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Olive Oil Reports: Cardiovascular and Two Anti-inflammatory Healthy Benefits (Rheumatoid Arthritis and Inflammatory Bowel Disease)

Olive Oil’s Health Benefits: Cardiovascular and Anti-inflammatory

Numerous modern scientific studies have tested the health benefits of olive oil, validating what ancient Mediterranean cultures have long understood: the traditional Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil as its primary fat source, is a cornerstone of healthy eating.

The Mediterranean diet, rooted in the culinary traditions of countries like Greece, Italy, Spain, etc. revolves around fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, and moderate amounts of poultry and fish. Red meat is consumed sparingly, while herbs, spices, and extra virgin olive oil are used liberally to enhance flavor and nutritional value. Meals are often shared with family and friends, underscoring the cultural significance of food as a communal experience.

While the Mediterranean diet has been revered for centuries, modern scientific research has increasingly affirmed its health-promoting properties.

Today we are looking at two (will will address others in future posts) where the benefits associated with extra virgin olive oil—the hallmark of Mediterranean cuisine—are now supported by modern scientific testing methods.

Cardiovascular Health - Olive Oil's Benefits

In a 2006 study conducted across six research centers in five European countries, using 200 healthy male volunteers, researchers examined the effects of polyphenols in olive oil on heart disease risk factors using International Standard Randomized Controlled Testing. The study found that “olive oil is more than a monounsaturated fat. Its phenolic content can also provide benefits for plasma lipid levels and oxidative damage.[1]” I.e., olive oil, rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases by improving cholesterol levels and reducing inflammation.

A separate Randomized Control Trial (RCT) registered the year before, in 2005, involving “7,216 men and women aged 55 to 80 years at high cardiovascular risk,[2]” that was also multicenter was in agreement with these results. Furthermore, a cohort study, which followed this group over a period of nearly 5 years to assess the continuing impact of olive oil exposure, corroborated these findings.

These two clinical studies using RCTs, which are considered the gold standard in clinical research for evaluating the effectiveness of medical interventions, collectively support the scientific evidence that olive oil positively affects cardiovascular health.

Anti-inflammatory Effects - Olive Oil's Benefits

Olive oil contains phenolic compounds with anti-inflammatory properties, which may reduce the risk of chronic inflammatory diseases.

Some research suggests that its composition of monounsaturated fats and antioxidants may contribute to general health benefits. Among the many illnesses that studies indicate may potentially be improved by olive oil's anti-inflammatory effects are rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases. We will briefly look at these two.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

A Swedish study entitled “An experimental study of a Mediterranean diet intervention for patients with rheumatoid arthritis’ investigated “the efficacy of a Mediterranean diet (MD) [which is high in olive oil usage] versus an ordinary Western diet for suppression of disease activity in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).[3]”

In the scientific context, efficacy is often contrasted with effectiveness. While efficacy refers to the performance of an intervention under ideal or controlled conditions, effectiveness refers to its performance in real-world or everyday settings, where factors such as patient adherence, variability in patient characteristics, and external influences may come into play. In this experimental study, “to achieve good compliance with prescribed diets all patients were for the first three weeks served the MD or the CD [control diet, i.e., Western diet], respectively, for lunch and dinner at the outpatient clinic’s canteen. Clinical examinations were performed at baseline, and again in the 3rd, 6th, and 12th week. A composite disease activity index, a physical function index, a health survey of quality of life, and the daily consumption of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs were used as primary efficacy variables.[4]”

Throughout the study, there were well-defined parameters used to determine if the change in diet achieved its intended goals during the three-month period; that is if the anti-inflammatory effects of the Mediterranean diet (which includes among other things, olive oil), made a difference to patients.

The conclusion indicated that even during this three-month period, in which all but the first three weeks were in a real-world setting, by adjusting to a Mediterranean diet, patients with stable and modestly active rheumatoid arthritis “did obtain a reduction in inflammatory activity, an increase in physical function, and improved vitality.[5]”

Positive news for those who suffer from terrible effects of rheumatoid arthritis and desire to do all that they can to provide their bodies with the necessary naturally obtained chemicals to benefit their health.

Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

A comprehensive 2022 review of databases (PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science), that published articles on olive oil’s effect on Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) and was conducted independently by two authors came to the conclusion that although more research is needed, especially “large-scale, multicentric, randomized control trials that would finally elucidate olive oil’s level of efficacy in modulating the course of IBD,[6]” that the evidence found among the various studies reviewed in the databases provided “solid evidence of the mechanisms by which olive oil and polyphenols like oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol exert their antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and anti-tumor effects.[7]”

While there weren't many clinical studies examining the direct effects of olive oil on IBD, the few studies that did exist demonstrated that patients were able to adhere to treatment regimens involving olive oil and experienced improvements in their well-being. This suggests that the treatments or interventions involving olive oil were potentially effective and safe in managing IBD.

“All of the accumulated evidence sets the Mediterranean Diet and olive oil specifically, as an excellent dietary intervention that may supplement standard IBD medications and help patients in managing their disease.[8]” They again stressed that more clinical research was needed but that the studies they independently reviewed and analyzed were positive.

Global availability

In conclusion, these four documented benefits of extra virgin olive oil, along with those yet to be explored in future research, are undeniably encouraging. What’s particularly promising is the accessibility of this key component of the Mediterranean diet on a global scale. Regardless of where a person lives, integrating extra virgin olive oil into ones culinary practices is not only feasible but also beneficial from a health perspective.

This migration of the palate, inspired by the ancient wisdom of Mediterranean eating, transcends historical origins to become a timeless blueprint for nourishing both body and soul in today’s interconnected world.

Please note: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional for personalized guidance regarding your health and medical conditions.

[1] Covas, M. I., Nyyssönen, K., Poulsen, H. E., Kaikkonen, J., Zunft, H. J. F., Kiesewetter, H., ... & Pedersen, E. (2006). The effect of polyphenols in olive oil on heart disease risk factors: A randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, 145(5), 333-341.

[2] Guasch-Ferré, M., Hu, F. B., & Martínez-González, M. A. (2019). Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED study. BMC Medicine, 17(1), 1-12.

[3] L Sköldstam, L Hagfors, G Johansson. "An experimental study of a Mediterranean diet intervention for patients with rheumatoid arthritis." Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases 2003;62:208–214. Available here.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid

[6] Vrdoljak, J., Kumric, M., Vilovic, M., Martinovic, D., Jeroncic Tomic, I., Krnic, M., ... Bozic, J. (2022). Effects of Olive Oil and Its Components on Intestinal Inflammation and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Nutrients, 14(4), 757.

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

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