Health Benefits of Olive Oil in Specific Diseases
A diet high in unsaturated fatty acids reduces blood pressure as compared to a diet rich in saturated fat. Among unsaturated fats it appears that both monounsaturated fatty acids (like those contained in olive oil) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in fish and other vegetable oils) lower blood pressure. An Italian research in patients with known hypertension has shown that consumptions of 40 gm of olive oil a day reduces blood pressure by about 50% (almost half of the patients were able to reduce the dose or stop taking altogether their blood pressure medications). The beneficial effect of olive oil (especially the extra virgin olive oil) is attributed mainly to its polyphenols.
Cardiovascular disease (atherosclerosis and atherothrombosis)
High LDL cholesterol contributes to atherosclerosis and atherothrombosis, depositing cholesterol in the artery wall and clogging the arteries of vital organs (like the heart, brain, and kidneys). HDL cholesterol is the “good” cholesterol and acts as a scavenger, removing cholesterol from plaques in the artery wall. Reducing LDL cholesterol and raising HDL cholesterol has significant health benefits and protects against heart attacks, strokes, and sudden death. Consumption of about two table spoons of olive oil reduced LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and mildly raise HDL (the “good” cholesterol).
Beyond a favorite effect on LDL and HDL levels, olive oil has two more benefits that reduce heart attacks and stroke:
• It prevents oxidization of LDL which renders it more atherogenic than its non-oxidized form. This beneficial effect of olive oil on lipids is mediated through its antioxidant components, especially polyphenols and vitamin E.
• It reduces the chance of “thrombosis” (clot formation) in arteries by reducing factors that either cause clotting (plasma factor VII) or inhibit break-down of clots already formed (plasminogen activating inhibitor)
Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
Olive oil reduces the metabolic complications of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. With its polyphenols and squalene components it reduces the high level of inflammatory activity present in both diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Thus, olive oil helps reduce LDL-the “bad”-cholesterol, lipid oxidation and high blood pressure. A diet rich in olive oil also facilitates glycemic control by leaving “less room” for carbohydrates (particularly “simple sugars” that cause insulin spikes and premature hunger attacks).
Inflammation and free radicals damage brain cells and impair synaptic function, contributing to the neurodegenaration and brain cell loss that characterizes Alzheimer’s disease. The squalene content of olive oils (along with its other antioxidants) has neuroprotective effects and does not allow oxidation of its monounsaturated fatty acids (which unfortunately occurs with polyunsaturated fats that may, thus, contribute to nerve damage). Oleocanthal, another olive oil component has been shown in scientific research to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s.
Aging and longevity
Free radicals attack and damage cells and its constituents, especially DNA found not only in the cell nucleus but also in the mitochondria. It is hypothesized that olive oil with its antioxidant effects inhibit peroxidation and reduces mitochondrial DNA damage, preserving vitality and youthfulness. It appears that the oleocanthal component of olive oil significantly contributes to olive oil’s anti-aging effects. There is a report of a 120-year-old Israeli woman who used to drink a glass of olive oil every day!