Health

Olive Oil Improves Blood Lipid Profile, Reduces Risk of Heart Disease

Mar. 31, 2015
By Sukhsatej Batra

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‘Olive Oil as Medicine: the Effect on Lipids and Lipoproteins’, the first report in a series released this month by the UC Davis Olive Center, makes three key find­ings on the use of extra virgin olive oil to pre­vent chronic dis­eases.

  • Daily intake of two table­spoons of extra virgin olive oil improves blood lipid pro­file, which may reduce risk of heart dis­ease.
  • To attain the health ben­e­fits of extra virgin olive oil, select EVOOs that are rich in phe­nols.
  • Although food labels do not list EVOO phenol con­tent and qual­ity, choose high-qual­ity EVOOs that are pack­aged in dark con­tain­ers with a har­vest date clos­est to the most recent season.

Authors of the report, researchers Mary Flynn and Selina Wang, reviewed data from human stud­ies car­ried out from January 1998 to December 2014 to deter­mine if extra virgin olive oil intake affected cir­cu­lat­ing levels of low-den­sity lipopro­teins (LDL), very low-den­sity lipopro­teins (VLDL), and high-den­sity lipopro­teins (HDL).
See more: UC Davis Report: Olive Oil as Medicine
Unable to dis­solve in the blood, cho­les­terol trav­els through the blood­stream bound to pro­tein car­ri­ers called lipopro­teins, which may be LDL, HDL and VLDL based on the amount of lipids they con­tain. LDL con­tains high amounts of cho­les­terol, which it deliv­ers to the cells in the body. Although essen­tial for normal func­tion­ing of the cells, at high con­cen­tra­tions low-den­sity lipopro­teins may deposit in the arter­ies, decrease blood flow to the heart and increase the risk of a heart attack. Maintaining healthy LDL levels is, there­fore, essen­tial to main­tain­ing heart health.

The Seven Countries Study on rates of heart dis­ease pub­lished in 1970 was the first to high­light the lower inci­dence of heart dis­eases in coun­tries where olive oil, as part of the Mediterranean diet, reduced risk of heart dis­ease.

In the new report, the authors found strong evi­dence of the ben­e­fits of EVOO in reduc­ing blood cho­les­terol levels. Based on their review, they sug­gest that an intake of 1.5 table­spoons or 20 grams of EVOO every day for at least six weeks could be effec­tive in low­er­ing LDL levels by at least 10 per­cent. Use of high-qual­ity olive oil with levels of total phe­nols of more than 300 mg/kg could be even more effec­tive in low­er­ing LDL levels in a shorter time.

Studies show that another pos­i­tive effect of EVOO is its role in reduc­ing oxi­da­tion of LDL. Oxidized LDL, believed to be more dam­ag­ing to the arte­r­ial wall than native LDL cho­les­terol, causes tissue injury and pro­motes the devel­op­ment of ath­er­o­scle­rotic lesions. Intake of 25 ml of high-qual­ity EVOO, which has a phenol con­tent of more than 400 mg/kg may reduce LDL oxi­da­tion in as little as four days. However, EVOO with total phenol con­tent of 150 mg/kg may decrease LDL oxi­da­tion in less than four weeks.

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While high levels of LDL are dele­te­ri­ous to health, high levels of HDL are actu­ally ben­e­fi­cial to heart health as these lipopro­teins remove LDL cho­les­terol from the arter­ies. The report found that about two table­spoons of EVOO may increase HDL levels in just four days. EVOO with higher phenol con­tent could pos­si­bly be more effec­tive in rais­ing HDL levels than those with lower phenol con­tent.

The report also found evi­dence that EVOO intake as part of a meal could improve VLDL or fast­ing triglyc­eride levels.

All the lit­er­a­ture reviewed for the report leads to the con­clu­sion that EVOO with a high phenol con­tent improves lipid pro­file and reduces the risk of heart dis­ease. A major draw­back is lack of infor­ma­tion on phe­no­lic con­tent of EVOO on food labels, which varies with vari­ety of olives, as well as the soil, irri­ga­tion, cli­mate, ripeness, and extrac­tion meth­ods used to extract the oil.

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A 2010 UC Davis study found that phenol con­tent of com­mer­cially avail­able olive oil may range from as little as 80 mg/kg to as high as 450 mg/kg, and phe­no­lic con­tent dimin­ishes with time. To ensure that you have the best EVOO, the authors of the report rec­om­mend buying extra virgin olive oil that has the most recent har­vest date and is in a con­tainer that pro­tects it from light.

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