Sunflower oil (Helianthus annuus)

While some complementary and alternative techniques have been studied scientifically, high-quality data regarding safety, effectiveness, and mechanism of action are limited or controversial for most therapies. Whenever possible, it is recommended that practitioners be licensed by a recognized professional organization that adheres to clearly published standards. In addition, before starting a new technique or engaging a practitioner, it is recommended that patients speak with their primary healthcare provider(s). Potential benefits, risks (including financial costs), and alternatives should be carefully considered. The below monograph is designed to provide historical background and an overview of clinically-oriented research, and neither advocates for or against the use of a particular therapy.

Related Terms

  • Abbad el shams (Arabic – Egypt), almindelig solsikke (Danish), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), auringon ruusu (Finnish), auringonkukka (Finnish), ayçiçeği (Turkish), Corona-solis, engelse zonnebloem (Dutch), floarea soarelui (Romanian), gemeine Sonnenblume (German), gewöhnliche Sonnenblume (German), girasol (Spanish), girasole commune (Italian), girassol (Portuguese), hae ba ra gi (Korean), harilik päevalill (Estonian), hélianthe annuel (French), Helianthi annui oleum, Helianthus annuus, Helianthus annuus L., Helianthus annuus L. ssp. jaegeri (Heiser) Heiser, Helianthus annuus L. ssp. lenticularis (Douglas ex Lindl.) Cockerell, Helianthus annuus L. ssp. texanus Heiser, Helianthus annuus L. var. lenticularis (Douglas ex Lindl.) Steyerm., Helianthus annuus L. var. texanus (Heiser) Shinners, Helianthus aridus Rydb., Helianthus lenticularis Douglas ex Lindl., high-palmitic sunflower oil, himawari (Japanese), ilíanthos (Greek), isoauringonkukka (Finnish), koujitsuki (Japanese), linoleic acid, marigold of Peru, mirasol (Filipino), n-6-polyunsaturated fatty acids, napraforgó (Hungarian), navadna sončnica (Slovene), NuSun®, oleic acid rich sunflower oil, Oleozon®, ozonized sunflower oil, podsolnechnik (Russian), podsolnechnik maslichnyi (Russian), polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), slonecznik (Polish), slonecznik roczny (Polish), słonecznik zwyczajny (Polish), slunečnice roční (Czech), Sola Indianus, solros (Swedish), solsikke (Norwegian, Danish), solvendel (Norwegian), Sonnenblume (German), spóri iliánthu (Greek), sunflower oil esters of plant sterols, sunflower oil triglyceride emulsion, sunflower seed oil, suraj mukhi (Hindi), tournesol (French), xiang ri ku (Chinese), zonnebloem (Dutch).

Background

  • Sunflower oil is derived from the seed of the sunflower plant (Helianthus annuus). Sunflower has been cultivated by Native Americans for centuries. They used the plant for dietary, medicinal, and decorative purposes.

  • Sunflower oil has been used historically as a topical anti-inflammatory and pain reliever, and it is taken by mouth to relieve constipation and ulcers and to treat infection. Recent evidence of high vitamin E and polyunsaturated fatty acid content in sunflower oil has supported its possible role in reducing inflammation. In recent decades, sunflower oil has been recognized as a low-cholesterol cooking oil with a healthier fatty acid profile than many alternatives.

Scientific Evidence

Uses

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.

Tinea pedis (athlete’s foot)

Clinical research indicates that the ozonized sunflower oil product Oleozon® is as effective as ketoconazole, an established therapy, for the treatment of tinea pedis. Further research is needed before a stronger conclusion can be made.

Blood clotting disorders

Limited research shows that sunflower oil reduced levels of fibrinogen and one of its breakdown products in patients with high blood levels of fibrinogen. Additional research is required before a conclusion can be made.

Breast inflammation

Limited research suggests that sunflower oil may not affect the levels of two markers of inflammation in breast milk, interleukin-8 (IL-8) and transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta). Further clinical research is required before a conclusion can be made.

Cardiovascular risk reduction

Limited research suggests that sunflower oil, which contains a high level of unsaturated fat, may have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular disease risk factors, including blood cholesterol levels. Additional studies are needed before a conclusion can be made.

Chronic inflammatory rheumatic disease

Research suggests that sunflower oil may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Further research with large-scale, well-designed trials is needed before a conclusion can be made.

Diabetes mellitus type 2

Limited research suggests that sunflower oil may improve glucose control and lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol. Additional research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

Hyperlipidemia

Limited research suggests that sunflower oil may help reduce blood levels of cholesterol. Additional research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

Atherosclerosis

Limited research suggests that fats found in sunflower oil may not have an effect on the stability of atherosclerotic plaques (hardening of the arteries). Additional research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

Hypertension

Research suggests that sunflower oil may not have an effect on blood pressure in patients diagnosed with high blood pressure. Further research is needed before a firm conclusion can be made.

