What is palm oil?

Palm oil is a vegetable oil high in saturated fat. It comes from the fruit of the palm tree Elaeis guineensis. This tree originated in West Africa but has since spread to other tropical areas including Southeast Asia.

Due to its low production costs and quality, palm oil is in high demand. It’s used in:

  • foods
  • detergents
  • cosmetic products
  • biofuel

Palm oil can be found in more than half of all packaged products Americans consume. It may be safe to say that you use or eat palm oil products daily.

However, this product has been linked to cancer risk. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), palm oil can cause cancer when processed at high temperatures. More research is needed to confirm these findings and its effect in human trials.

EFSA found that certain contaminants in palm oil can increase the risk of cancer. When incorporating palm oil into foods and related products, the oil is heated. However, processing palm oil causes glycidyl fatty acid esters (GEs) to form.

When digested, GEs break down and release glycidol, a substance known for its carcinogenic effects in animals and its suspected harm to humans. Cancer studies found that administering glycidol to the stomachs of mice and rats caused malignant and benign tumor growths.

Though there have been animal studies, there is little research on palm oil and cancer risk in humans. There is also limited research on recommended levels of palm oil use.

However, researchers emphasize moderation to limit exposure when using and consuming palm oil products.

High quantities of GEs are present in palm oil, palm fat, and other related oils. There are also a number of foods rich in palm oil. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration now requires that all foods with palm oil be labeled, even if they’re blended with other oils.

Common foods high in palm oil and related derivatives include:

Nonedible products that contain palm oil include:

  • lipstick
  • shampoo
  • detergent
  • soap
  • toothpaste
  • vitamins
  • biofuel

Palm oil is a vegetable oil used in cooking and everyday household products. However, this oil has been shown to have carcinogenic effects in animal studies. There is little research on its influence on humans, but researchers advise being mindful of your food labels.

Using this oil with caution and in moderation may lessen its negative effects. If you have any concerns about the products you are using, it may be wise to consult your doctor about the risks of palm oil and how to avoid these products.