November 1, 2021 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition
Oils of different types are prized commodities in health, cosmetics, and numerous other applications. They are an integral part of your human body’s natural structure and physiology. Squalene is one of those oils that is widely researched for its health modulating benefits, but is relatively unknow in the general public.
Squalene was first discovered in 1916 in shark liver oil. It has since been found in olive oil, amaranth, palm, rice brain, and wheat-germ oils and other plants. Shark liver oil contains by-far the highest amount of naturally occurring squalene.
Squalene has peaked considerable interest for human health due to its metabolic properties. This oil is a unique triterpene omega-2 fat that is different than omega-3, omega-6 oils, and saturated fats. This structure allows for its interesting benefits in your skin and throughout your body. Babies have the highest amounts of squalene levels in their blood stream and skin. Squalene levels decline with age.
Squalene is metabolically involved with cholesterol production and can be metabolized into HDL cholesterol. Squalene is also a precursor for other steroid hormones and vitamins A, D, E, and K, carotenes, coenzyme Q10, and lycopene that have a similar chemical structure. Squalene helps generate oxygen in your cells as it is metabolized and naturally assists with blood flow.
Maintenance of good skin health is more than just outside beauty support. Your skin provides protection, temperature regulation, mechanical support, and more. It is the second largest organ in the body in terms of surface area. Only the inside surface layer of the small intestine is larger. For an average adult, skin surface area is 16-22 square feet. That is a lot of skin cells, which must have adequate hydration, oils, antioxidants, and nutrients to maintain healthy glow and integrity.
Your skin contains the highest amount of squalene compared to other tissues. Human sebum, a protective oily substance, contains about 13 percent squalene. This helps make your skin waterproof and protects it from drying out. Squalene oil provides essential support for hydration, antioxidant, and repair mechanisms in your skin, which is why it is commonly found in small amounts in cosmetics. Studies provide evidence of its beneficial activities.
A small clinical trial evaluated the effects of various moderate and high doses of squalene in skin health in women 50 and older. At the end of the 90-day trial, women who consumed squalene experienced improved collagen levels and measurably fewer facial wrinkles. Additional improvement was seen as reduction of skin redness and pigment changes from sun/UV radiation exposure.
Cell studies showed that when vitamin C was combined with squalene, collagen levels and skin thickness were substantially enhanced more so than with vitamin C alone. Squalene with vitamin C also promoted increased glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) levels in the skin. GAGs, like glucosamine and hyaluronic acid are essential for skin barrier integrity, moisture, and elasticity.
Squalene also assists with natural tissue repair and remodeling of the skin. It helps increase beneficial cytokines like IL-10 and provides antioxidant support that modulates inflammatory reactions. Squalene triggers immune cells like macrophages and neutrophils to travel to areas of skin damage and perform cellular clean-up. This activity supports skin remodeling and tissue repair.
Heart and Cholesterol
You may wonder how squalene affects cholesterol metabolism as it is a precursor to it. Cell, animal, and human studies provide insight into some of its effect. Squalene helps your body naturally modulate cholesterol and triglyceride levels through the HMG-CoA enzyme in the liver that directs cholesterol production. This is the same beneficial pathway that Vitamin E tocotrienols utilize. Modulation of this pathway allows your body to regulate the rate of cholesterol production.
Human studies showed that squalene intake caused cholesterol and some of its metabolites to be excreted, but did not increase cholesterol levels in the blood. Dietary intake of squalene for cholesterol modulation was commonly 500-1000 mg per day.
Detoxification and Cellular Protection
Squalene also supports the removal or detoxification of toxins. A recent study explored its protective effects in animals exposed to cisplatin, a compound that is often detrimental to kidney health and function. The animals were given squalene in their diet along with cisplatin. Squalene activated the antioxidant AKT/mTOR signaling pathways which buffered kidney cells from toxic stress. Other research shows squalene aids natural tissue defense mechanisms to protect cells against toxic influences.
Substantial research has explored squalene’s positive antioxidant protective effect on cells for antiaging, cell protection, and adverse changes. In addition, animal studies showed that squalene modulated PGE2 production and reduced COX-2 and substance P levels. These are compounds linked with significant tissue stress and inflammatory provocation.
Brain and Retina Support
Did you know that your brain is one of the fattiest organs in your body? Brain fats are made up of cholesterol, omega-3 DHA, phosphatidylserine and other fats. About 70 percent of the cholesterol used by your brain is for myelin. Myelin is the fatty insulation layer that surrounds nerves that enhances communication speed.
Research published January 2021 in the journal Nature Neuroscience explored the fascinating mechanisms of myelin repair. Myelin production and repair requires healthy cholesterol synthesis, of which squalene is an intermediate precursor.
This study showed that squalene supplementation enhanced signaling mechanisms necessary for bringing cholesterol to nerves and myelin for repair. Squalene also provided antioxidant support to microglial cells in the brain and helped offset oxidative stress to myelin.
Other studies have identified squalene in the retina of your eyes. Squalene provides antioxidant support and protection to photoreceptors within the retina.
Mediterranean Countries Outrank Western Intake
The Standard American Diet is filled with plant-based omega-6 fats (canola, rapeseed, soy, sunflower, safflower, etc.) with less than optimal omega-3 oils. Saturated fats from dairy, meat, and coconut oil are other types of fats unrelated to squalene. Thus, many individuals on the Western Diet consume little omega-2/olive oil/squalene. Mediterranean countries consume 10 times more squalene in olive oil than the United States or Northern European countries.
Consider adding Squalene to your dietary regime if your skin is rough, dry, and cracked or you want to enhance antioxidant, oxygen levels, cardiovascular-cholesterol metabolism, and neurological health and detoxification pathways.