Argan oil is derived from the fruit of the Argania spinosa tree, which is native to the arid climate of southwestern Morocco, where the preponderance of research on the herb is conducted. Once prevalent in North Africa, the A. spinosa tree is presently grown only in Morocco, and although it is the second most common tree species there, it is considered endangered, so its oil, which is labor intensive to obtain, is becoming somewhat rare (J. Ethnopharmacol. 1999;67:7–14; SÖFW Journal 2005; 131:35–46).
Argan oil has been used for traditional purposes, including as a medicine, for several centuries (Pharmacol. Res. 2006;54:1–5). Dubbed “liquid gold,” the vitamin E-rich argan oil is highly sought after.
There is a paucity of research on this botanical compound, but the preponderance of recent investigations has focused on the cardiovascular benefits of virgin argan oil consumption. Specifically, antiatherogenic, cholesterol-lowering, antiproliferative, and antioxidant benefits have been observed (Ann. Nutr. Metab. 2005;49:196–201; Nutr. Metab. Cardiovasc. Dis. 2005;15:352–60; Evid. Based Complement. Alternat. Med. 2006;3:317–27; Cancer Invest. 2006;24:588–92; Cancer Detect. Prev. 2007;31:64–9).
Given argan oil's abundant supply of fatty acids, phenolic constituents, squalene, sterols, and tocopherols, it is also thought to be an important factor in enhancing the anticancer effects of the Moroccan diet (Eur. J. Cancer Prev. 2003;12:67–75).
The majority of published research on argan oil has been performed in Morocco by Anas Drissi and his colleagues. They recently studied the effects of regular consumption of the oil on the lipid profile and antioxidant status of 96 healthy Moroccan subjects (62 regular consumers and 34 nonconsumers), of whom 76 were women and 20 were men (Clin. Nutr. 2004;23:1159–66).
The researchers found that plasma LDL cholesterol levels were lower in the participants who regularly consumed virgin argan oil, compared with nonconsumers. The diets of the argan oil consumers contained higher levels of polyunsaturated fats.
The researchers also investigated the in vitro effects of the tocopherols, sterols, and polyphenols in the herbal extract on LDL peroxidation, and found that the argon oil consumers had lower plasma lipoperoxides, a higher molar ratio of α-tocopherol to total cholesterol, and a higher concentration of α-tocopherol, compared with nonconsumers. LDL oxidation was similar in the two groups, despite the fact that consumers had higher plasma antioxidant concentrations and lower lipoperoxide levels.