Palm oil hidden silent ingredient, bad for health and the environment

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April 23, 2024
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April 23, 2024
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Palm oil hidden silent ingredient, bad for health and the environment


Palm oil has adverse effects on health as indicated by several studies. One of the research that the paper synthesizes is “Palm Oil and Palmitic Acid: A Review on Cardiovascular Effects and Carcinogenicity,” by Fattore, Elena, and Roberto Fanelli. The article argues that the components of palm oil have health effects although they require detailed studies (Fattore and Roberto 650). Mancini, Annamaria, et al., in their study “Biological and nutritional properties of palm oil and palmitic acid: Effects on health,” also argues that there are noticeable effects of palm oil on health although several studies that they analyzes are contradicting, and therefore the conclusion is lost (Mancini et al., 17342).  Odia et al., in the article, “Palm oil and the heart: A review,” disagrees with all studies and argues that palm oil benefits the body through regulated cholesterol level other than harming it (Odia et al. 145). In the article Palm Oil and Human Health. Meeting Report of NFI: Nutrition Foundation of Italy Symposium,” Marangoni et al., are of the position that the health effect and benefits are not yet clear although theoretical analysis shows evidence of harmful effects of the oil (Marangoni et al. 644)


According to Fattore and Roberto, saturated fatty acids (SFAs) contains the largest share, 50 Percent of all fats in palm oil (648). The three types of fatty acids in the oil include oleic, linoleic and the most abundant, palmitic. The authors analyze a study done on adults to determine the relationship between palm oil in the diet, for example, cooking oil and myocardial infarction which produces positive results. Palm oil in foods increases the risk of myocardial infarction because of the presence of SFAs (Fattore and Roberto 650). Saturated fats are one major cause of heart attack.  The fats lead to the formation of plaque in the heart arteries leading to blockage. It, therefore, means that as long as the palm oil contains saturated fats, it has high chances of causing a heart attack. Further, the authors indicate that the percentage, 50 of the fatty acids are high in the oil meaning that the chances of forming the plaques are high compared to other oils. Saturated fats also raise the level of bad cholesterol which also leads to blockage of the coronary arteries.

Although palm oil has other collective fatty acids like monosaturated (MUFAs) and poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), their percentages are very low to collect the effect of the saturated fatty acids. Fattore and Roberto indicate that MUFAs and PUFAs takes a share of 40 and 10 percent respectively in palm oil (658). Each of the percentages is below the share of SFAs. The saturated fatty acids are therefore able to increase the level of bad cholesterol without any destruction. Also, the other two fatty acids are not strong enough to collect the plagues that the SFAs form (Marangoni et al. 644). It, therefore, means that increased intake of palm oil leads to accumulation of more saturated fatty acids in the body other than raising the MUFAs and PUFAs which are healthy to the heart.

According to studies done by Fattore and Roberto, increased uptake of palm oil increases the level of plasma oil (650). However, the level of high-density lipoprotein does not change so much. The ration of LDL to HDL increases with intake in the palm oil. It, therefore, shows that although there is fatty acid that benefits the body from the oil, the nonbeneficial one, LDL is more making palm oil to have more health challenges than benefits. The percentage increase in the saturated fatty acids is more compared to the corrective acids. Palm oil from the analysis has adverse health effects other than the praised benefits.

The process of making palm oil involves hydrogenation which results in an additional fatty acid known as trans fatty acids. According to a study analyzed by Fattore and Roberto, trans fatty acids are worse compared to saturated fatty acids in causing cardiovascular diseases (651). The study found that, where subjects increased intake of energy thorough trans fatty acids by 2 percent, the there risk to cardiovascular diseases increased by 23 percent. Trans fatty acids have several health effects which includes an increased level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) while lowering the levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Increased LDL leads fatty buildups along the arteries making them narrow. Narrow arteries have the risk of stroke, peripheral artery disease as well as heart attack. Combination of the LDL with the triglycerides also leads to the formation of fatty buildups on the arteries (Chenyan et al. 3). The process of making palm oil shows that it increases the dangers of heart diseases. Although it has corrective acids, the saturated fatty acids together with added trans fatty acids reveals heightened dangers of the oil. Combination of the saturated and trans fatty acids shows how toxic the oil becomes when consumed as a diet.

