Not much to get excited about with wheat germ if you’re an athlete or fitness enthusiast. You can pour it on your cereal all you want, but your muscles aren’t going to get bigger, and your 50-meter dash won’t get any faster. On the other hand, wheat germ and wheat germ oil are among the best sources of Vitamin E. And, if consumption of an overly fatty diet or other factors is cause for cholesterol concern, wheat germ may be a valuable component of a heart-healthy program.
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Wheat germ is the embryo (the little baby wheat plant) of the wheat kernel. Small amounts of a fatty liquid — wheat germ oil — are naturally present in wheat germ. Octacosanol is one of a number of long-chain fatty, waxy alcohols found in wheat germ oil.
Wheat germ oil is among the richest sources of octacosanol, though octacosanol can also be found in sugar cane and in certain whole grains, nuts, and vegetable oils.
Policosanol, a natural product developed in recent years, is a blend of concentrated waxy alcohols, including octacosanol as well as a half dozen or more others, such as triacontanol and hexacosanol, which are typically extracted from sugar cane wax or beeswax.
Wheat germ may be eaten as a cereal or used when baking breads, muffins, and the like to provide additional nutrients. Supplement companies also offer a wheat germ extract powder or wheat germ concentrate.
Actually, there is no real reason why an athlete would use it, unless you like the flavor and want to sprinkle some on your yogurt. But if you aren’t an avid fitness buff, as a concentrated source of nutrients, wheat germ may be a useful and healthful food. Wheat germ oil can be a valuable natural source of Vitamin E. Octacosanol and (more dramatically) policosanol can be beneficial natural agents for optimizing cardiovascular function, particularly if blood cholesterol balance is a potential concern.
No deficiency conditions are known to exist.
Research indicates that Wheat Germ Oil may be useful in the treatment of:
Wheat germ does little if anything for performance, so if that’s your sole goal, you can stop right here. But it does have a few other benefits worth discussing… For one, wheat germ is a concentrated source of nutrients, especially Vitamins E and B complex, minerals including iron and calcium, as well as some protein. The oil has high concentrations of Vitamin E, essential fatty acids, and long-chain waxy alcohols such as octacosanol. Thus, like a multi, it’s reasonable to supplement with it, especially if your diet lacks in leafy green vegetables, nuts, or other natural sources of Vitamin E. Octacosanol is now most commonly taken in a mixture (such as policosanol) of other naturally occurring waxy alcohols.
Wheat germ oil and octacosanol gained a reputation in the 1960’s for promoting energy and vitality. Some athletes who took these substances claimed they experienced increases in endurance and muscle strength or, especially, improvements in reaction time. The scientific evidence for such effects, however, is limited. A few human and animal studies have suggested minor performance-related improvements. For example, a recent small but placebo-controlled and double-blind human study found that both octacosanol and policosanol caused mild improvements in simple reaction time, with the main effect being ascribed to policosanol.
Other studies, however, have been negative, poorly designed, or misinterpreted, and the Federal Trade Commission has disallowed claims in ads for wheat germ oil that suggest it has any special beneficial effects on fitness or athletic performance.
Wheat germ shows some promise for improving heart health. Within the past few years, a new line of research has much more promisingly demonstrated beneficial cardiovascular effects for octacosanol and, even more so, policosanol. In fact, policosanol has been shown to limit the liver’s production of cholesterol.
Researchers in Cuba and elsewhere, for example, have now conducted dozens of studies on policosanol that suggest it is similar to the statin drugs in its ability to reduce blood levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol. To a lesser extent, policosanol may also raise levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and reduce blood platelet stickiness, both of which can also benefit heart health.
A study conducted by Cuban researchers determined that long-term therapy with policosanol improved the treadmill exercise-electrocardiogram testing performance of heart disease patients. (The researchers noted that a supposed performance-enhancing effect of octacosanol was not detected.) Policosanol has also been shown in a double-blind study to increase the walking distance of subjects suffering from intermittent claudication, a vascular condition of the legs.
Researchers have also studied whether octacosanol may help control conditions of the nervous system, including Parkinson’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). No statistically significant benefits have been established.
Wheat germ oil contains both linoleic (approximately 40 percent of unsaturated fatty acid content) and linolenic (5 percent) acids, the precursors for the omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids, respectively. These essential fatty acids have various beneficial effects on health, including improved heart function. Beneficial effects from wheat germ oil may also be due to a combination of its Vitamin E, octacosanol, and essential fatty acid content.
If there is a chance that wheat germ could make people stronger and faster, scientists would have come up with an explanation by now. A number of mechanisms have been proposed for how octacosanol could affect endurance or strength. For example, some evidence suggests octacosanol may improve the efficiency of transmission of nerve impulses or that it may increase oxygen transport or uptake.
Another theory is that it can boost the energy supplied to muscles (octacosanol seems to concentrate in the body in muscle tissue, as well as the liver and the digestive tract) by promoting the movement of fatty acids within muscles. Japanese researchers determined that octacosanol significantly reduced fat accumulation in the tissue of certain rats, suggesting an effect on some aspect of fat metabolism. Octacosanol’s ability to affect fat metabolism, cholesterol production, and blood platelet stickiness could account for cardiovascular benefits and minor tonic actions.
Wheat germ, wheat germ oil, octacosanol, and policosanol represent an interesting progression of natural products from whole (though wheat germ itself is a derivative of whole wheat) to more refined and specialized. Wheat germ, wheat germ oil, and octacosanol were probably oversold as performance enhancers in the past. The evidence suggests limited performance benefits, at best. Wheat germ and wheat germ oil can still offer nutritional benefits, however. And the plant-based waxy alcohols (especially when combined as policosanol) show special promise for beneficial effects on heart health.
Wheat germ oil is packaged as a liquid and in softgel capsules typically ranging from 500 to 1,000 mg. Recommended daily use is one to two grams.
Octacosanol comes in capsules that may contain a number of similar waxy alcohols. A single dose usually provides 2,000 to 20,000 mcg octacosanol.
Policosanol supplements may provide 500 to 5,000 mcg of total fatty alcohols. A typical daily dose of policosanol is 5 to 10 mg.
You may have to take policosanol for a number of months before any cholesterol-lowering effects are noticed.
Most people take wheat germ oil, like other essential fatty acid supplements, with a meal. The reason is simple: when you take them with food, they are absorbed better.
Try not to leave wheat germ or like products in your car on a hot day. Because wheat germ is a rich source of wheat germ oil and other essential fatty acids, it can become rancid if not stored properly. Like other plant oils, wheat germ oil should be kept in a cool, dry place or refrigerated after opening. Octacosanol and policosanol should also be protected from heat and light. Defatted wheat germ is most stable.
No synergists have been noted.
You would be hard pressed to take enough of this supplement to really hurt yourself. Wheat germ oil, octacosanol, policosanol are considered safe and nontoxic at recommended levels. Pregnant or nursing women should consult with their physicians before using policosanol, however.
Octacosanol may interfere with the action of the Parkinson’s drug levodopa. Policosanol may thin the blood slightly and thus should be used with caution by people with potential bleeding disorders and by those taking blood-thinning drugs, such as aspirin and warfarin (Coumadin).
No known toxicity.