Peripheral vascular disease

Limited research suggests that sunflower oil may have some effect on low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol in patients with peripheral vascular disease. Further research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

Vitamin A deficiency

At this time, it appears that sunflower oil may not increase the level of vitamin A in blood or breast milk of pregnant or breastfeeding women.

*Key to grades:

Tradition

The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional.

  • Allergies, Alzheimer’s disease, antioxidant, arthritis, bed sores, constipation, cough, fever, gallstones, pain, poison ivy, skin infections, snake bites, ulcers, warts.

Dosing

The below doses are based on scientific research, publications, traditional use, or expert opinion. Many herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested, and safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients, even within the same brand. The below doses may not apply to all products. You should read product labels, and discuss doses with a qualified healthcare provider before starting therapy.

Adults (18 years and older)

  • Sunflower oil is often used as a placebo in clinical trials examining the effect of other oils.

  • For tinea pedis (athlete’s foot), Oleozon®, a commercially available ozonized sunflower oil, has been applied to the affected area twice daily for six weeks.

  • For blood clotting disorders, 25 grams of sunflower oil has been taken by mouth daily for four weeks.

  • For breast inflammation, a dose of 12 grams of oil has been taken by mouth daily during the third trimester of pregnancy and for three months postpartum.

  • For cardiovascular risk reduction, 15 grams of sunflower oil has been taken by mouth daily for 12 weeks. A diet consisting of 20.3% monounsaturated fat (MUFA), rich in high oleic acid sunflower oil, has been used for five weeks. Six grams of sunflower oil has been used by mouth daily for 12 weeks.

  • For chronic inflammatory rheumatic disease, 30 milliliters of sunflower oil has been taken by mouth twice daily for three weeks.

  • For diabetes mellitus type 2, a dose of 30 milliliters of sunflower oil by has been taken mouth daily for two weeks.

  • For high cholesterol, a diet containing 30% fat in the form of NuSun®, commercially available mid-oleic acid sunflower oil, has been taken by mouth for four weeks. Replacement of 21.4 grams of olive oil with sunflower oil margarine by mouth has been used for four weeks. A dose of 45 grams of sunflower oil has been taken by mouth daily for 12 weeks. A dose of 1.0-1.8 grams of plant sterols esterified to fatty acids from sunflower oil has been taken by mouth daily for 29 days.

  • For atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), six capsules, each containing one gram of sunflower oil, have been taken by mouth prior to surgery to clean out a clogged artery.

  • For high blood pressure, a dose of 30-40 grams of sunflower oil has been taken by mouth daily for one year. Sixty grams of sunflower oil has been taken by mouth daily for four weeks.

  • For obesity (excess body fat mass), a dose of three grams of high-oleic acid sunflower oil has been taken by mouth daily for 18 weeks.

  • For peripheral vascular disease, a dose of 7.57 grams of sunflower oil has been taken by mouth in a milk mixture twice daily for four months.

  • For ulcerative colitis, a dose of 500 milligrams of sunflower oil has been taken by mouth daily for 12 months. Fifteen milliliters has been taken by mouth daily for six months.

  • For vitamin A deficiency, a dose of 12 grams of sunflower oil has been taken by mouth daily for six months.

Children (under 18 years old)

  • To prevent atopic dermatitis (allergic skin reaction), a dose of 446 milligrams has been taken by mouth daily up to six months of age.

Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.

Allergies

  • Avoid with known allergy or hypersensitivity to Helianthus annuus, it constituents, or other members of the Asteraceae family. Sunflower oil may cause an allergic reaction in individuals sensitive to plants of the Asteraceae family.

Side Effects and Warnings

  • Sunflower oil is commonly used in Western diets and is likely safe in amounts found naturally in foods or used in cooking.

  • Sunflower oil may cause abdominal cramps, abdominal upset, diarrhea, vomiting, or weight gain.

  • Sunflower oil may increase the risk of bleeding. Caution is advised in patients with bleeding disorders and those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that may increase the risk of bleeding. Dosing adjustments may be necessary.

  • Sunflower oil may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised in patients with diabetes or hypoglycemia and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may need to be monitored by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.

  • Use cautiously in obese individuals, as clinical studies have reported conflicting findings concerning sunflower oil’s effect on body weight.

  • Use cautiously in individuals with autoimmune immune disorders or those taking immunomodulatory agents, as sunflower oil may alter the body’s immune response.

  • Avoid with known allergy or hypersensitivity to Helianthus annuus, it constituents, or other members of the Asteraceae family.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  • Sunflower oil is commonly used in Western diets.

  • Use levels higher than those commonly found in the diet cautiously in pregnant or breastfeeding women, due to a lack of available scientific evidence. No adverse effects have been reported during pregnancy.

Interactions

Most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs, or foods. The interactions listed below are based on reports in scientific publications, laboratory experiments, or traditional use. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy.

