Exploring the Health Benefits of Hydroxytyrosol in Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Hydroxytyrosol is among the 25 phenolic compounds found in extra virgin olive oil, playing a role in preventing noncommunicable diseases.

By Paolo DeAndreis
Jul. 19, 2023 13:25 UTC
10K reads

The Mediterranean diet has long been stud­ied for its health ben­e­fits and link with longevity in the so-called blue zones.”

The sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence of veg­eta­bles, legumes and fruits and the lower intake of red meat are con­sid­ered by many as the main sources of these ben­e­fits.

However, Tommaso Beccari, a pro­fes­sor of bio­chem­istry at the University of Perugia in Italy, says there is more to it. Among the main rea­sons for MedDiet’s well-doc­u­mented effects on human health is the wide­spread pres­ence of hydrox­y­ty­rosol.

See Also:Olive Oil Basics

Its pres­ence in the Mediterranean diet enhances its over­all health-pro­mot­ing effects,” Beccari told Olive Oil Times.

Hydroxytyrosol is present in var­i­ous foods that con­sti­tute the Mediterranean diet’s core.

The pri­mary dietary sources include extra vir­gin olive oil, olives, olive paste and olive leaf extract,” Beccari said. These foods are rich in hydrox­y­ty­rosol, which con­tributes sig­nif­i­cantly to the ben­e­fi­cial and healthy pro­file of the Mediterranean diet.”

Besides extra vir­gin olive oil and olive-derived prod­ucts, some wine and fruits, such as cher­ries, also pro­vide vary­ing amounts of hydrox­y­ty­rosol.

How hydrox­y­ty­rosol affects human health

Hydroxytyrosol is one of the thou­sands of phe­nols that occur nat­u­rally in plants. Its char­ac­ter­is­tics make it one of the most ben­e­fi­cial antiox­i­dants among phe­nols and the other healthy com­po­nents of extra vir­gin olive oils.

Its 99 per­cent bio-avail­abil­ity allows its almost com­plete inte­gra­tion into the human body upon con­sump­tion.

For decades, sci­en­tists explored hydroxytyrosol’s impact on mit­i­gat­ing or even pre­vent­ing ill­nesses such as car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases, neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­or­ders, can­cer, dia­betes and lung patholo­gies, known as non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases.

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The study of hydrox­y­ty­rosol began in the late 20th cen­tury, dri­ven by an increas­ing inter­est in the health ben­e­fits of the Mediterranean diet,” Matteo Bertelli, a biotech­nol­o­gist and chief exec­u­tive of Magisnat, a com­pany that researches the nat­ural mol­e­cules present in the Mediterranean diet, told Olive Oil Times.

It was in the early 1990s that hydrox­y­ty­rosol was iden­ti­fied as a major com­po­nent of olive oil, lead­ing to inten­si­fied research on its prop­er­ties and poten­tial appli­ca­tions,” he added.

Since then, sci­en­tific inves­ti­ga­tions have elu­ci­dated its mol­e­c­u­lar mech­a­nisms, bioavail­abil­ity, and ther­a­peu­tic poten­tial in pre­vent­ing and treat­ing non­com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases.

The role of hydrox­y­ty­rosol in pre­vent­ing non­com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases

Hydroxytyrosol, a potent antiox­i­dant and anti-inflam­ma­tory agent, is cru­cial in pre­vent­ing and man­ag­ing non­com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases.

The pro­tec­tive effects of hydrox­y­ty­rosol against [sev­eral] non­com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases are mit­i­gated through its abil­ity to scav­enge free rad­i­cals, reduce oxida­tive stress, mod­u­late inflam­ma­tory responses and improve var­i­ous cel­lu­lar func­tions,” Beccari said.


Decades of research allowed sci­en­tists to iden­tify some crit­i­cal mech­a­nisms trig­gered by hydrox­y­ty­rosol intake.

By mod­u­lat­ing inflam­ma­tory path­ways, hydrox­y­ty­rosol helps mit­i­gate chronic low-grade inflam­ma­tion asso­ci­ated with non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases,” Beccari said.

The anti-inflam­ma­tory prop­er­ties of hydrox­y­ty­rosol inhibit the pro­duc­tion of pro-inflam­ma­tory mol­e­cules. In most cases, non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases are caused by chronic inflam­ma­tion stretch­ing across a num­ber of years to the point of trig­ger­ing severe ill­nesses.

The anti-inflam­ma­tory action of hydrox­y­ty­rosol helps mit­i­gate this process, thus reduc­ing the risk of dis­ease devel­op­ment,” Beccari said.

See Also:Polyphenols in Olive Oil Help Heal Damaged Skin

Moreover, hydrox­y­ty­rosol influ­ences cel­lu­lar sig­nal­ing path­ways, gene expres­sion and enzyme activ­i­ties, impact­ing mul­ti­ple phys­i­o­log­i­cal processes,” he added.

Ongoing research is inves­ti­gat­ing addi­tional effects of hydrox­y­ty­rosol.

Studies sug­gest its poten­tial to improve pro­tec­tion against neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive processes, mod­u­late immune responses, inhibit can­cer cell pro­lif­er­a­tion and reg­u­late meta­bolic dis­or­ders.

