Sea Buckthorn

Sea buckthorn, or Hippophae rhamnoides, its most common genus, is a species of shrub that can be found from the Atlanticcoasts of Europe across to northwestern Mongolia and northwestern China1,2.

In Western Europe, this shrub is largely confined to sea coasts where salt spray off the sea prevents other larger plants from outcompeting it, and in central Asia, it is more widespread in dry semi-desertsites where other plants cannot survive the dry conditions.

Sea Buckthorn can withstand saltin the air and soil, but needs full sunlight and does not tolerate shady conditions near larger trees. Common sea buckthorn has dense and stiff branches that are very thorny, pale, silvery-green leaves with oval fruits that grow in clusters varying from pale yellow to dark orange in color. Because of its strong roots Sea Buckthorn is often used for as barrier hedges and windbreaks, to stabilize riverbanks and steep slopes and to increase water retention of the soil.

Sea Buckthorn tree

It contains a wide range of nutrients and bioactive substances such as vitamins, carotenoids, flavonoids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, free amino acids among other elemental components. Clinical trials and scientific studies during the 20th century confirm clinical and medical value in sea buckthorn 3The fruit of the plant has a Vitamin C content exceeding the amounts found in lemons and oranges, placing sea buckthorn fruit among the most enriched plant sources of vitamin C4 Additionally, fruits have high concentrations of carotenoids5, vitamin E 6and vitamin K 7 and essential fatty acids.

Sea Buckthorn has been used by people throughout the world for thousands of years and its medicinal qualities earned it a permanent spot in the diets and curative practices of many cultures, long ago. For example, references to sea buckthorn have been found in old medicinal texts in Tibet where it was used there to treat coughing, digestive problems, skin issues, wounds and burns, and even cancer in some cases. Additionally, the sea buckthorn berry is featured prominently in well-known myths and historical accounts from other cultures, including those of the mighty Genghis Khan of the Mongol Empire and the Greeks.

The origin and etymology of the words clues us into some of its most common ancient uses.  The word Hippophae has been derived from a Latin word ‘Hippo’ meaning horse and ‘Phaos’ which means ‘shine’. It was a common food for horses as the ancients believed it gave them strength, vitality and shiny coats. It is even found in the stories of the most legendary horse of all, Pegasus, and it is referenced as his favorite mountaintop snack. From Pegasus and Ancient Greece to Ancient Asia, the reference to sea buckthorn suggests that man has had a longstanding belief in the healing power of this super berry.

Today, the most recognized product of sea buckthorn is its fruit oil, rich in essential fatty acids and antioxidants, which makes it popular in treating a variety of medical ailments such as highblood pressure or bloodcholesterol, heart disease, infections, and respiratory problems among other. However, today sea buckthorn is best known for its skin benefits and is often used in the treatment of skin diseases. Traditional use of the berry’s oil to promote the recuperation of skin injuries and support healing well agrees with the data of modern clinical studies. Sea buckthorn oil is widely used to promote the recovery of skin conditions including eczema, burns, bad healing wounds, skin damaging effects of the sun, dry skin, therapeutic radiation treatment and cosmetic laser surgery8. It is also commonly used in sunscreens and cosmetic formulations.

The medicinal properties of sea buckthorn have been attributed to its rich content of phytochemicals, and there are several areas of research that have been important in the fields of traditional and complementary medicine. In this article we will look at three clinical studies concentrating on some of SBT’s most proven benefits: wound healing, dry eye and liver health.

Acute and Chronic Wounds

SBT based preparations have been widely used for treating skin radiation lesions, burn of different etiology, gastric and duodenal ulcers. The protective and curative effects of SBT against wounds, burns, scalds, ulcers and mucosal injuries have been extensively investigated in clinical trials. In the recent years, SBT leaf extract has been scientifically investigated and shown that it enhances acute and chronic dermal wound healing (burns and diabetic). Wounds treated with SBT showed faster reduction in wound area in comparison with control and silver sulfadiazine. The topical application of SBT increased neovascularization, collagen synthesis and stabilization at wound site, as evidenced by up-regulated expression of VEGF, collagen type-III, matrix metalloproteinases (MMP-2, 9) and increased contents of hydroxyproline and hexosamine. Further, it has been reported that SBT leaf has no cytotoxic, heavy metal contamination and adverse effect after oral administration9.

Dry Eye

Dry eye is a common condition that can severely impair the quality of life. A study conducted by the Department of Biochemistryand Food Chemistry and Department of Ophthalmology in the University of Turku, Finland, aimed to find out whether oral sea buckthorn (SB) oil, containing (n-3) and (n-6) fatty acids and antioxidants, affects dry eye. In this double-blind, randomized, parallel trial, 20- to 75-y-old women and men experiencing dry eye symptoms consumed 2 g of SB or placebo oil daily for 3 months (from fall to winter). One hundred participants were recruited and 86 completed the study. Clinical dry eye tests and symptom follow-ups were performed. Tear film hyperosmolarity is a focal factor in dry eye. There was a general increase in the osmolarity from baseline to the end of the intervention. Compared with the placebo group, the increase was significantly less in the SB group when all participants were included [intention to treat (ITT), P = 0.04] and when only participants consuming the study products for at least 80% of the intervention days were included [per protocol (PP), P = 0.02]. The maximum intensities of redness and burning tended to be lower in the SB group. In the ITT participants, the group difference was significant for redness (P = 0.04) but not for burning (P = 0.05). In the PP participants, the group difference was significant for burning (P = 0.04) but not for redness (P = 0.11).

