It has been demonstrated that olive oil plays an important role in the immune system.

What is the immune system?

The immune system defends the body against invasion by foreign substances (toxins, microorganisms, parasites, tumour processes, etc.) by coordinating specific and non-specific mechanisms.

The non-specific or innate defenses are the front-line protection against microorganisms. They are made up of the skin, mucous membranes, the complement system (the complement, a group of some 20 proteins manufactured in the liver, helps to destroy micro-organisms) hormonal factors, etc. and their action is not affected by prior contact with the foreign substance.

Specific mechanisms occur following exposure to the substance and they require the involvement of the B-lymphocytes (humoral system) and the T-lymphocytes (cell system).

Innate immunity responds in a similar way to the majority of microbes whereas the specific immune response varies according to the type of microorganism in order to eliminate it as effectively as possible.

Olive oil and the immune system

It has been documented that olive oil intake bolsters the immune system against external attacks from microorganisms, bacteria or viruses.

It has been known for some time that mineral and vitamin deficiencies can have an adverse effect on the immune system.

Recent research has concluded that the fatty acids in the make-up of olive oil are good allies in lowering important immunological parameters such as the proliferation of lymphocytes induced by specific mitogens of both B- and T-cells.

These fatty acids have been reported to play an important part in various immune functions. They are involved in regulating inflammatory processes and they may be effective in the treatment of some autoimmune diseases and in the regulation of the immune system in general.

Olive oil and rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory immune disease of unknown causes that affects the joints. Genes, infective factors, hormones and diet have been suggested as possible associates in its onset. Although some studies had suggested that olive oil could help to alleviate its symptoms they did not provide confirmation of such a protective effect.

Now, the results of a recently published study suggest that regular consumption of olive oil may reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

According to the authors of the study, the people on diets containing high levels of olive oil had less risk of suffering this disease. The study found that the people who consumed less olive oil had 2.5 times more possibility of developing rheumatoid arthritis than those who consumed it more frequently.

Although the mechanism involved is not yet clear, antioxidants are suspected to exert a beneficial effect.

Source: International Olive Council

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