What Are the Health Benefits of Octacosanol?

Having high cholesterol places people at risk for cardiovascular and neurological disease. Given these dangers, scientists have placed emphasis on discovering cholesterol-lowering agents. The chemical octacosanol, found in wheat germ oil, may provide an alternative option to prescription cholesterol medications. Ingesting small amounts of this substance may offer other health benefits as well. Yet, experimental treatments like octacosanol require additional testing before doctors can safely recommend using them on a long-term basis.

Lowers Cholesterol Markers

Wheat germ oil remains a popular item at health food stores, and many people take it to control their cholesterol. Scientific research, however, provides little evidence for this alleged effect. Yet, doctors are gradually documenting the cholesterol-lowering effect of octacosanol. An investigation by S. Keller and coworkers in Germany assessed wheat extract's effects in healthy women. Subjects received the supplement nightly for 28 days. Data, published in the February 2008 edition of "Lipids," indicates that octacosanol did not lower circulating levels of cholesterol. It did, however, lower excreted markers of cholesterol like bile acid. While suggestive, these findings need confirmation before touting octacosanol as a cholesterol-lowering agent.

Improves Athletic Performance

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Octacosanol also has a reputation for being useful in athletic competitions. Several websites promote wheat germ oil as a way to increase physical endurance. Some scientific data supports this notion. An experiment by H. Kim and associates described in the Winter 2003 issue of "Journal of Medicinal Food" tested octacosanol and a placebo on laboratory animals for 28 days. Relative to controls, rats receiving the wheat product ran 46 percent longer before they reached exhaustion. An increased ability to use oxygen and the prevention of muscle breakdown mediated these results. It remains unclear, however, whether human use of octacosanol supplements would produce similar results.

Treats Parkinson's Symptoms

Dietary supplements have received renewed interest as an adjunct treatment for debilitating illnesses. Most wheat germ oil research has focused on the cardiovascular system, but octacosanol may affect the nervous system as well. A study in China evaluated the impact of octacosanol in an animal model of Parkinson's disease. These researchers gave the wheat extract to diseased rodents for 14 days. The results, published shown in the July 2010 edition of "Acta Pharmacologica Sinica," indicate that octacosanol caused positive changes in each rat's behavior and brain. Most importantly, the rats treated with the wheat product displayed no negative reactions. This data suggests a possible human application of this treatment. Yet, clinical trials of octacosanol supplements cannot begin until more animal data appears in the medical literature.

Reduces Tumor Growth

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The wheat extract may play a positive role in treating cancer as well. A report by G. Thippeswamy and colleagues in the July 7, 2008 issue of "European Journal of Pharmacology" notes a study that tested the anti-cancer properties of octacosanol. Tumors growing in chicken embryos and in rat eyes were suppressed by the application of wheat extract. These findings hold promise for the development of cancer-fighting drugs in humans, but further experimentation remains necessary to ensure the safety of octacosanol.