Sea buckthorn (not to be confused with common buckthorn) is a plant native to high altitude regions of China and Russia, but today it is cultivated in many other areas, including the Saskatchewan province of Canada. The fruits of the plant have a long history of use as food. It was also used in ancient Chinese medicine for treating skin problems and digestive disorders. The whole berry or its oil extract are the parts used medicinally.
The only substantial, well-designed study of sea buckthorn examined its possible efficacy for reducing the frequency and duration of the common cold. This double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 254 people failed to find any evidence of benefit.1
The study just mentioned also found, rather incidentally, that use of sea buckthorn was associated with a reduction in C-reactive protein, an emerging marker for heart disease. However, contrary to widespread advertising, this incidental observation has no immediate practical meaning. High levels of C-reactive protein are, at present, only known to be associated with higher heart disease risk; it is not at all clear that deliberately reducing C-reactive protein will reduce heart disease risk.
In fact, one of the leading theories is that high levels of C-reactive protein indicate the presence of a bacteria that is currently unidentified but that accelerates atherosclerosis. If this theory is true, it is no doubt possible to reduce the C-reactive protein levels that indicate the bacteria’s presence without reducing the levels of the bacteria itself.
In other words, reducing C-reactive protein would only hide the signs of the problem, rather than affect the problem. Furthermore, this study was designed to look at effects on the common cold, not effects on C-reactive protein. If one conducts a study and afterwards goes on a hunt for something that is different between the treatment and placebo groups, the laws of chance alone guarantee that one will find something. This is called data-dredging, and it is a common cause of false conclusions.
To determine whether sea buckthorn actually affects C-reactive protein levels (something that itself may be altogether unimportant), one needs to conduct a study designed at the outset to examine this question. Other evidence cited to indicate that sea buckthorn can prevent or treat cardiovascular disease is similarly too preliminary to justify usage for this purpose.2-8
In the study of sea buckthorn for preventing colds noted above, the dose used was 28 g of frozen berry puree daily.
Sea buckthorn oil is commonly recommended to be taken at a dose of 5 ml, 2-3 times per daily, or applied externally to lesions of the skin or mucous membranes.
Other sea buckthorn products should be used according to label instructions.
As a widely consumed food, whole sea buckthorn berries are presumed to be safe. Oil extracts of plants, however, are often much less safe than the whole plants, and the safety of sea buckthorn oil has not been established.
Use by pregnant or nursing women, young children, or people with liver or kidney disease has not been investigated.
1. Larmo P, Alin J, Salminen E, et al. Effects of sea buckthorn berries on infections and inflammation: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jun 27. [Epub ahead of print]
2. Suomela JP, Ahotupa M, Yang B, et al. Absorption of flavonols derived from sea buckthorn ( Hippophae rhamnoides L.) and their effect on emerging risk factors for cardiovascular disease in humans. J Agric Food Chem. 2006;54:7364-7369.
3. Zhu F, Huang B, Hu CY, et al. Effects of total flavonoids of Hippophae rhamnoides L. on intracellular free calcium in cultured vascular smooth muscle cells of spontaneously hypertensive rats and Wistar-Kyoto rats. Chin J Integr Med. 2005;11:287-292.
4. Cheng J, Kondo K, Suzuki Y, et al. Inhibitory effects of total flavones of Hippophae Rhamnoides L. on thrombosis in mouse femoral artery and in vitro platelet aggregation. Life Sci. 2003;72:2263-2271.
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9. Xu X, Xie B, Pan S, et al. Effects of sea buckthorn procyanidins on healing of acetic acid-induced lesions in the rat stomach. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2007;16(suppl 1):234-238.
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Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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