Health benefits of extra virgin olive oil

Health benefits of extra virgin olive oil

Olive oil’s therapeutic and health preserving properties have been widely acknowledged and thus appreciated, ever since antiquity and the days of ancient Athenian practitioners. Even more impressive, modern Medical Science with all its gigantic breakthroughs, not only has not turned its back to olive oil’s illness preventative action and curing properties but instead lines it up as an important ally in the battle against some of the most fatal diseases of our days.

Considered the most important component of the renowned Mediterranean Diet, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is relevant to an extensive array of health issues. Although some of its effects are still not fully understood and new positive attributes are constantly discovered in major scientific studies, a capable number of its benefits have been firmly established. Indicatively, both the E.U and the U.S  Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have published officially approved claims[1] with regards to specific health benefits related to the consumption of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). In what follows, we describe the most important, well-studied and well-substantiated beneficial impacts of extra virgin olive oil on human system.


Cardiovascular Protection 

From the renowned 7-Country Study in 60s to the more recent PREDIMED study published on the New England Journal of Medicine, medical research has firmly described an inverse link between extra virgin olive oil consumption and the manifestation of fatal cardiovascular incidents, such as strokes and myocardial infractions. The secret here lies in the fat composition of extra virgin olive oil. Generally, there are three fat categories found in foods, namely saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids triglycerides. Unlike other culinary oils, up to 83% of extra virgin olive oil’s total fat represent monounsaturated fatty acids, primarily in the form of oleic acid. Monounsaturates, which have a lot more health-friendly profile than both other fat categories, have proven to be capable of maintaining a proper balance between Low-density (LDL) and High-density lipoprotein (HDL) particles in our blood. Scientific research has concluded that monounsaturated fats, when substituting for saturated ones in our diet, reduce LDL (bad cholesterol) while they leave intact, or even increase, HDL (good cholesterol), controlling cholesterol and thus preventing the deposition of atheromatous plaque on our blood vessels, which is responsible for the development of atheromatous disease. The latter, more commonly known as arteriosclerosis, is manifested through severe strokes, myocardial infractions and peripheral arteriopathy. Complementing its anti-atheromatous activity, extra virgin olive oil proves to be a key player for tackling hypertension, which also leads to arteriosclerosis. A large number of studies conclude that consumption of extra virgin olive oil largely contributes to the reduction of blood pressure in proper low levels, which translates to lower chances of a fatal heart attack or a stroke incident.   


Anticancer protection

Extra virgin olive oil’s rich content in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds appears to be linked to an extensive anticancer activity. Polyphenols and the rest of the antioxidants contained in EVOO shield our system against oxidative stress while they neutralize free radicals. These important actions protect and enhance the function of our cells’ membranes thus lowering the chances of the development of certain types of cancer, including colorectal cancer, breast cancer, gastrointestinal cancer and respiratory tract neoplasm. Additionally to the action of the antioxidants, monounsaturated fatty acids, dominating extra virgin olive oil’s fat composition, are more chemically stable compared to saturated fatty acids (animal fats) and not easily damaged by oxygen, which translates to a smaller likelihood of them damaging cells’ structure and fostering the development of cancer tumors. Therefore, the substitution of rich in saturated fats lipids with extra virgin olive oil appears to be capable of decreasing the risk of cancer. Although the anticancer activity of olive oil requires further scientific exploration before being firmly established, currently available findings are strongly encouraging.


Anti-aging benefits and protection from chronic diseases

The anti-aging effect of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is attributed to its rich content in antioxidants which, among other things, protect cells from oxidative stress, active oxygen and free radicals. While most of the oxygen we inhale is used for the production of energy in our system, there is a 2-3% which is converted in the so-called free radicals. The latter when produced in large quantities and for a long period of time, expose our system to the so-called oxidative stress which speeds up the aging process and act as a precursor for several serious diseases. Evoo’s antioxidants make sure to tackle those free radicals, neutralizing that way their aging effects.