In conclusion, SB oil attenuated the increase in tear film osmolarity during the cold season and positively affected the dry eye symptoms10.

Liver Health

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a one of the most common causes of chronic liver injury in the world11, 12. Although NAFLD is usually benign in early stages in most cases, about 40% – 50% NAFLD cases progress to fibrosis, and 15% – 20% cases progress to cirrhosis or even end-stage liver disease. In NAFLD cirrhosis, 30% to 40% of patients will experience a liver-related death13. Therefore, it is important to further the research on medicines that can better treat this disease.

In a randomized, prospective, clinical trial was carried out at the outpatient department of Gastroenterology of Shanghai Pudong New District ZhouPu Hospital and Shanghai Baoshan Central Hospital scientists set to test the effects of Sea Buckthorn on patients with NAFLD.

NAFLD was diagnosed according to the criteria in Guidelines for Management of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease set by Workshop on Fatty Liver and Alcoholic Liver Disease specified by the Chinese Society of Hepatology 14.

The 94 patients enrolled were randomly divided into two groups: the study group (n = 48, 25 male and 23 female) and the control group (n = 46, 27 male and 19 female). The age of the patients ranged from 18 to 67 years. The patients of the two groups were comparable in sex, age, duration of disease and severity of the pathological condition 14.

The study group was given SBT capsules at a dose of 1.5 g in capsules 3 times/day for 90 consecutive days. The control group was given starch 1.5 g in capsules 3 times a day (manufactured by the same company). Both groups were advised to follow a diet tailored on the individual requirement, a regimen of daily physical exercise of walking for 30 – 60 min/day for 3 months during the treatment. Patients with diabetes or hypertension were given the corresponding treatment at the same time 14. Changes in symptoms and signs, blood pressure (BP), physical fitness index and adverse drug reactions were assessed during the 3-month treatment period 14.

The results showed the serum levels of Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT) of the patients in the treated group decreased significantly from 69.6 ± 16.5 IU/L to 50.1 ± 13.7 IU/L (p ≤ 0.05) after three months SBT treatment. By contrast, there was no significant difference in the control group (67.6 ± 15.8 vs. 65.4 ± 18.4 IU/L; p > 0.05). Furthermore, there were significant decreases in the levels of both blood TG (from 2.26 ± 0.73 to 1.74 ± 0.51 mmol/L, p ≤ 0.05) and LDL-C (3.2 ± 0.5 vs. 2.6 ± 0.5 mmol/L) in the treated group 14.

This is one of the first reports of a therapeutic benefit of SBT in humans with NAFLD. In this study, they found that SBT treatment of NAFLD patients could significantly decreased the liver/spleen ratio, which has been well documented closely correlated with the degree of steatosis on histopathology14. It has been proved a good correlation between the liver fat content and the spleen-minus-liver attenuation difference elicited by CT in NAFLD patients, can accurately estimate the amount of hepatic fatty infiltration in NAFLD. Therefore, the results derived from this clinical study strongly indicated that SBT treatment can ameliorate hepatic fatty infiltration NAFLD.

Sea Buckthorn shows multiple pharmacological and therapeutic activities such as antioxidant, immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, antiatherogenic, anti-stress, cardioprotective and wound healing from its different parts (leaves, fruits and seeds). Due to immense antioxidant activities, SBT and its various products ensure the human body’s equilibrium through the action of its various effective components. Evidence of these uses originated in traditional knowledge and recent scientific investigations. Sea Buckthorn based formulations can be developed as plant drug or functional food and nutraceutical to increase the antioxidant status and strengthen the immune system which in turn may be useful in enhancing the resistance of the organisms subjected to multiple stresses. As medical research advances, it is likely scientists will continue to discover new benefits and properties of this resilient plant through systematic studies to evaluate the efficacy of standardized extracts of SBT.


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  7. Gutzeit, D.; Baleanu, G.; Winterhalter, P.; Jerz, G. (March 2007). “Determination of processing effects and of storage stability on vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) in sea buckthorn berries (Hippophaërhamnoides L. ssp.rhamnoides) and related products”.Journal of Food Science: 491–C497.
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  10. Petra, L., Riikka, J., Niko, S.,6Baoru Y., Matti H., Viitanen, J., “Oral Sea Buckthorn Oil Attenuates Tear Film Osmolarity and Symptoms in Individuals with Dry Eye”. Department of Biochemistry and Food Chemistry and Department of Ophthalmology, University of Turku, Turk, Finland.
  11. Park, H., Shima, T., Yamaguchi, K., et al. (2011).“Efficacy of Long-Term Ezetimibe Therapy in Patients with Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. Journal of Gastroenterology”: 46, 101-107.
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  14. Zeli, G., Cheng, Z., Liwen, J., Wei, Y,.(2014). “Efficacy of Sea Buckthorn Therapy in Patients with Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.” Chinese Medicine: 5, 223-230.

Disclaimer: The information presented is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor’s care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.

Autor: Lamberts Española.