Found in Virgin Olive Oil, Squalene Benefits Skin and Body
Squalene is a compound with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties, among other likely health benefits. It is naturally present in significant quantities in human skin and can also be derived from shark liver oil, amaranth oil, and extra virgin olive oil, as well as other plant-based sources. Some extra virgin olive oil is very rich in squalene.
Squalene is often used in cosmetics and skin care products since it can
- soften skin
- soothe irritation
- help heal wounds
Squalene is also included in food supplements and medications that are taken internally. For example, it has been used in adjuvants intended to make vaccines more effective.
While additional clinical studies are needed to confirm results, scientific research suggests that squalene may help combat
- high cholesterol
- heart disease
Because it seems to inhibit tumor growth, squalene may have both preventive and therapeutic use in fighting some types of cancer, such as skin cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.
Many are concerned about the millions of deep sea sharks killed annually for the squalene in their livers, especially since some of these sharks are endangered. Others worry about the effect of sea pollution or other pathogens on the squalene derived from sharks, in addition to its odor.
Fortunately, squalene can also be obtained from plant sources—most often, vegetable oils. Olive oil is an excellent plant-based source of squalene, and squalene from olive oil works much better in cosmetics than squalene from sharks due to its lack of odor, color, or toxins, and its desirable texture, consistency, and stability.
Of course, olive oil is also a key component of the Mediterranean diet. Studies comparing Mediterranean countries where olive oil is consumed regularly to the USA, where it is eaten much less, show that average daily intake of squalene may be approximately ten times higher with daily olive oil use.
One study found a 65% lower risk of breast cancer in Greece, the country with the highest per capita olive oil consumption, compared to the USA. While such a finding does not prove causation, it has been hypothesized that olive oil may help protect people from cancer, and that olive oil’s anticarcinogenic benefit (as well as its anti-inflammatory quality) is partly related to its high squalene content.
Virgin olive oil typically contains far more naturally occurring squalene than other cooking oils; estimates range from twenty to 300 times as much. Squalene rates in virgin olive oil vary widely, with reports ranging from just 20 mg per 100 g of olive oil to over 8200 mg per 100 g. Squalene content may depend on the olive variety, area, and climate, as well as oil extraction methods. Since the olive oil refining process decreases the oil’s squalene content, extra virgin and unrefined virgin olive oils are likely to contain more of this healthy compound.
Pan-frying vegetables and fish in virgin olive oil has been shown to transfer squalene to them, and more squalene makes the oil more stable during frying. Approximately 60% of dietary squalene is absorbed by the human body, so the consumption of foods rich in squalene such as extra virgin olive oil may offer substantial health benefits.