Shaun Ward MSc ANutr
Perilla oil refers to any oil derived from the seeds of perilla frutescens plants, which are mainly grown in China, India, Japan, Korea, and North America.
This oil is made by pressing the seeds after they are roasted, a key reason why it is predominantly used in meals that aim for a ‘nutty’ taste.
Perilla oil is often said to be a healthier alternative to traditional oils. This is likely due to its large quantity of omega-3 fatty acids - in the form of alpha-linolenic acid. In fact, compared to other vegetable oils, perilla contains the highest proportion of omega-3 fatty acids (~60%) relative to omega-6 fatty acids (~15%).
The rosmarinic acid content of this oil is another reason why it is said to be a better option for cooking.
1. Perilla Oil May Benefit Gut Health
The composition of microorganisms within the gut is closely related to immune health and the amount of inflammation in the body.
Gut microbiota includes bacteria, archaea, fungi, and viruses. Not only does gut bacteria affect nutrient digestion and absorption, but it also produces secondary products such as short-chain fatty acids.
Although fat is an essential part of the human diet, high intakes of harmful dietary fats (saturated fat, omega-6 fatty acids) can reduce the population of healthy bacteria in the intestines, degrade the gut barrier, and increase the permeability of the intestinal lining. This allows an endotoxin called lipopolysaccharide to leak into the blood and cause inflammatory reactions .
Perilla oil can therefore act as a viable and healthy alternative to traditional fat sources, as it is high in omega-3’s which have anti-inflammatory effects and can aid gut health.
Studies have shown that high intakes of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with improved gut function and reduced levels of inflammation .
In fact, studies that specifically analyze the omega-3 fatty acids within perilla have shown they may be more potent in benefitting the intestinal microbiome when compared to fish oil .
More direct research on perilla oil and the gut microbiota is warranted for a complete analysis.
2. Perilla Oil May Have Anti-Oxidative Effects
Oxidation can damage vital molecules in human cells, including DNA and proteins, which are responsible for various metabolic processes.
The accumulation of free radicals and reactive oxygen species are responsible for increasing oxidation rates, and have shown to disrupt cellular functions and lead to increased cell death rates.
Due to this, a lot of scientific research has focused on foods, and food components, that can protect cells against oxidative stress.
Perilla oil has shown in animal studies to attenuate oxidative stress, especially in brain cells .
Lab studies also confirm that perilla oil has the ability to scavenge and nullify the damaging effects of free radicals .
The alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) content of perilla oil is the component most likely to be contributing to this effect, as alpha linolenic acid has been confirmed in other studies to be a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger that can increase cell vitality .
3. Perilla Oil May Protect Against Cardiovascular Disease
Many studies have suggested that intake of omega-3 fatty acids is correlated with a decrease in inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases .
Perilla oil contains alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3), which has shown a cardioprotective effect partly associated with its antioxidative properties .
It is suggested that most of the benefits of alpha-linolenic acid are due to its conversion into more powerful substances such as eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. However, the conversion rate of alpha-linolenic acid into these substances is extremely low and it is likely that it also has its own unique effects .
Recent studies on perilla oil and cardiovascular functioning highlight its positive effects.
A bioavailability study indicated that perilla oil can reduce the formation of blood clots via anti-thrombotic activity . This may help to prevent the constriction of blood vessels and reduce the likelihood of life-threatening cardiovascular events from occurring.
In addition, in unhealthy individuals just 12 weeks of using perilla oil appears to improve inflammatory parameters and reduce LDL-cholesterol (-18%) and total cholesterol (-11%) levels – which are the two major risk factors for cardiovascular disease .
The prevention of excess blood clotting in the vascular system, and reductions in blood cholesterol levels, should theoretically lower the chances of cardiovascular disease due to the mechanistic benefits  .
More direct research on perilla oil is needed to assess the potential relationship.
4. Perilla Oil May Prevent Colon Cancer
Including perilla oil as a major source of dietary fat (~25% of total fat intake) has shown to have an appreciable beneficial effect for lowering the risk of colon cancer .
The benefit likely stems from the improvements perilla oil may have on increasing the number of healthy bacteria in the gut. Healthy bacteria are able to produce short-chain fatty acids, which are digested by colon cells and prevent colon cancer by promoting cell-cycle arrest and the programmed cell death of cancer cells .
5. It May Help To Protect The Kidneys
In lab studies, an extract from the leaves of perilla frutescens plants appears to inhibit the growth of tumors in kidney cells. This is theorized to be due to the rosmarinic acid content and in part due to the luteolin glycoside content .
Mechanistic evidence for this effect is lacking, however limited data has suggested that rosmarinic acid causes structural changes in the kidneys and has antioxidative activity .
The inhibition of tumor growth is thought to be protective against a group of diseases that injures part of the kidney that filters blood (called glomeruli) .
In animal models, perilla leaf extracts can also inhibit the build-up of immune proteins that often form clumps and damage these kidney filters .
The relevance that extracts of perilla frutescen plants and perilla leafs have upon the benefits of perilla oil is unknown and needs to be further assessed.
Perilla oil refers to any oil derived from the seeds of perilla frutescens plants, made by pressing the seeds after they are roasted.
The high omega-3 content of this oil is linked to many health benefits, and its nutritional composition is superior to most other types of food oils.
This oil may improve gut health, act as an antioxidant, protect against cardiovascular disease, prevent colon cancer, and improve kidney function.