Argan oil is a typical Moroccan vegetable oil. The oil is extracted from the fruit of Argania spinosa, an endemic tree from South-Western Morocco. Since 2014, Argan practices and know-how concerning the Argan tree have been registered on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO. In this entry we will report some of the work that has been done on the effects and properties of Argan oil.
All studies that have reported various benefits of the Argan oil, from its cosmetic properties to its anti-tumoral effect, have attributed the benefits to its “unique” composition. This oil is primarily composed of acylglyderides (99%) -principally oleic and linoleic acids- the remaining 1% of unsaponifiable matter is composed of carotens, tocopherols, triterpene alcohol, sterols and xanthophylls1.
The high percentage of unsaturated fatty acids is more than likely to be the reason behind some of the pharmacological properties of argan oil. However, many other oils have similar composition in fatty acids without sharing the same properties, which suggests that many of Argan oil’s specific health benefits are attributed to its composition of the unsaponifiable matter and high tocopherol content2.
Cosmetic creams and soaps containing Argan oil are widely known and used to protect and repair the skin. The effect of the oil on skin elasticity has been reported in post-menopausal women; topical application of 240 mg (10 drops) of argan oil each night had an anti-aging effect on the skin demonstrated by the improvement of skin elasticity after 30 and 60 days of use3.
The anti-sebum effect of the oil has been demonstrated in male and female volunteers (17-50 years), daily application (twice) for 4 weeks showed a reduction in the casual sebum level and in the area covered with oily spots4.
Hypolipidemic and hypocholesterolemic effects of Argan oil have been demonstrated in rats. After 7-week treatment with argan oil, blood lipoproteins were significantly reduced which was mainly associated with the polyunsaturated fatty acids composition of the oil5. Another study showed that the phenolic-extract from argan oil provides a source of dietary phenolic antioxidants, which prevent cardiovascular diseases by inhibiting LDL-oxidation and enhancing reverse cholesterol transport6, incubation of LDL with Argan oil significantly prolonged the lag-phase and lowered the progression rate of lipid peroxidation and reduced the disappearance of Vitamin E in a concentration-dependent manner. Incubation of HDL with the oil significantly increased the fluidity of the HDL phospholipidic bilayer and HDL-mediated cholesterol efflux from THP-1 macrophages6.
A randomized-controlled trial reported the hypolepidemic activity of Argan oil (7); it was shown that a daily consumption of 25g of the oil during 3 weeks resulted in a significant increase in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and apolipoprotein A-I and a decrease in triglycerides7.
The consumption of olive oil, along with fruits, vegetables, and fish, in several Mediterranean countries is considered a major factor in preserving a relatively low prevalence of NCDs in those populations. The combined existence of phenolic antioxidants, squalene and oleic acid in olive oil should afford considerable protection against certain cancers and ageing by inhibiting oxidative stress8. Due to the similarity in the composition between olive and argan oils, an antiproliferative effect has been claimed for argan oil9.
Due to the alleged aphrodisiac properties of the oil, its effect on the male hormonal profile has been studied10 and compared to the effect of olive oil. The study has been carried among young men. Results showed that testosterone (T) and luteinizing hormone (LH) concentrations significantly increased after the intervention. Thus, T concentration increased by 19.9% after using argan oil and by 17.4% after using olive oil. Under the same conditions, LH concentration increased by 18.5% after using argan oil (p < 0.007) and by 42.6% after using olive oil. The effect of those vegetable oils has been hypothesized to be the result of an activation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-testicular axis (as hinted by the increase of LH secretion). A good part of the Leydig cell steroidogenesis regulation is initiated by the secretion of GnRH (gonadotrophin releasing hormone) by the hypothalamus. This hormone stimulates the release of LH by the adenohypophysis, which is the primary stimulus for the T biosynthesis by the testes1112.
