Health

How Olive Oil Can Help Fight India's Deadly Trend

Hydroxytyrosol's potential in preventing mercury-related cytotoxicity may make olive oil an excellent nutritional resource to help combat a growing health crisis in India, research shows.

Dec. 9, 2016
By Sonal Panse

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The rising levels of mer­cury (Hg) con­t­a­m­i­na­tion in India, through envi­ron­men­tal, indus­trial, med­ical, and nutri­tional sources, are rapidly lead­ing to what could become a major public health crisis in the coun­try. The adverse effects are already evi­dent in the reported increase in can­cers, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases, kidney ail­ments, neu­ronal dis­or­ders, psy­chi­atric dis­or­ders, and vision impair­ment.

Researchers sug­gest that the dietary inclu­sion of phy­to­chem­i­cals, like those present in olive oil, may help mit­i­gate these health con­cerns to a con­sid­er­able degree. Virgin olive oil con­tains a number of phe­no­lic antiox­i­dants that have known health ben­e­fits, and one of these antiox­i­dants, hydrox­y­ty­rosol (HT), has proven to be effec­tive against Hg-induced tox­i­c­ity.
See more: Olive Oil Health Benefits
In gen­eral, once Hg is ingested, inhaled, or absorbed into the body, it may either be expelled nat­u­rally after a period of time, par­tic­u­larly if the poi­son­ing sources are curbed, or it may accu­mu­late within the cells. In the latter case, the Hg accu­mu­la­tion then begins to dis­rupt the cel­lu­lar processes and brings about adverse mor­pho­log­i­cal changes that can destroy the cel­lu­lar struc­tures and lead to long-term organ damage. The kid­neys and the brain, espe­cially in young chil­dren, are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to mer­cury tox­i­c­ity.

The use of HT in such cases is rec­om­mended since the phe­no­lic phy­to­chem­i­cal, along with being non-toxic and anti-inflam­ma­tory, is capa­ble of dif­fus­ing through cell mem­branes and has metal-chelat­ing prop­er­ties that can coun­ter­act Hg-induced cyto­tox­i­c­ity.

Experiments car­ried out by Manna et al. show that HT sig­nif­i­cantly reduces the for­ma­tion of reac­tive oxygen species (ROS) caused by Hg expo­sure. The research was pub­lished in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences.

ROS are oxygen-based reac­tive mol­e­cules that, in high levels, can bring about apop­to­sis; that is, they can cause the cell to self-destruct. It is nec­es­sary for cell sur­vival then to detox ROS and, to do this, the nat­ural defense system releases antiox­i­dants like glu­tathione. Continued Hg expo­sure can, how­ever, deplete the glu­tathione levels and under­mine the antiox­i­dant defense. HT can pre­vent just this deple­tion and thereby allow glu­tathione to carry out its pro­tec­tive task.

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Manna et al. also observed HT’s poten­tial in pre­vent­ing the for­ma­tion of echinocytes. These are red blood cells (RBCs) that, with Hg expo­sure, form abnor­mal, uni­formly placed spiny growths on the cell mem­branes. Echinocytes are pro-coag­u­lant and can bring about Hg-induced rup­tur­ing known as hemol­y­sis and lead to throm­botic dis­ease. Increased echinocyte for­ma­tion also raises the risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar damage.

Given the effec­tive­ness of HT’s antiox­i­dant prop­er­ties, it is clearly an excel­lent nutri­tional resource for treat­ing Hg-induced health prob­lems. Using olive oil in the reg­u­lar diet may, there­fore, prove to be of immense ben­e­fit in India.

That said, the inclu­sion of olive oil in daily cook­ing may require more wide­spread health-based aware­ness than what exists already, since, gen­er­ally, people tend to go with what they have always used and what does­n’t alter the taste or flavor that they are accus­tomed to.

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The high price of olive oil, much of which is imported, also tends to put it out of reach of the sec­tion of pop­u­la­tion that it can most ben­e­fit. The cul­ti­va­tion of olives in Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh and the pro­duc­tion of olive oil in India may, hope­fully, make it more acces­si­ble soon to the gen­eral public.