Olive Oil

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olive oil

Olive oil is an edible oil that encompasses the secrets to health, radiance, and longevity. It adds a distinct flavor to foods and salads. Regular massage with olive oil promotes supple, nourished skin with an even tone. Civilizations that emerged along the Mediterranean attest to the rejuvenating and nourishing properties of this oil. What is interesting to note is that even modern scientific research is corroborating many of the “claimed” health benefits of olive oil. We shall see that it is not just useful as a healthy cooking oil and for regular skincare. Olive oil, especially of the extra virgin grade, can protect heart disease, slow down the progression of neurodegenerative diseases, prevent metastasis of breast cancer, increase antioxidant defenses to slow down aging, and much more. One of the polyphenols of extra virgin olive oil has been found to improve lifespan, which has been an ancient, deep desire of mankind.

Source

The traditional extraction of extra virgin olive oil is remarkable, and it is one of the gems of our collective cultural knowledge. This is accomplished by using millstones, draught animals, and fiber baskets. Freshly harvested olives are put into the vat over a base rock. Millstone is rotated at a slow speed which grinds and churns the olives into a paste. Granite stone is preferred for millstone. It is hard and very resistant to wear and tear. The pulp is collected and placed into baskets made of fiber. They are placed one over the other as a stack. These are then pressed downwards by a mechanical press. Vertical pressure makes the olive pulp leach oil. This is the purest extra virgin olive oil, produced without any solvents or heat. Because heat is nowhere used in the traditional process, it yields the highest amounts of polyphenols.

Color, Taste, and Aroma

The color of olive oil has always been a matter of controversy. It is widely believed that grassy green is the definitive color of extra virgin olive oil. But this is not always necessary. The color of freshly pressed oil undergoes a slight change after a few days. Chlorophyll compounds lend shades of olive green, bluish-green, and brown to olive oil. Carotenoids lend an intense yellowish-orange color with hints of red. The result is a complex color profile that looks greenish-yellow at the outset. Depending on the relative proportion of chlorophylls and carotenoids, the color of olive oil varies. This in no way means that an extra virgin olive oil should always have a dominant light green color like that of clean grass.

Much can be known about the quality of olive oil from its taste. Although the taste and texture of virgin and extra virgin olive oils vary depending on the cultivar and the region, there can be derived some basic taste properties. Extra virgin olive oil is essentially a bitter oil. This is clear from its first taste itself. It is also an astringent, which means that when we eat or drink EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), it leaves the inside of the mouth dry and pulled up, sort of tightening. It creates a burning sensation at the back of the throat caused by one of the polyphenols in it. This is peppery after taste. However, olive oil also has a fruity element to it. This element comes off as similar to apple and butter, which is strange. But this is what makes olive oil so unique in taste. If the oil has been created using the ancient, traditional method wherein baskets of hemp have been used, the oil would have a mild hemp flavor. Some olive oils may taste similar to grass, peach, or even mint. [1]

Extra virgin olive oil has a mild grassy aroma which feels refreshing. It has volatile aromatic compounds, which can make some people tear up. Olive oil should not have a wine-like aroma. It is quite possibly made from fermented olives if it smells like wine and tastes like overripe grapes. These olives may have been lying far too long between the grinding and pressing process. Such oil should not be consumed; it should be thrown out instantly.

Olive Oil

Properties

Extra virgin olive oil can cause many slow yet beneficial changes in our body chemistry. These are its therapeutic effects.

  • Skin Healing – It is documented that olive oil can make wounds like burns, cuts, and scrapes heal faster.
  • Skin rejuvenation – This effect is due to linoleic acid in it. Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid that our body needs to maintain a very thin oily layer on the top of our epidermis. This protects our skin from dehydration.
  • Emollient – It is a natural moisturizer, primarily due to omega-9 fat called oleic acid and, in some measure, due to palmitic acid. Regular application of olive oil makes the skin smooth.
  • Antioxidant – Polyphenols found exclusively in extra virgin and virgin olive oil make it a very potent antioxidant.
  • Anti-aging – Due to its antioxidant power, it can slow down the decay of cells in our body. Vitamin E protects skin from photoaging caused by the ultraviolet rays of the sun. It contains other antioxidants, too, like carotenoids and chlorophyll. A special polyphenol from EVOO may also be capable to increase lifespan by working on a genetic level.
  • Anti-inflammatory and pain reliever – Due to its inflammation dousing effects, it is useful in relieving pain in conditions even as severe and inflammatory as rheumatoid arthritis. When we drink olive oil, it works similarly to NSAID-type pain medication.
  • Blood Pressure – It is perhaps the best-known edible oil against hypertension.
  • Neuroprotective – Research on special polyphenols from EVOO indicates that they can be used to prevent the manifestation of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and so on.
  • Cardioprotective – It reduces the risk of coronary artery disease and stroke through its antioxidant effect. It prevents the degradation of LDL cholesterol in the most harmful oxy-LDL form, primarily responsible for deposition plaques inside arteries.

