By Michael A. Smith, MD
Emerging science is now suggesting that the antioxidants found in olive oil, called polyphenols, are the real secret behind its many health benefits. Let’s explore this research and its exciting implications.
The Power of Olive Oil PolyphenolsAs mentioned, scientists used to think that olive oil’s benefits came from oleic acid. However, other sources of oleic acid, like canola oil, don’t deliver the same health benefits that olive oil does. So what makes olive oil so unique?
The answer is polyphenols, plant-based antioxidants that are now being hailed as olive oil’s “secret weapon.”
A large, multicenter clinical trial involving 200 subjects from five European countries examined the effects of daily olive oil consumption.1 Three different kinds of olive oil were used, each with increasing concentrations of polyphenols. Each person was given one fluid ounce daily of one of the olive oils for three weeks.
The researchers found that all three olive oils increased good cholesterol (HDL) and decreased blood lipids. But there was one measurement that the researchers were especially interested in: olive oil’s effect on oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
Oxidized LDL readily “sticks” to the walls of arteries and plays a part in the progression of atherosclerosis. For this reason, anything we can do to prevent LDL from sticking to the artery wall can go a long way in helping us prevent heart disease.
Here’s the amazing result: The olive oil with the highest concentration of polyphenols reduced the level of oxidized LDL the most. Simply put, this is a major discovery.
As a result, the researchers concluded that the polyphenols, rather than oleic acid alone, were powering olive oil’s impressive health benefits.1
Novel Health Benefits of Olive Oil PolyphenolsResearchers are still discovering new health benefits from olive oil polyphenols. Here’s a summary of two exciting areas that are now being studied:
1. Healthy Cell Growth
Olive oil polyphenols promote healthy cell growth by reducing the activity of an enzyme called fatty acid synthase. This enzyme is highly expressed in cancer cell lines, and it’s believed that blocking it may help prevent tumor growth.
Extra virgin olive oil polyphenols were found to drastically suppress fatty acid synthase in breast cancer cells.2 This previously unrecognized benefit holds major promise.
2. Healthy Bone Density
Olive oil polyphenols have also been shown to help maintain healthy bone density. In a study, rats that were fed a steady diet of olive oil maintained better bone density compared to the control group.3 In previous studies, the same group of researchers also found that olive oil polyphenols may help ease inflammation-induced bone loss in menopausal rats.4
Recipe: Asparagus Salad with Olive & Walnut Oil VinaigretteWant to try a polyphenol-rich dressing that’s perfect for asparagus? Here’s one that we love, courtesy of the Food Channel website:
- 2 pounds asparagus trimmed and steamed until tender
- ½ cup chopped walnuts, slightly toasted
- ½ cup celery, thinly sliced
- 1½ parts extra-virgin olive oil
- 1½ parts walnut oil
- 1 parts vinegar
- Lightly toast walnuts
- Pour the vinegar in a bowl and slowly whisk in the two oils
- Season with salt and pepper
- Drizzle over asparagus, walnuts and celery
Give it a try and let us know what you think!
Have you heard of olive oil polyphenols before? What do you make of this exciting breakthrough? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
- Ann Intern Med. 2006 Sep 5;145(5):333-41.
- Int J Mol Med. 2008 Oct;22(4):433-9.
- J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Oct 22;56(20):9417-22.
- Br J Nutr. 2004 Jul;92(1):119-27.
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