Olive Oil and Infection

Various studies show olive oil is beneficial for infection and infectious diseases having antibacterial, antiviral and antimicrobial effects.

May. 17, 2016
By Jedha Dening

Recent News

Dozens of phe­no­lic com­pounds have been iden­ti­fied in extra vir­gin olive oil (EVOO), each with their own unique health ben­e­fits. One of the ben­e­fits of these com­pounds is they have high bioavail­abil­ity, exten­sive research report­ing the anti-inflam­ma­tory, antimi­cro­bial, antibac­te­r­ial and antivi­ral prop­er­ties obtained from these com­pounds.

Infections or infec­tious dis­eases are caused by viruses, bac­te­ria, par­a­sites, fungi and var­i­ous other dis­ease caus­ing agents. Once an infec­tion is con­tracted, the human body relies on the immune sys­tem to fight the infec­tion through a range of cel­lu­lar, inflam­ma­tory, and immune reac­tions. Although there are med­ica­tions to treat infec­tion, nat­u­rally derived food sources such as EVOO also show promise in pre­vent­ing and treat­ing infec­tion also.

Early in vitro stud­ies showed that sev­eral polyphe­nols in olive oil have antibac­te­r­ial prop­er­ties against human pathogens, par­tic­u­larly oleu­ropein, tyrosol, and hydrox­y­ty­rosol. In a 5 minute room tem­per­a­ture test, hydrox­y­ty­rosol, and tyrosol decreased the activ­ity of Listeria mono­cy­to­genes, the bac­te­ria con­tracted from con­t­a­m­i­nated food that causes the bac­te­r­ial infec­tion known as Listeriosis.

Decarboxymethyl eleno­lic acid (EDA), p‑HPEA-EDA, and 3,4‑DHPEA-EDA have been shown to have greater antimi­cro­bial activ­ity than the com­mer­cial dis­in­fec­tants glu­taralde­hyde and ortho- phtha­lalde­hyde. The phe­no­lic com­pound oleo­can­thal has been shown to inhibit the growth of Helicobacter pylori bac­te­ria, a bac­te­ria asso­ci­ated with pep­tic ulcer and gas­tric can­cer devel­op­ment.

Hydroxytyrosol and oleu­ropein have been shown to have antivi­ral activ­ity in a dose-depen­dent man­ner. They were shown to inhibit the main viral fus­ing pro­tein in human immun­od­e­fi­ciency virus (HIV)-1 tar­get cells. Hydroxytyrosol has been shown to dis­rupt the influenza virus. Oleuropein has been shown to have anti-hepati­tis B activ­ity.


Although all of the above ben­e­fits have been dis­cov­ered, these effects have only been demon­strated through in vitro stud­ies at this stage. However, there have also been sev­eral ani­mal and human stud­ies that do show the ben­e­fits of EVOO for infec­tion.

In rab­bits, acute pyelonephri­tis, a kid­ney infec­tion caused by bac­te­ria was induced. Doses of 21 mg oleu­ropein were injected to the ani­mals. Oleuropein alone or in con­junc­tion with reg­u­lar kid­ney infec­tion med­ica­tions pro­longed the rab­bits sur­vival.

In recent times, researchers have begun to under­stand the role of intesti­nal microor­gan­isms (gut microbes) in the over­all health of the immune sys­tem. Therefore, pro­tec­tion against the growth of cer­tain microor­gan­isms can help in the treat­ment of some infec­tious dis­eases.

Because the skin of preterm infants is not com­pletely devel­oped, they are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to skin infec­tions due to highly path­o­genic microor­gan­isms. Therefore, alter­ing the skin micro­biota could reduce infec­tions and pro­vide addi­tional ben­e­fits. A case-con­trol study, pub­lished in Early Human Development, 2010, aimed to inves­ti­gate if olive oil (OO) appli­ca­tion could influ­ence the skin’s micro­biota com­po­si­tion. Thirty-five very low birth weight infants were ran­dom­ized to either daily skin appli­ca­tion of olive oil or rou­tine skin care for the first two weeks of life. A vari­ety of bac­te­ria were eval­u­ated with both appli­ca­tions show­ing ben­e­fi­cial results. Though no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences were estab­lished between OO or a reg­u­lar skin­care rou­tine, what the study showed is that OO is just as effec­tive and is also well tol­er­ated by preterm infants as a pre­bi­otic enhanc­ing agent.

A study, pub­lished in Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2016, estab­lished that changes in gut microbes in sub­jects with meta­bolic syn­drome had immune enhanc­ing effects. The authors con­clud­ing that the con­sump­tion of a Mediterranean diet increased the abun­dance of the Bacteroides genus mem­ber B. thetaio­taomi­cron and F. praus­nitzii, which sug­gest that the con­sump­tion of this diet may increase or main­tain a micro­biota with anti­in­flam­ma­tory capa­bil­ity.”

A pres­sure ulcer is a skin lesion, an infected wound that is pro­duced sec­ondary to inad­e­quate blood sup­ply to the area. Pressure ulcers are a com­mon skin issue in immo­bi­lized patients. In a study, pub­lished in the PLOS ONE, 2015, researchers dis­cov­ered that top­i­cal appli­ca­tion of EVOO is a more cost-effec­tive alter­na­tive for treat­ing pres­sure ulcers in immo­bi­lized patients with the same ben­e­fi­cial out­comes as com­monly used HOFA skin care prod­ucts.

Fatty acids, also known as dietary lipids, are also involved in the mod­u­la­tion of the immune sys­tem and inflam­ma­tory processes. Oleuropein agly­cone inhibits the proin­flam­ma­tory mol­e­cule TNF‑a. Hydroxytyrosol has been shown to reduce TNF‑a and interleukin‑1 beta with promis­ing effects on other key proin­flam­ma­tory mol­e­cules. Tyrosol has been shown to inhibit COX‑2. And oleo­can­thal has exten­sive research sur­round­ing its anti-inflam­ma­tory ben­e­fits for pre­vent­ing and treat­ing var­i­ous health con­di­tions.

A ran­dom­ized, sin­gle-blinded study in Nutrition & Metabolism, 2015, aimed to deter­mine the effect on immune responses when replac­ing oils in a typ­i­cal American diet with EVOO for a 3 month period. Forty-one obese or over­weight sub­jects were ran­dom­ized to EVOO or a mix­ture of corn, soy­bean oil and but­ter (CON). The EVOO group saw decreases in blood pres­sure, increases in HDL cho­les­terol lev­els, and in direct rela­tion to the immune sys­tem, increased anti-CD3/anti-CD28 stim­u­lated T cell pro­lif­er­a­tion, show­ing clear immuno­log­i­cal health ben­e­fits.

Overall, the results of both in vitro and in vivo stud­ies show that OO is ben­e­fi­cial for var­i­ous infec­tions and infec­tious dis­eases. Best of all, it’s a nat­ural food source that is read­ily avail­able to every­one and comes with no side effects.

Updated Nov. 16, 2021 06:51 UTC


Related Articles

Feedback / Suggestions