Health Benefits and Uses

Olive Oil for Acne

Olive oil is not helpful in acne from a scientific standpoint. It has a moderate pore-clogging potential because its comedogenicity rating is 2. It does not seem to possess any powerful antibacterial activity against the pathogens widely considered responsible for acne. These are the bacteria P. acnes and S. aureus. In practice, however, many people use olive oil as part of the oil cleansing method. And it shows mixed results. Although some people do break out from olive oil, many others have mentioned in prominent forums that regular cleansing of the skin with extra virgin or virgin olive oil has considerably helped lessen acne pimples.

Oil Cleanse Method is slightly detailed but not too intricate. The basic philosophy is that we should clean our face using pure oil instead of regular cleaning with soap and water. Oils that have been used not just for centuries but for millennia do possess remarkable properties. Olive oil has remained a backbone of daily skin care regimen for traditional cultures all around the Mediterranean.

Firstly, the face is cleansed with fresh water, preferably cold. Then the face must be wiped and made dry. After this, Extra virgin olive oil should be massaged into the face. After massaging for only about 5 minutes or so, one would notice bits of gunk accumulating on the fingernails. This is the oil-soluble dirt, products, and dead skin cells “cleansed” off by the oil. Try to get out as much of the gunk as possible. Avoid scraping the skin with the fingernails as this would worsen the inflammation. After most of the dead skin and oily residue has been gently scraped off, make sure to absorb excess oil using cotton balls soaked in plain water or rose extract. This cleansing mechanism can be done each day. If time is a constraint, once a week would also do.

The Oil Cleansing Method does present the risk of increasing oiliness on the face. But it helps to maintain a much cleaner, toned and hydrated facial skin. This regimen can help with acne as well. In some men, even cystic acne responds to extra virgin olive oil.

Extra virgin olive oil delivers potent antioxidants in the form of polyphenols. It also exerts an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin, which reduces redness.

Burn Wounds

Olive oil stands out for its ability to heal burn wounds. In one study, olive oil combined with sea buckthorn oil performed better than commonly available burn wound cream. The combination showed better regeneration of the affected skin (re-epithelialization) and reduced the risk of ulcers. [2] Usually, we find that commonly used cooking oils are not very effective outside the realm of general skincare. But in the case of olive oil, there are incredibly powerful medicinal effects to be witnessed.

Another study highlighted the efficacy of olive oil in burn wound healing at an even deeper level. When patients admitted to burning wards with up to 20% of their entire surface affected by burn injuries were kept on a diet rich in olive oil, they responded faster. The duration of hospitalization was shortened. It was contrasted against sunflower oil. Olive oil aids in wound healing when applied topically and when it is consumed as food. [3]

Olive oil helps the body create new connective tissue where the burn has eaten away at the skin. It promotes the formation of new epithelial cells. These are the cells that make up the epidermis.

Does this mean that whenever we get burned, we should immediately rush for olive oil?

Well no. Olive oil should not be applied immediately after a burn. The first step is to perform first aid. Any burn wound should be thoroughly cleaned and cooled using cool water but not ice-cold water. Do not apply ice onto a burn wound. Also, no kind of fat should be applied. This includes olive oil or butter, or margarine. After the burn is sufficiently cooled down, it is suitable to use Aloe Vera gel. It soothes the skin and prevents it from drying off. Only after this should olive oil be applied. Olive oil as a home remedy should only be used on minor or first-degree burns spread over a small area. If the person is buried deep (second degree) or over a large area of the skin, it is a medical emergency. [4]

Olive oil promotes faster recovery from minor cuts and wounds that do not require hospitalization. It can also reduce the risk of scarring after the injury. However, it is not entirely conclusive whether it helps in acne scars. Some people find that it reduces the visibility of the acne scar. This could be due to a toning effect created by polyphenols (antioxidants) in extra virgin and virgin olive oil. But olive oil does not seem to aid in the repair of the dermis, the deeper layer of the skin. Acne scars are formed due to the damage to the skin’s dermis layer, which is why they are so difficult to heal completely.

