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Presented by: UT El Paso / Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program & Paso del Norte Health Foundation

Korean Pine Nut


Compilation by Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD.
Korean Pine Nut

Scientific Name:

Pinus koraiensis

Botanical Family:

Pinaceae

Other Common Name:

Hong song, Hai song, Hai sung

Where is it found?

The tree is native to eastern Asia.

Parts of the plant used:

Seeds and leaves The tree is native to eastern Asia. Korean pine nuts are rich in oils and have been used around the world for centuries for culinary purposes. They are one of the main types of commercial pine nuts available in the world today (Park et al., 2013).

How is it used?

The seeds are edible and the oil extracted from them has nutritional and medicinal properties. The leaves are used for the extraction of an essential oil.

What is it used for?

In China, the seeds are considered to have a tonic effect, as well as to help with digestion (stomachic action) (Quattrocchi, 2012). Korean pine nut oil is also sold as a nutritional supplement.
Christiansen et al. (2015) screened various natural compounds, including Korean pine nut oil, which may have an effect against metabolic diseases such as insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Fatty acids, for example, may contribute by acting as precursors of signaling molecules or by direct activity on receptors. The medium- and long-chain NEFA receptor FFA1 (free fatty acid receptor 1 has been associated to an increase of glucose-stimulated insulin secretion, whereas FFA4 (free fatty acid receptor 4) has been linked to insulin-sensitizing and anti-inflammatory effects.
Both of these receptors have been shown to protect the pancreatic Islets of Langerhans, as well as to promote the secretion of hormones associated with appetite and glucose-regulation. For this reason, the research team screened a wide array of NEFA on FFA1 and FFA4 and characterized bioactive compounds in concentration-response curves. Of the various compounds that were screened, a constituent of Korean pine nut oil, pinolenic acid, was identified as a moderately powerful and efficacious dual FFA1/FFA4 agonist.
Both pine nut oil as well as free and esterified pure pinolenic acid were evaluated in an acute glucose tolerance test in laboratory rodents (mice). Pine nut oil showed a moderately but significantly improved glucose tolerance compared with maize (corn) oil. Additionally, pure pinolenic acid or ethyl ester gave strong and highly significant improvements of glucose tolerance.
The authors concluded that pinolenic acid is a comparatively potent and efficient dual FFA1/FFA4 agonist that possesses hypoglycemic (anti-diabetic) effects in laboratory mice. For this reason, this compound merits more studies as a potential active dietary ingredient for the prevention or treatment of metabolic diseases.
A review made by Park et al. (2013) of studies undertaken with Korean pine nuts, showed that they are rich in various fatty acids with an unusual structure. The seed’s lipid content makes up 62% of the total weight of the nut. One of the major constituents is known as pinolenic acid, along with variable amounts of palmitic acid, stearic acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid, icosenoic acid, and pinolenic acid, among others.
With regard to the health benefits of Korean pine nut oil (PNO), the reviewers found that in laboratory rats, PNO lowered the total cholesterol and triglyceride (fat) levels, as well as lowered hypertension (high blood pressure), after only five weeks of feeding. Additionally, studies in humans have revealed that PNO taken in capsule form before meals may reduce food intake in overweight women.
A study by Le et al. (2012) evaluated investigated the effects of (PNO) on high-fat-diet-induced obesity and metabolic dysfunction in skeletal muscle and brown adipose tissue in male mice. PNO enhanced the mitochondrial oxidative metabolism in skeletal muscle and thermogenesis in brown adipose tissue. This can lead to a reduction in the fat (lipid) content of muscle, as well as a decrease in weight gain. For these reasons, the authors suggested that PNO used as a dietary supplement may have potential to counteract obesity and metabolic dysfunction.
The essential oil obtained from Korean pine leaves (EOPK) is a biologically active compound. For this reason, Cho et al. (2014) studied the anti-cancer mechanism of EOPK in HCT116 colorectal cancer cells. The results of the study showed that EOPK significantly decreased HCT116 cancer cell proliferation and migration, as well as induced G1 arrest without affecting normal cells. Conclusions: Our studies indicate that EOPK significantly reduced proliferation and migration of colorectal cancer cells, suggesting it may be a novel and powerful potential chemotherapeutic agent for colorectal cancer.
Studies by Joo et al. (2013) demonstrated that the EOPK possessed a lipid-lowering effect by upregulating the low-density lipoprotein (“bad cholesterol”) receptor and inhibiting acyl-coenzyme A, cholesterol acyltransferases. In another study, the research team also assessed the anti-diabetic effects of EOPK on mice with streptozotocin (STZ)-induced type I diabetes (insulin dependent) and on HIT-T15 pancreatic β cells. The study showed that EOPK significantly protected cells from STZ-induced cytotoxicity and reduced the blood glucose level in STZ-induced diabetic mice compared to the untreated mice in the control group. The findings suggested that EOPK had the potential to lower blood glucose levels by quenching free radicals, also known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), endothelial NO synthase (eNOS). Therefore, the authors concluded that the compounds contained in EOPK make it a potential anti-diabetic agent, with an additional potential application to diabetic retinopathy.