On top of that, research has shown that hydrox­y­ty­rosol con­sump­tion improves endothe­lial func­tion, which plays a cru­cial role in car­dio­vas­cu­lar health.

Consuming hydrox­y­ty­rosol pro­motes the dila­tion of blood ves­sels, enhances blood flow, and reduces the risk of endothe­lial dys­func­tion, a key fac­tor in the devel­op­ment of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases.

The pre­cise mech­a­nisms under­ly­ing these effects are being actively explored to unlock the full ther­a­peu­tic poten­tial of hydrox­y­ty­rosol,” Bertelli said.

Hydroxytyrosol as a nutri­tional sup­ple­ment

The unique nature of the phe­nol prompted sci­en­tists to explore new phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal for­mu­la­tions or nutri­tional sup­ple­ments based on hydrox­y­ty­rosol.

Beccari and Bertelli are among the authors of a 2020 study pub­lished by the Journal of Biotechnology inves­ti­gat­ing the promis­ing phar­ma­co­log­i­cal activ­i­ties of hydrox­y­ty­rosol.

Bertelli said hydrox­y­ty­rosol’s antiox­i­dant prop­er­ties might sup­port the devel­op­ment of drugs to reduce oxida­tive stress and pre­vent or man­age asso­ci­ated dis­eases.

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Additionally, its anti-inflam­ma­tory effects make it a promis­ing agent for address­ing chronic inflam­ma­tion-related con­di­tions,” Bertelli said.

Nutritional sup­ple­ments con­tain­ing hydrox­y­ty­rosol are already avail­able, high­light­ing its poten­tial as a nat­ural com­pound with health ben­e­fits,” he added. These sup­ple­ments pro­vide a con­cen­trated dose of hydrox­y­ty­rosol, offer­ing an alter­na­tive means of har­ness­ing its pro­tec­tive effects against non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases.”

Ongoing research is explor­ing new deliv­ery sys­tems and for­mu­la­tions that opti­mize the bioavail­abil­ity and effi­cacy of hydrox­y­ty­rosol in sup­ple­ment form.

Hydroxytyrosol in extra vir­gin olive oils (EVOOs)

In the last few decades, a grow­ing body of research has explored the ben­e­fi­cial effects of extra vir­gin olive oil con­sump­tion. Besides hydrox­y­ty­rosol, EVOO con­tains a num­ber of diverse bioac­tive com­pounds.

While researchers looked into hydrox­y­ty­rosol-spe­cific qual­i­ties, they also found that its pres­ence in extra vir­gin olive oil enhances the impacts of other ben­e­fi­cial com­pounds.

“[EVOO con­sump­tion] effects are mul­ti­fac­eted, and hydrox­y­ty­rosol plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in defin­ing these ben­e­fits,” Beccari said.

See Also:The Health Benefits of Coconut Oil – Facts and Fiction

It exerts a syn­er­gis­tic effect with other EVOO’s bioac­tive com­pounds, such as oleic acid and polyphe­nols, enhanc­ing the over­all health ben­e­fits asso­ci­ated with its con­sump­tion,” he added.

Considering these qual­i­ties, the effects of hydrox­y­ty­rosol con­tribute sig­nif­i­cantly to the over­all ben­e­fi­cial effects of con­sum­ing extra vir­gin olive oil.

Its pres­ence enhances EVOO’s antiox­i­dant and anti-inflam­ma­tory poten­tial, mak­ing it a valu­able com­po­nent in pre­vent­ing and man­ag­ing non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases,” Beccari said.

Given its cen­tral role in olive oil’s health ben­e­fits, sev­eral meth­ods to esti­mate how much hydrox­y­ty­rosol is present in EVOO have been pub­lished by researchers over the years.

Today these meth­ods allow extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­ers to estab­lish the phe­nol and polyphe­nol vol­umes in their prod­ucts and how they vary through the years.

Only some pro­duc­ers cur­rently include the polyphe­nol con­tent of their extra vir­gin olive oil labels. Still, the phe­no­lic pro­file of an EVOO is becom­ing increas­ingly rel­e­vant to con­sumers.

Know the Basics

Things to know about olive oil, from the Olive Oil Times Education Lab.

  • Extra vir­gin olive oil (EVOO) is sim­ply juice extracted from olives with­out any indus­trial pro­cess­ing or addi­tives. It must be bit­ter, fruity and pun­gent — and free of defects.

  • There are hun­dreds of olive vari­eties used to make oils with unique sen­sory pro­files, just as many vari­eties of grapes are used in wines. An EVOO can be made with just one vari­ety (mono­va­ri­etal) or sev­eral (blend).

  • Extra vir­gin olive oil con­tains healthy phe­no­lic com­pounds. Substituting a mere two table­spoons of EVOO per day instead of less healthy fats has been shown to improve health.

  • Producing high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil is an excep­tion­ally dif­fi­cult and costly task. Harvesting olives ear­lier retains more nutri­ents and extends shelf life, but the yield is far less than that of fully ripe olives that have lost much of their healthy com­pounds.

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