Emu Oil – History, Uses, and Benefits

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What if I told you extracting the fat from an emu, the second-largest living bird by height, can fight inflammation, increase joint mobility, and improve your digestion?

The emu, a flightless brown bird native to Australia, is a cousin of the ostrich. While scientific research supporting the benefits of emu oil are just beginning to emerge, the Aborigines have been using this oil for medicinal and restorative purposes thousands of years.

Related: Top 10 Fish Oil Products

Emus, like ostriches, are naturally lean birds so the oil extraction process is considerably more labor-intensive than extracting oil from nuts, seeds, plants, and other animal sources. On average 100 grams of raw emu contains just 4 grams of fat, nearly 23 grams of protein, 0 grams of carbohydrates, and just 135 calories. [1]

However, there’s a large chunk of fat running throughout much of the emu’s body, wedged between the skin and flesh, that manufacturers can isolate to produce emu oil. [2] There are two primary methods of emu oil extraction – wet rendering and dry rendering. The wet rendering process involves placing the fat in to a pot of hot water and the oil is siphoned once it separates from the fat. [3]

If you’ve ever place a cut of fatty meat in a boiling pot of soup then you’ve witnessed wet rendering to some degree. Dry rendering involves dehydrating the emu fat in a heated closed vessel, which over time releases the oil. [4]

There is a direct relationship between the temperature of the closed vessel and amount of oil extracted, but an inverse relation with the oil quality. While it may seem wise to crank up the heat to yield as much oil as possible, the quality of the oil significantly deteriorates. [4] This relationship is also true when extracting the ever-popular olive oil.

Unfortunately, the emu must be killed to obtain this oil but that doesn’t mean the rest of the animal goes to waste. In fact, 95% of the emu is usable for economic purposes. [3] In addition to extracting the oil, the meat is packaged and sold as a lean animal protein source rich in anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids, the feathers are sold as a part of jewelry or accents to outfits, and the leather is used in clothing items like belts, shoes, and wallets.

One emu can yield up to 250 fluid ounces or nearly 7.4 liters of oil. [2] A quick web search shows that most pure emu oil products are sold in four to eight-ounce bottles and cost between $8 and $20. The oil from one emu can produce up to 62.5 four-ounce bottles and 31.25 eight-ounce bottles. Some of the largest emu oil manufacturers output over 7,000 gallons per year. [2]

While the use of emu oil in nutraceutical and cosmetic products isn’t widespread in the United States, it continues to appeal and gain traction across the globe as an all-natural topically applied and orally ingested fat source.

Emu Oil Uses

Emu OilSome retailers sell emu oil as a standalone product but you can also find emu oil listed as a part of numerous cosmetic, hair care, and nutraceutical products. Many people apply emu oil topically to the skin to treat inflammation, burns, wrinkles, acne, arthritis, psoriasis, and eczema. [5][2]

Hair care products like shampoo and conditioner may claim that emu oil helps to lock in moisture, increase the natural shine and body of your hair, and in some cases actually promote hair growth. While many of these claims are not substantiated by scientific research, a quick web search yields thousands of testimonials with anecdotal evidence.

Some individuals choose to orally ingest moderate quantities of emu oil based on the claims that it can lower cholesterol, lower inflammation in the digestive tract, combat some of the side effects of chemotherapy, as well as decrease the severity of premenstrual syndrome symptoms and allergies. [2][6]

Emu oil is a very stable oil with a shelf life of over three years when it’s stored in a low-moisture (<0.05%) and non-metal container. [7] While emu oil sounds like an extremely promising health-promoting fat source, the research up until now has largely been on rodents. As emu oil continues to gain traction we should expect to see more studies involving the topical application and oral ingestion of emu oil in humans.

Benefits of Emu Oil

Emu oil is rich the unsaturated fatty acid oleic acid and linoleic acid as well as high in antioxidants. [8] The largest body of research completed thus far on emu oil, in both animals and humans, supports the claims of its anti-inflammatory properties. A study of 126 patients with seborrheic dermatitis, a common chronic inflammatory skin disease, found that emu oil significantly decreases itchy skin (pruritus), skin redness (erythema), and scaling of the skin. [9]

These three inflammatory skin conditions may appear as a part of other skin diseases. While emu oil did not improve scaling and itchy skin as much as clotrimazole or hydrocortisone, it was the most effective of the three compounds for treating erythema. [9] Furthermore, emu oil is an all-natural product that does not contain harsh chemicals nor does it require a prescription.

A study of 42 patients undergoing radiation therapy applied either emu oil or placebo (cottonseed oil) twice daily up to six weeks after treatment completion. Those who used emu oil experienced lower Skindex-16 scale scores (patient-reported measure of symptoms and perceptions of toxicity) and higher quality of life scores. [10][11]

While emu oil will not eliminate the harsh side effects accompanying chemotherapy, it may provide some relief from its inflammatory effects on the skin. Emu oil has such strong anti-inflammatory properties that it can actually delay minor wound healing.

One study found that the immediate application of a lotion containing emu oil, vitamin E, and botanical oil after developing a full-thickness skin defect can delay the healing process for up to six days. However, if they researchers waited 24 hours after the skin defect appeared then the lotion increased the speed of wound contraction by up to 200%. [12]

Emu oil appears to be an effective skin treatment options for wounds that have already begun to heal.