Safety / Precautions

  • A 13 week study undertaken in rats by Speijers et al. (2013) using a commercially available Korean pine nut oil did not find any toxicologically relevant changes in the laboratory animals.
  • The effects of long-term supplementation with Korean pine nut oil in humans are currently unknown.
  • The effects of Korean pine nut oil during pregnancy and lactation are unknown.

Before you decide to take any medicinal herb or herbal supplement, be sure to consult with a health care professional first. Avoid self-medication and self-diagnosis: Always be on the safe side!

References:

Cho SM, Lee EO, Kim SH, Lee HJ. Essential oil of Pinus koraiensis inhibits cell proliferation and migration via inhibition of p21-activated kinase 1 pathway in HCT116 colorectal cancer cells. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014; 14:275. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-14-275.

Christiansen E, Watterson KR, Stocker CJ, Sokol E, Jenkins L, Simon K, Grundmann M, Petersen RK, Wargent ET, Hudson BD, Kostenis E, Ejsing CS, Cawthorne MA, Milligan G, Ulven T. Activity of dietary fatty acids on FFA1 and FFA4 and characterisation of pinolenic acid as a dual FFA1/FFA4 agonist with potential effect against metabolic diseases. Br J Nutr. 2015; 113(11):1677-88. doi: 10.1017/S000711451500118X.

Joo HE, Lee HJ, Sohn EJ, Lee MH, Ko HS, Jeong SJ, Lee HJ, Kim SH. Anti-diabetic potential of the essential oil of Pinus koraiensis leaves toward streptozotocin-treated mice and HIT-T15 pancreatic β cells. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2013; 77(10):1997-2001.

Le NH, Shin S, Tu TH, Kim CS, Kang JH, Tsuyoshi G, Teruo K, Han SN, Yu R. Diet enriched with korean pine nut oil improves mitochondrial oxidative metabolism in skeletal muscle and brown adipose tissue in diet-induced obesity. J Agric Food Chem. 2012; 60(48):11935-41. doi: 10.1021/jf303548k.

Park S, Lim Y, Shin S, Han SN. Impact of Korean pine nut oil on weight gain and immune responses in high-fat diet-induced obese mice. Nutr Res Pract. 2013; 7(5):352-8. doi: 10.4162/nrp.2013.7.5.352.
Quattrocchi, U. World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants (4 vols.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2012; p. 579.

Speijers GJ, Dederen LH, Keizer H. A sub-chronic (13 weeks) oral toxicity study in rats and an in vitro genotoxicity study with Korean pine nut oil (PinnoThin TG). Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2009; 55(2):158-65. doi: 10.1016/j.yrtph.2009.06.010.