Replacing Saturated Fats With Olive Oil Saves Lives, Harvard Research Suggests

Common causes of illness and death may be lowered significantly by swapping butter, margarine and mayonnaise for olive oil.

By Paolo DeAndreis
Jan. 17, 2022 10:13 UTC

The results of the first long-term inves­ti­ga­tion into the impact of olive oil con­sump­tion in the United States demon­strate that most Americans could greatly ben­e­fit from replac­ing the sat­u­rated fats in their diets with olive oil and extra vir­gin olive oil.

Common causes of ill­ness or death, such as car­dio­vas­cu­lar and res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases, dia­betes, can­cer and neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­or­ders con­nected to brain aging, are cur­tailed up to 20 or 30 per­cent by the long-term use of healthy unsat­u­rated olive oil.

Replacing 10 grams of mar­garine, but­ter, may­on­naise or dairy fat with the same amount of olive oil was asso­ci­ated with eight to 34 per­cent lower risk of total and cause-spe­cific mor­tal­ity.- Marta Guasch-Ferre, senior research sci­en­tist, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

The lat­est research pub­lished in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology by a team of sci­en­tists from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s nutri­tion depart­ment inves­ti­gated the impact of olive oil on a large sam­ple of the American pub­lic for the first time.

In two large cohort stud­ies with up to 30 years of fol­low-up, peo­ple who ate higher amounts of olive oil showed a lower risk of all-cause and cause-spe­cific mor­tal­ity com­pared to peo­ple who never or almost never eat olive oil,” Marta Guasch-Ferre, a senior research sci­en­tist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and co-author of the study, told Olive Oil Times.

See Also:Olive Oil Health Benefits

The sci­en­tists used mul­ti­vari­able-adjusted mod­els to exam­ine the results of the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study con­ducted between 1990 and 2018, which involved more than 60,000 women and more than 31,000 men.

All sub­jects were free of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease and can­cer at the begin­ning of the study. Their diets were assessed every four years.

The researchers found that those who con­sumed olive oil more often would have a 19-per­cent lower risk of dying from car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, 17 per­cent from can­cer and 18 per­cent from res­pi­ra­tory dis­ease.

They also found that deaths occur­ring due to neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases fell by 29 per­cent.

The research high­lights how even a par­tial sub­sti­tu­tion of daily sat­u­rated fat con­sump­tion with olive oil can still carry sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits.

Replacing 10 grams of mar­garine, but­ter, may­on­naise or dairy fat with the same amount of olive oil was asso­ci­ated with eight to 34 per­cent lower risk of total and cause-spe­cific mor­tal­ity,” Guasch-Ferre said.

According to the researchers, there is a grow­ing body of lit­er­a­ture about the ben­e­fits of reduc­ing ani­mal fat and sat­u­rated fat intake in favor of veg­etable oils.

The main mes­sage is that our results pro­vide fur­ther sup­port for rec­om­men­da­tions to replace sat­u­rated fat and ani­mal fat with unsat­u­rated plant oils, such as olive oil, for the pre­ven­tion of pre­ma­ture death,” Guasch-Ferre said.

Olive oil cul­ture and olive oil’s health ben­e­fits are not yet wide­spread in American cul­ture, while fats such as but­ter and mar­garine are a well-estab­lished part of most peo­ple’s diet.

Researchers hope that their find­ings will also help both patients and the gen­eral pub­lic bet­ter under­stand the sig­nif­i­cant impact of health­ier fats and how to imple­ment them into their diets.

Indeed, the con­sump­tion of olive oil was lower than other stud­ies I have con­ducted pre­vi­ously in Mediterranean pop­u­la­tions,” Guasch-Ferre said. Also, another lim­i­ta­tion was that we could not dif­fer­en­ti­ate among grades of olive oil.”

See Also:Dementia Rates Set to Triple by 2050, Latest Research Indicates

It is known that extra-vir­gin and vir­gin are a good source of healthy fats, but they also con­tain high amounts of other bioac­tive com­pounds such as polyphe­nols and antiox­i­dants that have shown anti-inflam­ma­tory and antiox­i­dant prop­er­ties,” she added.

In our study, we showed that in sta­tis­ti­cal mod­els when olive oil was replac­ing but­ter, may­on­naise, mar­garine and other ani­mal fats, it was asso­ci­ated with lower risk of total mor­tal­ity and mor­tal­ity from causes such as can­cer, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease or neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases,” Guasch-Ferre con­tin­ued.


Previous stud­ies have shown how spe­cific olive oil con­tents may affect can­cer pro­gres­sion and serve as treat­ment ther­a­pies.

For exam­ple, the National Cancer Institute is research­ing oleo­can­thal, a polyphe­nol, for its poten­tial to help pre­vent breast can­cer. Researchers from the University of Louisiana-Monroe are also inves­ti­gat­ing the use of oleo­can­thal in treat­ing the dead­liest type of breast can­cer.

Other research has demon­strated how olive oil con­sump­tion could pos­i­tively impact neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases, such as Alzheimer’s dis­ease, by pre­vent­ing the buildup of plaque in the brain.

Olive oil-spe­cific prop­er­ties were taken into account by Harvard researchers while inves­ti­gat­ing their asso­ci­a­tion with reduced mor­tal­ity among olive oil con­sumers.

Several mech­a­nisms could account for the asso­ci­a­tions,” Guasch-Ferre said. Olive oil is high in oleic acid and is less sus­cep­ti­ble to oxi­da­tion than more unsat­u­rated fatty acids. It has also been observed that olive oil can have favor­able effects on endothe­lial dys­func­tion, hyper­ten­sion, inflam­ma­tion, insulin sen­si­tiv­ity and dia­betes.”

We exam­ined the impact as a whole, and also impor­tantly, the hypo­thet­i­cal effects of reduc­ing other fats by increas­ing olive oil intake,” she added.

In an accom­pa­ny­ing edi­to­r­ial on the Journal, Susanna Larsson of Uppsala University in Sweden noted how more research is needed to fully under­stand olive oil’s impact on health.

To sum­ma­rize, the cur­rent study and pre­vi­ous stud­ies have found that con­sump­tion of olive oil may have health ben­e­fits,” she wrote. However, sev­eral ques­tions remain. Are the asso­ci­a­tions causal or spu­ri­ous? Is olive oil con­sump­tion pro­tec­tive for cer­tain car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases (e.g., stroke and atrial fib­ril­la­tion) only or also for other major dis­eases and causes of death? What is the amount of olive oil required for a pro­tec­tive effect?”

More research is needed to address these ques­tions,” she con­cluded.

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