The limited research on the oral ingestion of emu oil also appears promising. Those undergoing cancer chemotherapy typically experience mucositis, a serious disorder of the digestive tract, characterized by painful inflammation and the formation of ulcers. In rat models emu oil appears to decrease inflammation in the small intestine, suppress oxidative damages, and positively affect the mucosal architecture in the intestine. [5][6]

A study of rats with dextran sulfate sodium (DSS)-induced colitis who consumed emu oil experienced significant improvements in tissue damage compared to the placebo group. [13] While both of these studies were performed on rodents, these findings are encouraging for patients with digestive disorders.

At the cellular level, oral ingestion of emu oil can suppress some types of chemotherapy-induced inflammation, osteoclast formation, and bone loss as well as preserve osteoblasts. [14] If the count of osteoblast cells in your body falls too low then the rate of bone formation may be unable to keep up with the rate of bone loss or may completely stop. Unfortunately, only one rodent study exams the benefits of oral emu oil ingestion on blood markers like cholesterol.

Hamsters fed a diet containing 10% crude emu oil or 10% refined emu oil experienced a 21% to 25% decrease in total cholesterol, a 39% to 41% reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and no significant decreases in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, compared to placebo. [15] These findings suggest that emu oil is an effective compound for lowering bad cholesterol without negatively affecting good cholesterol.

More long-term studies, particularly studies involving human subjects, should be performed before emu oil becomes a staple in modern medicine.Although the research of long-term emu oil is sparse, one study found that the repeated application of emu oil on the skin did not induce the negative side effects like gastrotoxicity or high protein in the urine (proteinuria) experienced with alternative treatment options like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) and anti-arthritic drugs. [16]

Emu oil will not cure major sicknesses or diseases, nor is it a replacement for seeing a healthcare professional, but it may alleviate some of the negative symptoms associated with certain chronic conditions.

Do you have experience applying products with emu oil to your skin or hair? Have you been or are you currently ingesting emu oil for its potential health benefits? Let me know in the comments below.

References

1) “Basic Report: 05621, Emu, ground, raw.” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture, May 2016. Web. Sept. 2016.
2) “Ratites (Emu, Ostrich, and Rhea).” USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. United States Department of Agriculture, 2 Aug. 2013. Web. Sept. 2016.
3) “How to Extract Emu Oil.” Just Emu Oil. N.p., 2013. Web. Sept. 2016.
4) Robbins, Jim. “Emu Oil Aids the Survival of an Unusual Industry – The New York Times.” The New York Times. N.p., 7 Feb. 2013. Web. Sept. 2016.
5) Vemu, Bhaskar, S. Selvasubramanian, and V. Pandiyan. “Emu Oil Offers Protection in Crohn’s Disease Model in Rats.” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 16 (2015): 55. PMC. Web. Aug. 2016.
6) Lindsay, R. J., et al. “Orally Administered Emu Oil Decreases Acute Inflammation and Alters Selected Small Intestinal Parameters in a Rat Model of Mucositis.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Br J Nutr., Aug. 2010. Web. Sept. 2016.
7) “Study Determines Extended Shelf Life LB Processors.” LB Processors LLC. N.p., 28 Aug. 2015. Web. Sept. 2016.
8) “Comparison of the antioxidant properties of emu oil with other avian oils.” Animal Production Science. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, 11 Sept. 2008. Web. 23 Aug. 2016.
9) Attarzadeh, Yalda et al. “Comparing the Efficacy of Emu Oil with Clotrimazole and Hydrocortisone in the Treatment of Seborrheic Dermatitis: A Clinical Trial.” Journal of Research in Medical Sciences : The Official Journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences 18.6 (2013): 477–481. Print.
10) Rollmann, D. C., et al. “Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study of Processed Ultra Emu Oil Versus Placebo in the Prevention of Radiation Dermatitis.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys., July 2015. Web. Sept. 2016.
11) Atherton, Pamela J. et al. “Using the Skindex-16 and Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events to Assess Rash Symptoms: Results of a Pooled-Analysis (N0993).” Supportive Care in Cancer 20.8 (2012): 1729–1735. PMC. Web. Aug. 2016.
12) “Promotion of Second Intention Wound Healing by Emu Oil Lotion: Comparative Results with Furasin, Polysporin, and Cortisone.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Plast Reconstr Surg, Dec. 1998. Web. Sept. 2016.
13) Abimosleh, S. M., et al. “Emu Oil Increases Colonic Crypt Depth in a Rat Model of Ulcerative Colitis.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Dig Dis Sci., Apr. 2012. Web. Sept. 2016.
14) Nadhanan, Rethi R., et al. “Dietary emu oil supplementation suppresses 5-fluorouracil chemotherapy-induced inflammation, osteoclast formation and bone loss.” LB Processors LLC. American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism, 14 Apr. 2014. Web. Aug. 2016.
15) Wilson, Thomas A., et al. “Dietary Emu Oil Decreases Plasma Cholesterol Concentrations Similarly to Olive Oil in Hypercholesterolemic Hamsters.” LB Processors LLC. Nutritional Research, 10 Feb. 2014. Web. Sept. 2016.
16) Whitehouse, M. W., et al. “Emu Oil(s): a Source of Non-toxic Transdermal Anti-inflammatory Agents in Aboriginal Medicine.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Inflammopharmacology, 1998. Web. Sept. 2016.

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Name: Nick Ludlow

Bio: When it comes to fitness I enjoy reading about historic weight lifters, non-conventional weightlifting approaches, nutritional protocols, and the science behind supplements.