Understanding the Positive Effects of Extra Virgin Olive Oil on Cardiovascular Diseases

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide. Research links extra virgin olive oil consumption with better heart health.
By Paolo DeAndreis
Jul. 10, 2024 15:11 UTC

Cardiovascular dis­eases are the lead­ing cause of death glob­ally.

CVDs encom­pass a range of con­di­tions affect­ing the heart and blood ves­sels. The most preva­lent among these are coro­nary heart dis­ease, rheumatic heart dis­ease and cere­brovas­cu­lar dis­ease.

See Also:Olive Oil Basics

The New York State Department of Health recently reported that about 695,000 Americans die from heart dis­ease annu­ally, rep­re­sent­ing one in five deaths in the coun­try. Globally, the World Health Organization esti­mates that car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease accounts for 32 per­cent of all deaths.

While car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases are trig­gered by var­i­ous fac­tors, includ­ing genet­ics, pol­lu­tion and lifestyle, a grow­ing body of research links daily con­sump­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil, the high­est-qual­ity olive oil cat­e­gory, to sig­nif­i­cantly reduc­ing the risk of devel­op­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases.

The evi­dence behind olive oil’s deci­sive impact

A large-scale trial con­ducted on thou­sands of indi­vid­u­als in Spain dur­ing the 2010s demon­strated that adher­ence to the Mediterranean diet and daily con­sump­tion of olive oil sig­nif­i­cantly reduce car­dio­vas­cu­lar events in at-risk patients com­pared to a generic low-fat diet.

The PREDIMED (PREvención con DIeta MEDiterránea) study, pub­lished in the New England Journal of Medicine, laid the foun­da­tions for fur­ther research world­wide.

The Seven Countries Study, con­ducted since the 1950s across the U.S., Finland, Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia and Japan, also con­firmed the crit­i­cal role of olive oil and the Mediterranean diet in reduc­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases.

This exten­sive epi­demi­o­log­i­cal study involved 12,000 mid­dle-aged men, reveal­ing that daily con­sump­tion of unsat­u­rated fats, such as olive oil, and adher­ence to the Mediterranean diet sig­nif­i­cantly lower heart dis­ease risks.

See Also:Health News

These stud­ies con­firmed the sig­nif­i­cant impact of dietary behav­ior on cho­les­terol lev­els and other con­di­tions related to the devel­op­ment of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases.

As a result of these stud­ies, hun­dreds of sci­en­tific pub­li­ca­tions have explored the unique role of olive oil in human health in recent decades.

Olive oil’s ben­e­fi­cial effects are attrib­uted mainly to its high con­tent of monoun­sat­u­rated fats. The polyphe­nols found in the high­est grade of olive oil, extra vir­gin olive oil, fur­ther enhance these health ben­e­fits.

The role of monoun­sat­u­rated fatty acids (MUFAs)

Oleic acid, a monoun­sat­u­rated fatty acid (MUFA), is a crit­i­cal com­po­nent of olive oil and is cred­ited with many of the sig­nif­i­cant health ben­e­fits asso­ci­ated with its con­sump­tion.

It is impor­tant to note that extra vir­gin olive oil con­sists of 60 to 83 per­cent MUFAs,” said Bruno Tuttolomondo, a full pro­fes­sor of inter­nal med­i­cine at the University of Palermo and direc­tor of the inter­nal med­i­cine with stroke care unit at Policlinico Hospital in Palermo.

The remain­ing com­po­si­tion includes small per­cent­ages of sat­u­rated fatty acids, such as palmitic acid and stearic acid,” he added. Along with polyun­sat­u­rated fats, monoun­sat­u­rated fats are con­sid­ered good fats.’”


Tuttolomondo said research indi­cates that a high per­cent­age of MUFAs play a cru­cial role in pre­vent­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases.

This is because MUFAs influ­ence cho­les­terol and LDL lev­els, reduce LDL oxi­da­tion and affect the com­po­si­tion of ath­er­o­scle­rotic plaques, thereby exert­ing a car­dio­pro­tec­tive role,” he said.

LDL stands for a low-den­sity com­bi­na­tion of fat and pro­tein. It is a type of cho­les­terol that can accu­mu­late in the blood­stream and form plaques in the arter­ies, lead­ing to ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis.

MUFAs are not the only impor­tant com­po­nents of extra vir­gin olive oil, but they are the most abun­dant,” Tuttolomondo said. This alone qual­i­fies extra vir­gin olive oil as one of the good fats.’”

Polyphenols are crit­i­cal to CVD risk reduc­tion

Polyphenols are a diverse group of hun­dreds of sub­stances found in many foods.

Extra vir­gin olive oil con­tains dozens of these polyphe­nols, which are rare and espe­cially valu­able due to their high bioavail­abil­ity.

This means that, once con­sumed, they reach areas of the body where they can exert their effects, includ­ing potent antiox­i­dant and anti-inflam­ma­tory prop­er­ties.

Polyphenols cer­tainly play a role in car­dio­vas­cu­lar health and are the sub­ject of sig­nif­i­cant research due to their car­dio­pro­tec­tive actions,” Tuttolomondo said.

One of the most researched polyphe­nols for cho­les­terol and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases is oleu­ropein.

Many researchers, includ­ing [Francesco] Violi’s team at La Sapienza University in Rome, are inves­ti­gat­ing oleu­ropein,” Tuttolomondo said. They dis­cov­ered that oleu­ropein helps sta­bi­lize lipid plaques and reduce LDL oxi­da­tion.”

They also found that it mod­u­lates the impact of dia­betes on vas­cu­lar and car­dio­vas­cu­lar health,” he added.