Stretch Marks

These are scars caused by tears in the dermis, the layer underneath the outermost layer of skin. Initially, when they are formed, the skin looks reddish or purplish underneath. Over time, the stretch mark lightens in color. If you run your finger across them slowly, you can feel a minute of depression. This groove is the subsidence of skin because of degradation of elastin fibers in the dermis or a tear in the dermis. They are very common both in men and women. Once they are formed, there is very little that can be done. Most of us have them, and we have tried numerous natural and synthetic products and remedies for them. At best, regular application of natural oil can help to diminish their appearance. But it is folly to think that a stretch mark can be eradicated. They never really go away.

Modern treatments for stretch marks are risky and quite dangerous because they have serious side effects. Medication prescribed for stretch marks usually begins with isotretinoin creams. Isotretinoin is toxic to the liver. Dermatological procedures like microdermabrasion and laser treatments can damage our delicate skin. These treatments are also very costly, and even they cannot ensure that stretch marks completely fade away.

It would be prudent to opt for natural remedies to lighten the scars. Olive oil is widely used for this purpose. Firstly, because it is most widely available. Secondly, in ancient Greek civilization, it was used for almost any skincare-related condition. But one can use any oil, like sesame oil, coconut oil, sweet almond oil, etc. Cocoa butter is also a very popular natural remedy for stretch marks, and it is used by millions worldwide.

A daily regimen for stretch marks should address all the major issues of human skin. One should include oil for regular massage. A deep tissue massage helps with stretch marks; it heralds health benefits for the entire body and mind. Oil-based massages dissolve out the muscular strain, relieve stressed nerves, and aid in draining out toxins through the lymphatic system. It keeps skin toned, moisturized and keeps inflammation within check. It is also essential to drink sufficient water. Aloe vera gel can be applied liberally to keep the skin hydrated.

Note- Elevated stress levels can lead to stretch marks. Mayo Clinic reports that if cortisone levels are higher than normal (cortisone is one of the stress hormones released by the adrenal glands), it leads to degradation of elastin fibers in the skin matrix, leading to stretch marks. [5]

Anti-aging

Ancient Greek civilization had long imparted this wisdom that olive oil could arrest the decline of health with age. In some regions of Greece, the traditional ways of life have not been lost. People still consume seemingly high amounts of extra virgin olive oil, freshly cold-pressed from olives dropped down off trees so old they may have seen the entire known human history unfold before them. Now, a scientific basis has emerged that has not only validated the anti-aging credentials of extra virgin olive oil but even tried to quantify the effect.

It is the extra virgin olive oil that is plush with powerful phytonutrients known as polyphenols. They act as antioxidants in the body. As such, they protect cells of our body from degradation by free radicals. New evidence has emerged that tells us that the anti-aging mechanism of polyphenols from EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) works at an even deeper level, the level of genes.

mTOR is one of the genes responsible for carrying out programmed aging. The genetic makeup of each individual is different. And that is why aging progresses differently in other people. mTOR gene can be prompted by our food choices, cytokines (signaling molecules released by our immune system), our inherent growth factors, and even insulin. Excessive activity of the mTOR gene is suppressed by a protein called AMPK. In one revealing study, researchers identified that a class of polyphenols in EVOO, called secoiridoids, bolstered the activity of AMPK. In summary, consumption of EVOO in diet suppressed the excessive activity of the gene related to aging. [6] Researchers witnessed that the anti-aging effect of EVOO is similar to resveratrol. Most of us know resveratrol as a popular supplement that is purportedly taken to slow down aging. The entire family of polyphenols exerts a solid antioxidant effect over various organ systems. Thus, the key to anti-aging is to consume good quality and quantity of fruits, especially berries, tea, coffee, herbal teas, cocoa, and vegetables.

In another study, rats were fed a diet rich in extra virgin olive oil. Their cognitive function, memory, and neuromuscular coordination were measured at the later stages of their lives. It was found that rats on an EVOO-rich diet improved their memory tasks, and their coordination was improved. This holds immense promise for people suffering from memory decline in Alzheimer’s and loss of balance and coordination due to cerebellum ataxias. Presently, there are no definitive treatments for accelerated brain degeneration. It is heartwarming to know that natural products, something as common as extra virgin oil, could not just slow down the progression of these slow yet severely debilitating diseases but could also lead to rejuvenation by reversing brain cell aging. The researchers attributed this effect to the polyphenols in EVOO and their potent antioxidant and related anti-inflammatory effects. [7]

We have seen that when extra virgin olive oil is made part of the diet, it can slow down aging. When it is applied to the skin, there to it exerts an anti-aging effect. It contains high amounts of vitamin E, protecting the skin from ultraviolet-related accelerated aging, known as photoaging. It is common knowledge that staying in locations where ultraviolet radiation is high causes the skin to degenerate faster. It leads to dryness, wrinkles, sagging of the skin, fine lines, and sunspots. It is best to avoid direct exposure of the skin to harsh sun rays. Oils rich in vitamin E exert a mild sunscreen-like effect. Secondly, antioxidants in EVOO, which include vitamin E and polyphenols, protect skin cells from oxidative damage.