Trials were performed on rats to explore the antidiabetic activity of argan oil, the rats which were fed 6% of argan oil as part of a high-fat/high-sucrose diet showed a restoration of insulin signaling in fat and liver cells yet did not prevent weight gain13. This shows that argan oil can improve some of the metabolic and insulin signaling abnormalities associated with high-fat/high-sucrose feeding.
Argan oil has been used in Morocco as food and applied to the skin for centuries; there are currently no known acute or chronic toxicity levels. Only one case of anaphylaxis has been reported14. Therapeutic doses to prevent metabolic diseases range from 15-30g (1-2 tablespoons) of uncooked argan oil per day1.
- Guillaume D, Charrouf Z. Argan oil. Altern Med Rev. 2011;16(3):275–9. ↩ ↩
- Charrouf Z, Guillaume D. Argan oil: Occurrence, composition and impact on human health. Eur J Lipid Sci Technol. 2008 Jul;110(7):632–6. ↩
- Boucetta KQ, Charrouf Z, Aguenaou H, Derouiche A, Bensouda Y. The effect of dietary and/or cosmetic argan oil on postmenopausal skin elasticity. Clin Interv Aging. 2015;10:339–49. ↩
- Dobrev H. Clinical and instrumental study of the efficacy of a new sebum control cream. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2007 Jun;6(2):113–8. ↩
- Berrougui H, Ettaib A, Herrera Gonzalez MD, Alvarez de Sotomayor M, Bennani-Kabchi N, Hmamouchi M. Hypolipidemic and hypocholesterolemic effect of argan oil (Argania spinosa L.) in Meriones shawi rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2003 Nov;89(1):15–8. ↩
- Berrougui H, Cloutier M, Isabelle M, Khalil A. Phenolic-extract from argan oil (Argania spinosa L.) inhibits human low-density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation and enhances cholesterol efflux from human THP-1 macrophages. Atherosclerosis. 2006 Mar;184(2):389–96. ↩ ↩
- Derouiche A, Cherki M, Drissi A, Bamou Y, El Messal M, Idrissi-Oudghiri A, et al. Nutritional intervention study with argan oil in man: effects on lipids and apolipoproteins. Ann Nutr Metab. Karger Publishers; 2005 Jan 10;49(3):196–201. ↩
- Owen RW, Giacosa A, Hull WE, Haubner R, Würtele G, Spiegelhalder B, et al. Olive-oil consumption and health: the possible role of antioxidants. Lancet Oncol. 2000 Oct;1:107–12. ↩
- Khallouki F, Younos C, Soulimani R, Oster T, Charrouf Z, Spiegelhalder B, et al. Consumption of argan oil (Morocco) with its unique profile of fatty acids , tocopherols , squalene , sterols and phenolic compounds should confer valuable cancer chemopreventive effects. Eur J cancer Prev. 2003;12(1):67–75. ↩
- Derouiche A, Jafri A, Driouch I, Khasmi M El, Adlouni A, Benajiba N, et al. Effect of Argan and Olive Oil Consumption on the Hormonal Profile of Androgens Among Healthy Adult Moroccan Men. Nat Prod Commun. 2013;8(1):51–3. ↩
- Kaiser UB, Conn PM, Chin WW. Studies of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) action using GnRH receptor-expressing pituitary cell lines. Endocr Rev. 1997 Feb;18(1):46–70. ↩
- Sokol RZ. Endocrinology of male infertility: evaluation and treatment. Semin Reprod Med. 2009 Mar 1;27(2):149–58. ↩
- Samane S, Christon R, Dombrowski L, Turcotte S, Charrouf Z, Lavigne C, et al. Fish oil and argan oil intake differently modulate insulin resistance and glucose intolerance in a rat model of dietary-induced obesity. Metabolism. 2009 Jul;58(7):909–19. ↩
- Astier C, Benchad YEA, Moneret-Vautrin D-A, Bihain BE, Kanny G. Anaphylaxis to argan oil. Allergy. 2010 May;65(5):662–3. ↩