Instead of hydrogenation, sometimes palm oil goes through interesterification to make a semi-solid. However, the process does not make the oil safer for consumption. Interesterification leads to the formation of triglyceride in the oil. Also, the other acids which form including palmitic and stearic. Fattore and Roberto from their studies found adverse effects of stearic and palmitic acids on the liver enzymes, insulin, blood glucose, and lipoproteins (653). The two acids are forms of saturated fatty acids. It shows that the interesterification process increases the percentage of saturated fatty acids in the oil. Palmitic acid is a more saturated fatty acid and therefore, has a high potential to raise the level of LDL more compared to stearic acid. Presence of the two fatty acids in addition to the existing saturated fatty in palm oil makes them stronger than the beneficial elements, MUFAs and PUFAs (Chenyan et al. 3). The saturated acids can outdo the function of the unsaturated ones and therefore leads to various cardiovascular diseases. The information further shows that the health risk of palm oil is not more on the original content but the additional chemicals in the process of its extraction and refinement.

Triglyceride which increases during interesterification of palm oil also has adverse effects on health. Increase in the level of Triglyceride leads to pancreas inflammation. Also, it increases the likelihood of getting a heart stroke. Some of the triglycerides remain within the arteries in the process of getting into the blood which leads to heart attack. Fattore and Roberto indicate that palm oil is also associated with cancer although there is no much information about it (654). Some elements in palm oil can cause cancer in people. In most of the times, people use the oil for cooking that means that they heat it. Heating of the oil leads to top formation of glycidol fatty acid esters (GEs). GEs, in turn, breaks down to form glycidol during digestion. Glycidol is the component that becomes harmful to people. It forms cancer growths in the stomach. It shows that palm oil contributes to tumors of the stomach making it unhealthy.

According to Mancini et al., palm oil leads to obesity (17344). They argue that Palm oil, due to its high percentage of saturated fatty acids, is a significant determinant of the weight a person gains as well as accumulation of lipids. Too much intake of palm oil determines the amount of fat that accumulates in the body. Some of the fatty acids are not converted to energy, and therefore they may settle on the surface of the skin leading to excess weight.  Also, the oil leads to an alteration in gut microbiota. Changes in microbiota are factors that contribute to obesity. Microbiota is a class of microorganisms that are located in the digestive tract to help in digestion of food (Chenyan et al. 4). Palm oil affects their composition where they become unable to convert all the fats to energy where some remains as fat on the surface of the skin leading to excess weight gain.

Mancini et al. also associate palm oil with type 2 diabetes as well as obesity from a different perspective. According to their studies, the intake of saturated fatty acids in palm oil makes the body to retain fat more so in children during lactation (17345). Fat retention in children when they are young leads to obesity in later years of life. It could be the cause of many obesity cases in older people who may not be consuming palm oil but their mothers consumed during lactation. The saturated fatty acids alter the formation of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Alteration of the cytokines affects the working and production of insulin which is the primary cause of type 2 diabetes.

There exists a link between palmitic acid that palm oil delivers in the body and cardiovascular diseases (Mancini et al. 17351). Palmitic acid does not have much effect, but Palm oil provides a high concentration in the body, 44 percent leading to cardiovascular disease (Mancini et al. 17345). The body develops a condition known as hypocholesterolemia which is elevated levels of cholesterol.  High levels of cholesterol and in specific LDL creates a risk to heart diseases as discussed previously. The MUFAs and PUFAs are not enough to replace the saturated fatty acids in the body leading to the formation of fatty bumps on the arteries. Mancini et al. analyze a study done to show that palm oil leads to heart diseases where the researchers found that an additional unit consumption of the oil leads to an increased mortality rate related to Ischemic heart disease in developed countries (17351). Developed countries are the primary consumers of palm oil because most people can afford all the snacks backed through palm oil. It means that the study is right in reporting differences in mortality rate between the developing counties and the developed ones. The results are a confirmation that palm oil leads to heart diseases.

