Mustard oil has long been used in many countries for both cooking and externally on the skin and hair. It is still commonly used in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. In Ayurveda, mustard oil is used in food as well as externally to cleanse, stimulate and revitalize the body.
While there are many health benefits to using mustard oil, it can be dangerous to consume. It does, however, contain healthy fatty acids that make hair and skin thrive when applied.
It has the following advantages when used externally
- Good circulation. When used as a massage oil, mustard oil promotes good blood circulation and stress relief. It’s warming effects relax the muscles and increase circulation which is beneficial for the skin, muscles, and organs.
- Healthy skin. Mustard oil is high in vitamin E which keeps your skin healthy. Applying it to your skin moisturizes it, making it smooth and soft. It helps to neutralize free radicals, boost collagen production, keeps connective tissue healthy, and increases new skin growth. This helps to delay wrinkles and keeps the skin’s elasticity.
- Antibacterial. Mustard oil has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties and can be used to heal minor cuts and treat insect bites and ringworm. A study showed that mustard oil is powerful enough to kill harmful bacteria such as E.coli, salmonella, staphylococcus, and listeria.
- Pain relief. It helps ease aching joints due to its anti-inflammatory properties and has a warming effect when you wrap the joint in bandages after applying the mustard oil. Doing this can help relieve pain caused by arthritis, sprains and can help for overall inflammation by massaging your entire body.
- Beautiful hair. Mustard oil is good for your hair. It can be used to restore shine and health to dull and lifeless hair as well as to prevent premature greying and hair loss. Massaging a mix of mustard oil and coconut oil into your hair and scalp can increase circulation, nourish your hair, and get rid of dandruff.
- Gets rid of water retention. It can help eliminate water retention when you massage it into your skin. This will help to stimulate your lymphatic system which will drain the excess water away.
How mustard oil is made
There are two different types of mustard oil that can be made. By using either the black, brown or white seeds, a vegetable oil is created by pressing the seeds and extracting the oil, and the essential oil which is created by grinding and mixing the seeds with water and then extracting the oil.
The essential oil can be diluted in a carrier oil and used externally as a massage oil or in poultices for wounds. The vegetable oil form of mustard oil is often used in traditional cooking. Mustard oil is also sometimes used in religious and cultural practices and events.
Cooking with mustard oil
Mustard oil has also been used for many years in food to promote health. In Northern Indian, Bengali and southern Asian cuisine it’s often an important ingredient and it has been said that the dishes can’t-do without it. As it cooks it develops a sweet flavour and the pungent but delicious flavour is well sought after. It compliments the other ingredients perfectly in dishes like Auriya Kaddu, Kabab-E-Khaas, and Kashmiri Mutton Koftas.
One of the health benefits that is more widely known about is mustard oil’s ability to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels because it contains omega-3 fatty acids.
It also helps to remove excess triglycerides (fat found in your blood) and excess body fat which lowers your risk for many diseases including cancer and heart disease and can kill bad bacteria in your digestive tract.
But despite these benefits, many studies have found that eating mustard oil and using it in cooking can actually be harmful to your health. In the countries where the FDA regulates food and medicines, mustard oil is required to indicate on the label that it’s for external use only. It has also been banned for in several countries including the USA, EU, and Canada. Due to a large occurrence of dropsy, a severe form of oedema resulting in swelling, usually in the lower limbs, it was also banned in Dehli though it has since been lifted again.
The dangers of using mustard oil in food
Mustard oil contains erucic acid which is a form of omega-9. While omega-9 is healthy, there are different types of it. Erucic acid is the monounsaturated form of omega-9 which has toxic effects on the body. Mustard oil contains between 42-47% which is very high. It’s for this reason that it has been banned from being used in food in many countries.
The effects of erucic acid
- It damages the heart. One of the worst effects is that it damages the heart muscles and causes myocardial lipidosis (also known as fatty degeneration of the heart). This can occur when large amounts of erucic acid are consumed.
- It causes dropsy (edema). Dropsy is severe water retention that causes swelling usually in the legs but can occur in the arms too. Other symptoms that might be present along with the swelling is abdominal pain, nausea, shortness of breath and glaucoma (which is unhealthy pressure in the eyes).
- It increases the risk of lung cancer. Erucic acid irritates the lungs and slowly starts degrading the tissue. The risk of lung cancer rises with long-term consumption. Lung cancer is, unfortunately, fatal.
- It can cause miscarriages. Erucic acids can negatively affect the mother and her unborn child and in addition to this, it can cause spontaneous abortion which is when the body expels the fetus.
- Allergic reactions. Some people may react badly to mustard oil by getting rashes, hay fever, and even stomach pain.
- It can damage the skin. Over time blisters and rashes can form. This is why it’s not recommended to use mustard oil as a massage oil for small children and babies. Don’t use it on your skin if it causes any burning, stinging or tingling.
- It can irritate the stomach by inflaming the intestines and gastrointestinal tract which amongst other things can cause diarrhea and a lot discomfort.
- Anemia. The Food Toxicology Laboratory at the Industrial Toxicology Research Centre in Lucknow, India, did a study on the adulteration of mustard oil with argemone oil, a combination which is often used in Indian cooking, and found that it kills off red blood cells which result in anemia. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the cells of the body and transport carbon dioxide to the lungs to be removed from the body.
The side effects listed above are easily found in multiple studies that have been published, but there are also many reputable doctors who tote the benefits of eating mustard oil and say that it is, in fact, safe to eat. So what are we to believe?
It is true that many of these studies have been done on rats and some of the results published are from these studies. But to ignore the incidence of negative effects experienced by people who had been using mustard oil for years and in large quantities is unwise. The effects of erucic acid are well proven especially in cases of dropsy and myocardial lipidosis.
While it may be safe enough to eat in small quantities, the research still points to the long-term effects of consuming mustard oil high in erucic acid as being harmful.
Safe mustard oils have become available
Erucic acid is also found in other oils like canola oil, farmers had started growing different strains of the seeds used to make these oils and have been able to lessen the amount of erucic acid to as little as 1% in a bottle of oil.
Studies have been underway to do the same with mustard oil and there has been some success. There is mustard oil available that is low in erucic acid and still maintains all the health benefits of mustard oil as well as that delicious pungent flavor. These mustard oils have been tested and are being produced in India as well as in Australia.
While there are still many mustard oils on the market that do contain toxic amounts of erucic acid and are easily found in stores, it’s best to look for these healthier versions that have been developed.
The oil from Australia can already be found online at Amazon, namely Yandilla low erucic acid mustard oil which is FDA approved. India has been working on Pusa Mustard-30 and will be launching low erucic mustard oil. Studies continue and more of these healthier mustard oils should become available in future.
- Mustard oil can be used externally to promote healthy skin and hair.
- It can be used as a massage oil to relieve stress, relax the muscles as well as to reduce pain and inflammation.
- It can cause skin irritation and shouldn’t be used on babies and small children.
- Use low erucic acid mustard oils that are FDA approved
- Mustard oil high in erucic acid causes damage to the heart, increases the risk for lung cancer and anemia and causes dropsy when eaten in large quantities over time. It can also cause miscarriages if eaten by pregnant women.
There are so many healthy oils out there, that I do not take the risk of eating mustard oil at all. Yes! there are some Indian vegetables, that tastes good in the mustard oil, for that I have a high-quality mustard oil bottle that is low in erucic acid.
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