According to an increasing volume of relevant scientific research, another important aspect of the anti-aging action of extra virgin olive oil is the reversing effect it seems to have on cognitive function decline associated with aging. Using as their starting point the generally accepted notion that the type of fat consumed can affect cognitive function, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, analyzed data from 6,000 women over the age of 65. They concluded that those subjects with the highest monounsaturated fats intake (monounsaturated fats represent 68-83% of extra virgin olive oil’s total fat), scored higher on average over time in various cognitive tests given to them. Interestingly, evoo appears to also have a protective effect. As the Three City Study suggests (a researching project on vascular risk factors for dementia), individuals who were exposed to a moderate to intensive consumption of olive oil exhibited lower chances of manifesting a cognitive deficit for verbal fluency and visual memory, compared to individuals who had never had olive oil. Moreover, Solfrizzi et al.[2] after studying a group of individuals aged 65-85 over a period of 10 years also came up with some rather encouraging findings. In particular, they found that participants who had a third of a cup of olive oil per day tended to live longer and better than those who did not, while for those who consumed half a cup per day, the odds of developing dementia were significantly lower.


Anti-inflammatory action

Although it may sound peculiar for a culinary oil to be considered as an anti-inflammatory factor, the consumption of 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) on a daily basis has been linked to a number of significant anti-inflammatory benefits. Rich in polyphenols and in several other antioxidants, extra virgin olive oil provides the human body with the necessary building materials for the development of natural anti-inflammatory mechanisms with a variety of functions. These mechanisms, among other things, can limit arthritis symptoms and have a significant positive effect on the severity of an asthma crisis. In addition, polyphenols contained in extra virgin olive oil appear to do very well in reducing the levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a protein found in blood and whose levels rise in response to inflammation.  


Proper function of the digestive system

Consumption of raw extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) appears to protect the gastrointestinal tract and largely facilitate the proper function of our digestive system. Evoo’s polyphenols inhibit the growth of hostile towards our digestive tract bacteria, such as Helicobacter pylori bacterium, thus preventing the development of stomach ulcer, gastritis and several other particularly unpleasant diseases.   


Obesity and olive oil

Like every other oil and fat, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) has a high caloric value which approximates 120-130 calories per 15ml(1 tablespoon). While a link between olive oil consumption and obesity could be expected or justified, experience and scientific research suggest otherwise. Obesity in Mediterranean countries, where olive oil is consumed in the largest quantities, triggers no greater concerns that it does in countries where other kinds of oils and fats are traditionally consumed. Complementing that practical experience, scientific research suggests that an olive-oil rich diet leads to greater and longer-lasting weight loss compared to a low-fat diet. In a rather pioneering project, Professor Peter Schieberle from the Technische Universität München (TUM) and Professor Veronika Somoza from the University of Vienna studied four different edible fats and oils, namely lard, butterfat, rapeseed oil and olive oil, trying to figure out how natural oils and fats regulate the sensation of satiety following a meal. Interestingly, consumption of olive oil was linked to higher concentration of the satiety hormone serotonin in blood, while subjects from the olive oil consuming group recorded no body fat increase during the study, contrary to subjects from control groups. The study concluded that aroma extracts from olive oil can make us feel fuller helping to reduce our daily calorie intake by approximately 200 calories. Not to mention the overwhelming biological value of extra virgin olive oil.


Pregnancy and childhood

A very specific combination of fatty acids is required for the proper development of embryos and neonates. Since several of those acids required are not produced in the embryos’ system, it is absolutely critical that a proper source of those nutrients is made available to them. Equally important for the right fatty acid combination to be achieved is to make sure that the fetus or the neonate receives the fatty acids at the proper proportions. For instance, proper analogy between ω-6 linoleic and ω-3 a-linoleic acid, two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids, is crucial for the normal development of the central and peripheral nervous system of the embryo. Ideally, olive oil is characterized by a uniquely balanced polyunsaturated fatty acids composition. Scientific research has shown that olive oil has the same ratio of linoleic/a-linoleic (about 10:1) as breast milk, although very different than cow milk where only minor fractions of a-linoleic acid are typically found. In addition, olive oil is a fine source of vitamin E which contributes to both the pre-natal and post-natal development of the embryo, while it protects it from the oxidative stress caused on entering an oxygen atmosphere. For the above reasons, olive oil is widely suggested to be consumed by pregnants as well as by their children starting from their early childhood.   



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[2] “High monounsaturated fatty acids intake protects against age-related cognitive decline”, V. Solfrizzi, F. Panza, F. Torres, F. Mastroianni, A. Del Parigi, A. Venezia, and A. Capurso , NEUROLOGY, May 1, 1999 52:1563



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