activities, TIMP-1 and TIMP-2 levels, nitric oxide production and lipid peroxidation. Maternal diabetes induced resorptions and malformations that were prevented by folic acid and safflower oil supplementation. MMP-2 and MMP-9 activities were increased in embryos and decidua from diabetic rats and decreased with safflower oil and folic acid supplementations. In diabetic animals, the embryonic and decidual TIMPs were increased mainly with safflower oil supplementation in decidua and with folic acid in embryos. Nitric oxide overproduction was decreased in decidua from diabetic rats treated with folic acid alone and in combination with safflower oil. These treatments also prevented increases in embryonic and decidual lipid peroxidation. In conclusion, folic acid and safflower oil supplementations interact and protect the embryos from diabetes-induced damage through several pathways related to a decrease in pro-inflammatory mediators.

PMID: 22180326

Placenta. 2012 Jan;33(1):8-16. Epub 2011 Nov 17.

Dietary treatments enriched in olive and safflower oils regulate seric and placental matrix metalloproteinases in maternal diabetes.

Martinez N, Sosa M, Higa R, Fornes D, Capobianco E, Jawerbaum A.


Laboratory of Reproduction and Metabolism, CEFyBO-CONICET, School of Medicine, University of Buenos Aires, Paraguay 2155, 17th floor, C1121ABG Buenos Aires, Argentina.



Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are proteolytic enzymes involved in placental development and function, although related to the pro-inflammatory environment when produced in excess. Previous studies have identified MMP-2 and MMP-9 overactivities in the placenta from diabetic rats. In this study, we aimed to determine whether diets supplemented with olive and safflower oil, enriched in natural PPAR ligands, are able to regulate MMP-2 and MMP-9 activities in the placenta and serum from diabetic rats.


Diabetes was induced in rat neonates by streptozotocin administration (90mg/kg s.c.). Control and diabetic rats were fed with 6% olive oil- or 6% safflower oil-supplemented diets from days 0.5-13.5 of gestation.


On day 13.5 of gestation, placentas and sera were isolated for further
determination of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) 2 and 9 activities by zymography. Placental MMP-2 and MMP-9 protein concentration and immunolocalization were also determined.


Sera from diabetic pregnant animals showed MMP-2 and MMP-9 overactivities when compared to controls. Serum MMP-9 activity was significantly decreased when the diabetic animals received the olive and safflower oil dietary treatments. Placentas from diabetic rats showed increased MMP-2 and MMP-9 activities and protein concentrations, and both were decreased when diabetic rats received the olive and safflower dietary treatments.


This study demonstrates that both olive and safflower oil-supplemented diets were able to prevent MMPs overactivities in the placenta from diabetic rats, and that these beneficial effects are reflected in rat sera.

Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

PMID: 22098918

Mol Hum Reprod. 2010 Apr;16(4):286-95. Epub 2010 Jan 5.

Safflower and olive oil dietary treatments rescue aberrant embryonic arachidonic acid and nitric oxide metabolism and prevent diabetic embryopathy in rats.

Higa R, White V, Martínez N, Kurtz M, Capobianco E, Jawerbaum A.


Laboratory of Reproduction and Metabolism, CEFYBO-CONICET, School of Medicine, University of Buenos Aires, Paraguay 2155, 17th floor, Buenos Aires C1121ABG, Argentina.


Aberrant arachidonic acid and nitric oxide (NO) metabolic pathways are involved in diabetic embryopathy. Previous works have found diminished concentrations of PGE(2) and PGI(2) in embryos from diabetic rats, and that PGI(2) is capable of increasing embryonic PGE(2) concentrations through the activation of the nuclear receptor PPARdelta. PPARdelta activators are lipid molecules such as oleic and linoleic acids, present in high concentrations in olive and safflower oils, respectively. The aim of this study was to analyze the capability of dietary supplementation with either 6% olive or 6% safflower oils to regulate PGE(2), PGI(2) and NO concentrations in embryos and deciduas from control and diabetic rats during early organogenesis. Diabetes was induced by a single injection of streptozotocin (55 mg/kg) 1 week before mating. Animals were fed with the oil-supplemented diets from Days 0.5 to 10.5 of gestation. PGI(2) and PGE(2) were measured by EIA and NO through the evaluation of its stable metabolites nitrates-nitrites in 10.5 day embryos and deciduas. We found that the olive and safflower oil-supplemented treatments highly reduced resorption and malformation rates in diabetic animals, and that they were able to prevent maternal diabetes-induced alterations in embryonic and decidual PGI(2) and PGE(2) concentrations. Moreover, these dietary treatments prevented NO overproduction in embryos and deciduas from diabetic rats. These data indicate that in maternal diabetes both the embryo and the decidua benefit from the olive and safflower oil supplementation probably through mechanisms that involve the rescue of aberrant prostaglandin and NO generation and that prevent developmental damage during early organogenesis.