Mancini et al. point out that palm oil plays a role in the development of cancer (17346). Palmitic acid, PUFAs, and MUFAs which results from the palm oil diet lead to breast cancer. Mancini et al. analyze a study showing that the addition of the quantity and varieties of fatty acids has an impact on carcinogenesis. The ration of saturated fatty acids and the PUFAs together with the palmitic acid leads to colorectal cancer (Mancini et al. 1748). The information which the study presents is legitimate because MUFAs are the main components of cancer cells membranes which get destroyed through the changes in PUFAs-saturated fatty acids ratio as well as palmitic acid. Increase in saturated fatty acids increases the formation of de novo fatty acids (Mancini et al. 1748). Transportation of de novo fatty acids leads to lipid metabolism leading to cancer. The information, therefore, shows that the increase in saturated fatty acids brought about by palm oil is one of the risk factors to cancer. Also, palm oil as discussed earlier results to other types of fatty acids during its processing. Such varieties of fatty acids also increase the synthesize of de novo fatty acids leading to cancer.

Counter argument

Odia et al., do not agree with the position that saturated fatty acids in palm oil can lead to cardiovascular diseases. Although saturated fatty acids in dietary are the significant sources of heart diseases, palm oil has other components that can reduce the effect of fatty acids (Odia et al., 144). According to Odia et al., palm oil contains soluble elements and fatty acids which are forms during the extraction of oil from triacylglycerol (145). Also, there are antioxidants and vitamins. Taking palm oil increases the level of triacylglycerol and LDL. However, as an individual continues to take more, the level of the two elements reduces. Odia et al. associates the cause of the reduction in LDL to the presences of vitamins A and E as well as other antioxidants (146). It, therefore, means that palm oil does not lead to heart diseases.

The position of Odia et al. does not seem to satisfy because they do not consider the ration of saturated fatty acids in palm oil with that of what they are referring to as antioxidants. Saturated fatty acids in palm oil have the largest share of 50 percent with the other antioxidants sharing the 50 percent. It, therefore, means that no individual antioxidant can be able to reduce the effect of saturated fatty acids in palm oil. Further, Odia et al., argues that because of the presence of the antioxidants, palm oil can maintain a balance in the body cholesterol once a person consumes it (147). The position is again ignoring the fact that palm oil carries a very high percentage of saturated fatty acids. The and antioxidants in it are not enough to reduce the saturated fatty acids in the oil to extend to the LDL in the body (Marangoni et al. 644). Also, palm oil has additional fatty acids of other varieties which results from the process of its extraction.


This paper examines the current studies to find out the exact position on the adverse effect of palm oil on health. One of the themes that come out from the articles is that palm oil contains a high level of saturated fatty acid that causes elevated levels of LDL leading to cardiovascular diseases. Also, heightens the risk to cancer by increasing a specific type of fatty acid that makes the cancer cells to metabolize. However, there are also some researchers who claim that the oil has antioxidants that can reduce the effect of the saturated fatty acids and therefore, conclude that palm oil is not risky to health. Most of the studies on the impact of palm oil concentrate on only one element, palmitic acid and therefore do not offer the full effect of the oil. More studies should focus on the effects of all components of palm oil on healthy.



Works Cited


Chenyan Lv, et al. “Effects of Dietary Palm Olein on the Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Healthy Young Adults.” Food & Nutrition Research, vol. 62, Jan. 2018, pp. 1–10.

Fattore, Elena, and Roberto Fanelli. “Palm Oil and Palmitic Acid: A Review on Cardiovascular Effects and Carcinogenicity.” International Journal of Food Sciences & Nutrition, vol. 64, no. 5, Aug. 2013, pp. 648–659.

Marangoni, Franca, et al. “Palm Oil and Human Health. Meeting Report of NFI: Nutrition Foundation of Italy Symposium.” International Journal of Food Sciences & Nutrition, vol. 68, no. 6, Sept. 2017, pp. 643–655

Mancini, Annamaria, et al. “Biological and nutritional properties of palm oil and palmitic acid: Effects on health.” Molecules 20.9 (2015): 17339-17361.

Odia, Osaretin J., Sandra Ofori, and Omosivie Maduka. “Palm oil and the heart: A review.” World journal of cardiology 7.3 (2015): 144.