EVOO might enhance dia­betes pre­ven­tion

According to the World Health Organization, 422 mil­lion peo­ple have dia­betes glob­ally. Research has shown that extra vir­gin olive oil and adher­ence to the Mediterranean diet can sig­nif­i­cantly lower the risk of devel­op­ing the dis­ease.

Diabetes is linked to car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases because it can lead to exces­sive sugar in the blood, which can dam­age the blood ves­sels that sup­ply the heart. This dam­age can reduce the sup­ply of oxy­gen and nutri­ents to the heart, sig­nif­i­cantly increas­ing the risk of heart dis­ease.

For some time, the impact of extra vir­gin olive oil on dia­betes was eval­u­ated indi­rectly,” Tuttolomondo said. In numer­ous stud­ies, includ­ing those con­ducted by my research group, we ana­lyzed adher­ence to the Mediterranean diet, which con­sid­ers extra vir­gin olive oil the pri­mary fat. It is well known that adher­ence to the Mediterranean diet results in a lower inci­dence of dia­betes.”

See Also:Biophenols in EVOO Linked to Improved Outcomes in Obesity and Prediabetes

Further research has built on these find­ings. We now know that extra vir­gin olive oil and phe­nols such as oleu­ropein have effects sim­i­lar to some com­pounds used in dia­betes ther­a­pies, as they increase insulin sen­si­tiv­ity,” Tuttolomondo said.

We now have strong evi­dence of the pre­ven­tive role and reg­u­la­tion of glycemic lev­els by daily and reg­u­lar con­sump­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil, espe­cially when con­sumed for many years,” he added.

While you can­not expect to lower blood sugar by sim­ply eat­ing a salad with extra vir­gin olive oil, daily, famil­ial and tra­di­tional con­sump­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil has proven effec­tive in reduc­ing the preva­lence of dia­betes,” he noted.

Olive oil is the health­ier, tastier fat choice

One of the unique qual­i­ties of extra vir­gin olive oil is its fla­vor. In addi­tion to its wide-rang­ing health ben­e­fits, it also offers an exquis­ite taste,” Tuttolomondo said. No other cook­ing fat com­bines favor­able organolep­tic prop­er­ties with ben­e­fi­cial nutri­ents like extra vir­gin olive oil. It is a small mir­a­cle, com­bin­ing health and taste.”

However, he empha­sized that other fats can also ben­e­fit human health.

Consider polyun­sat­u­rated fats like Omega‑3 and Omega‑6, which have been shown to play a role in car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease pre­ven­tion. Still, none of them com­pare to extra vir­gin olive oil in daily use,” Tuttolomondo said. Extra vir­gin olive oil is the cen­ter­piece of every lunch and din­ner for those who fol­low the Mediterranean diet.”

When we talk about Omega‑3 and Omega‑6, we think of fats from blue fish or almond extracts. While some peo­ple eat five almonds for lunch, it’s imprac­ti­cal to base a diet on almonds,” he added.

See Also:The Flavors of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Healthy fats like pump­kin seed or flaxseed oil have ben­e­fi­cial pro­files but do not offer the same organolep­tic prop­er­ties as extra vir­gin olive oil.

They are ben­e­fi­cial fats, but con­sider flaxseed oil; it has no fla­vor, so it can­not moti­vate peo­ple through taste,” Tuttolomondo said. In my opin­ion, we need to attract peo­ple to pre­ven­tion by appeal­ing to their sense of taste.”

Meanwhile, avo­cado oil has been the sub­ject of sev­eral stud­ies. From a palata­bil­ity stand­point, it is vir­tu­ally fla­vor­less,” Tuttolomondo said. It con­tains a sig­nif­i­cant amount of polyun­sat­u­rated fats, but I don’t think there are enough stud­ies on its polyphe­no­lic con­tent.”

How much EVOO should be con­sumed?

Extra vir­gin olive oil should be con­sumed daily to reap its health ben­e­fits.

However, not all extra vir­gin olive oils are the same. While oleu­ropein and other polyphe­nols can sig­nif­i­cantly ben­e­fit human health, the amount and type of phe­nols vary among extra vir­gin olive oils.

Polyphenol con­tent depends on fac­tors includ­ing cul­ti­var, cul­ti­va­tion area, pro­cess­ing meth­ods, and exter­nal tem­per­a­ture,” Tuttolomondo said. There is a thresh­old of polyphe­nol con­tent that char­ac­ter­izes a high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil.”

See Also:Tips for Selecting High-Polyphenol Olive Oils

Polyphenols are one of the cri­te­ria for eval­u­at­ing extra vir­gin olive oil,” he added. To have a sig­nif­i­cant effect, it should con­tain no less than 250 to 350 mil­ligrams per kilo­gram.”

It has been hypoth­e­sized that higher lev­els of polyphe­nols cor­re­spond to greater car­dio­pro­tec­tive effects,” Tuttolomondo con­tin­ued. However, we should always remem­ber the key role played by MUFAs, which are the foun­da­tion of all extra vir­gin olive oils.”

While exces­sive olive oil con­sump­tion can lead to exces­sive calo­rie intake, researchers have worked to define rec­om­mended daily doses of extra vir­gin olive oil.

Many stud­ies indi­cate that 20 grams of extra vir­gin olive oil can opti­mize the ben­e­fits of the Mediterranean diet,” Tuttolomondo said. This equates to about one to one and a half table­spoons.”

However, inter­ven­tion stud­ies have eval­u­ated up to four table­spoons per day for car­dio­vas­cu­lar effects,” he added. Considering weight reg­u­la­tion and over­all caloric intake, I would say that the more EVOO we con­sume, the bet­ter.”

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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