Interactions with Drugs

  • Sunflower oil may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using medications that may also lower blood sugar. Patients taking insulin or drugs for diabetes by mouth should be monitored closely by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.

  • Sunflower oil may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with drugs that increase the risk of bleeding. Some examples include aspirin, anticoagulants (blood thinners) such as warfarin (Coumadin®) or heparin, antiplatelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix®), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) or naproxen (Naprosyn®, Aleve®).

  • Sunflower oil may also interact with agents that affect the immune system, cholesterol-lowering agents, drugs used for blood disorders, or weight loss agents.

Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements

  • Sunflower oil may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using herbs or supplements that may also lower blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may require monitoring, and doses may need adjustment.

  • Sunflower oil may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with herbs and supplements that are believed to increase the risk of bleeding. Multiple cases of bleeding have been reported with the use of Ginkgo biloba, and fewer cases with garlic and saw palmetto. Numerous other agents may theoretically increase the risk of bleeding, although this has not been proven in most cases.

  • Sunflower oil may also interact with antioxidants, cholesterol-lowering herbs or supplements, herbs or supplements used for blood disorders, herbs and supplements that affect the immune system, vitamin A, vitamin E, or weight loss agents.

Author Information

  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

References

Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

  1. AbuMweis SS, Vanstone CA, Ebine N, et al. H. Intake of a single morning dose of standard and novel plant sterol preparations for 4 weeks does not dramatically affect plasma lipid concentrations in humans. J Nutr 2006;136(4):1012-1016. View Abstract
  2. Aguilera CM, Mesa MD, Ramirez-Tortosa MC, et al. Sunflower oil does not protect against LDL oxidation as virgin olive oil does in patients with peripheral vascular disease. Clin Nutr 2004;23(4):673-681. View Abstract
  3. Binkoski AE, Kris-Etherton PM, Wilson TA, et al. Balance of unsaturated fatty acids is important to a cholesterol-lowering diet: comparison of mid-oleic sunflower oil and olive oil on cardiovascular disease risk factors. J Am Diet Assoc 2005;105(7):1080-1086. View Abstract
  4. Cater NB, Heller HJ, Denke MA. Comparison of the effects of medium-chain triacylglycerols, palm oil, and high oleic acid sunflower oil on plasma triacylglycerol fatty acids and lipid and lipoprotein concentrations in humans. Am J Clin Nutr 1997;65(1):41-45. View Abstract
  5. Declair V. The usefulness of topical application of essential fatty acids (EFA) to prevent pressure ulcers. Ostomy Wound Manage 1997;43(5):48-52, 54. View Abstract
  6. Demonty I, Chan YM, Pelled D, et al. Fish-oil esters of plant sterols improve the lipid profile of dyslipidemic subjects more than do fish-oil or sunflower oil esters of plant sterols. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;84(6):1534-1542. View Abstract
  7. Elmadfa I, Park E. Impact of diets with corn oil or olive/sunflower oils on DNA damage in healthy young men. Eur J Nutr 1999;38(6):286-292. View Abstract
  8. Ferrara LA, Raimondi AS, d’Episcopo L, et al. Olive oil and reduced need for antihypertensive medications. Arch Intern Med 2000;160(6):837-842. View Abstract
  9. Filteau SM, Lietz G, Mulokozi G, et al. Milk cytokines and subclinical breast inflammation in Tanzanian women: effects of dietary red palm oil or sunflower oil supplementation. Immunology 1999;97(4):595-600. View Abstract
  10. Higdon JV, Liu JJ, Du SH, et al. Supplementation of postmenopausal women with fish oil rich in eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid is not associated with greater in vivo lipid peroxidation compared with oils rich in oleate and linoleate as assessed by plasma malondialdehyde and F(2)-isoprostanes. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;72(3):714-722. View Abstract
  11. Hill AM, Buckley JD, Murphy KJ, et al. Combining fish-oil supplements with regular aerobic exercise improves body composition and cardiovascular disease risk factors. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85(5):1267-1274. View Abstract
  12. Kuriyan R, Gopinath N, Vaz M, et al. Use of rice bran oil in patients with hyperlipidaemia. Natl Med J India 2005;18(6):292-296. View Abstract
  13. Madigan C, Ryan M, Owens D, et al. Dietary unsaturated fatty acids in type 2 diabetes: higher levels of postprandial lipoprotein on a linoleic acid-rich sunflower oil diet compared with an oleic acid-rich olive oil diet. Diabetes Care 2000;23(10):1472-1477. View Abstract
  14. Perona JS, Canizares J, Montero E, et al. Virgin olive oil reduces blood pressure in hypertensive elderly subjects. Clin Nutr 2004;23(5):1113-1121. View Abstract
  15. Yago MD, Gonzalez V, Serrano P, et al. Effect of the type of dietary fat on biliary lipid composition and bile lithogenicity in humans with cholesterol gallstone disease. Nutrition 2005;21(3):339-347. View Abstract

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.