PMID: 20051498

Indian Pediatr. 2005 Oct;42(10):998-1005.

Transcutaneous absorption of topically massaged oil in neonates.

Solanki K, Matnani M, Kale M, Joshi K, Bavdekar A, Bhave S, Pandit A.


Department of Pediatrics, KEM Hospital, Pune 411 011, India.



To study the transcutaneous absorption of traditionally massaged oil in newborns and to specifically compare the effects of (i) essential fatty acid (EFA) rich – safflower oil and (ii) saturated fat rich coconut oil, on fatty acid profiles of massaged babies.


A short term randomised controlled study.


Tertiary care NICU of a large teaching hospital and a research laboratory of a University complex.


120 study babies were randomly assigned to three oil groups (i) safflower oil (n = 40) (ii) coconut oil (n = 40) and (iii) no oil controls (n = 40). In each group, babies were selected in three subsets as per their gestational ages viz (a) less than 34 weeks, (b) 34-37 weeks, (c) greater than 37 weeks. 5 mL of the designated oil was massaged four times a day for five days under controlled conditions of temperature and feeding. Pre and post oil massage samples of blood were analysed for triglycerides and fatty acid profiles using gas chromatography.


Post oil triglyceride values were significantly raised in both the oil groups and also in controls. However, the quantum of rise was significantly higher in oil groups as compared to controls. Fatty acid profiles (gas chromatography) showed significant rise in EFAs (linolenic acid and arachidonic acid) in safflower oil group and saturated fats in coconut oil group. Changes were more evident in term babies. There were no side effects associated with the massage.


This study shows that topically applied oil can be absorbed in neonates and is probably available for nutritional purposes. The fatty acid constituents of the oil can influence the changes in the fatty acid profiles of the massaged babies.

PMID: 16269830

Arch Dis Child. 1993 Jan;68(1 Spec No):27-8.

Transcutaneous application of oil and prevention of essential fatty acid deficiency in preterm infants.

Lee EJ, Gibson RA, Simmer K.


Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Flinders Medical Centre, Bedford Park, South Australia.


The topical application of vegetable oil was assessed as an alternative means of providing essential fatty acids (EFA) to parentally fed preterm infants who were not receiving lipid. Three infant pairs ranging in gestational age from 26-32 weeks were studied. Safflower oil or safflower oil esters (1 g linoleic acid/kg/day) were applied to available areas daily. All infants rapidly developed biochemical EFA deficiency. The plasma fatty acid profiles were similar in infants with or without topical oil, and all returned to normal once parenteral lipid was introduced. We found no evidence to suggest that the transdermal route is of use in the nutritional management of preterm infants.

PMID: 8439192

Am J Clin Nutr. 1976 Apr;29(4):398-401.

Reversal of experimental essential fatty acid deficiency by cutaneous administration of safflower oil.

Böhles H, Bieber MA, Heird WC.


The intriguing observation that cutaneous application of essential fatty acid (EFA)-rich oil corrects the biochemical abnormalities of EFA deficiency was evaluated in EFA-deficient rats. Approximately 185 mg of safflower oil (140 mg of linoleic acid) were applied daily for 15 days to the kin of EFA-deficient rats. Before and after treatment with the safflower oil, the fatty acid patterns of plasma and erythrocyte phospholipid as well as of plasma triglyceride and cholesterol ester fractions were determined. The linoleic and arachidonic acid content of both plasma and erythrocyte phospholipid increased, while the eicosatrienoic acid content of both fractions decreased. The linoleic acid content of plasma triglyceride increased with safflower oil treatment, but little change occurred in the almost undetectable pretreatment levels of arachidonic and eicosatrienoic acid. In the plasma cholesterol ester fraction, arachidonic acid increased with treatment and eicosatrienoic acid decreased, but the small increase in the linoleic acid content was not statistically significant. Thus, the study confirms the observation that cutaneous application of EFA-rich oils reverses the plasma biochemical manifestation of EFA deficiency. In addition cutaneously applied EFA-rich oils reversed the biochemical manifestations of EFA deficiency in erythrocytes. Whether or not cutaneous application of such oils will prevent EFA deficiency, however, remains to be proven.

PMID: 1266788



  1. […] Will Safflower oil help diabetic mothers and underweight babies?  (Using the rat research and thinking about what it might do to people). […]

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