A full-body massage using extra virgin olive oil is therapeutic for the body and mind. Massage dissolves strain built in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It soothes the nerves. Massage stimulates the brain to release chemicals known as endorphins. These endorphins induce a feeling of euphoria and also decrease sensations of pain.

Blood Pressure

It had been known that people living around the Mediterranean in Europe had longer life spans, lower incidence of heart diseases, and better function in old age. It is believed that this is due to the intense stress lifestyle immersed in nature. Medical researchers attribute it to their diet. This diet came to be known as the Mediterranean diet. One of the staples in this diet is extra virgin olive oil. It is ubiquitous all across the Mediterranean cultures.

Modern studies confirm the positive effect that extra virgin olive oil has on hypertension. In one study, elderly people suffering from hypertension were either kept on a diet rich in sunflower oil or virgin olive oil for four weeks. Measurements of blood pressure revealed that people who consumed pure olive oil saw a dramatic reduction in systolic blood pressure. Down from an average of 150 mmHg to 136 mmHg. Since 140 mmHg is the cut-off for hypertension, these people have now passed into the pre-hypertension zone, which is not disconcerting. [8] With passing years, blood pressure starts to climb up because the walls of our blood vessels are now not as elastic as they would have been in youth. Medication given to hypertension patients is generally considered as having the most negligible side effects. If mild hypertension can be brought down using dietary changes, it can tremendously uplift elderly people as their medication would be reduced or stopped altogether.

People who are overweight or obese might refrain from taking larger amounts of fat in their diet. But a very recent study published in 2018 came up with a startling observation. Women with body fat percentages higher than healthy levels saw a reduction in blood pressure when they consumed a calorie-restricted diet but had high extra virgin olive oil levels. During the trial, they had to eat a high-fat breakfast with a whopping 25ml of EVOO per day. This reinforces the idea that even in overweight people, healthy oils like EVOO, rich in unsaturated fat and antioxidants, are a healthy choice. After nine long weeks of a modified diet, the average reduction in blood pressure (diastolic) was five mmHg. [9]

So we notice that extra virgin and virgin olive oil aid in the reduction of blood pressure levels. Now that this is established, we need to delve deep into the underlying mechanisms powering this effect. Extra virgin oil may be changing the composition of gut flora which could be linked to a reduction in blood pressure. [10] It could also be due to an improvement in the function of the endothelium of blood vessels. It could be leading to toning of the blood vessels.

Cardiovascular Health

A very widely cited medical study evaluated 7216 men and women aged between 55 and 80 and at high cardiovascular disease risk. They were on a Mediterranean diet regimen rich in nuts or extra virgin olive oil or a low-fat diet. After a few years had passed by, these participants were tested again. It was found that those on a Mediterranean diet rich in EVOO had lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease (stroke and heart attacks). [11] It was speculated that the polyphenol antioxidants in EVOO were responsible for the protective effects on the heart and blood vessels. Later studies have mentioned that this effect occurs because of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It is also in part due to improvement in the lipid profile.

Polyphenols reduced the levels of markers of oxidative stress. It shows that the polyphenols that display antioxidant effects in labs do exert free radical scavenging effects inside the body. Levels of LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol were reduced. Even as total cholesterol was coming down, HDL cholesterol was rising. HDL cholesterol is widely known as the “healthy” type of cholesterol. [12] But this is not the end of EVOO’s beneficial effects. Its impact on the cardiovascular system is much deeper, and it is vital to understand this.

Inside our bodies, we produce an enzyme known as Paraoxonase 1. This is mainly produced in our liver, from where it gets absorbed into our blood. Within our blood, we carry fats in the form of cholesterol and triglycerides. These fats reach the blood after the fats we have eaten are digested, absorbed, and assimilated. LDL cholesterol circulating in the blood gets oxidized into oxidized LDL. The higher the free radicals in our body, the faster is the conversion of LDL into its oxidized form. This conversion is unhealthy for the body because it oxidizes LDL that forms plaques in the arteries and narrows them. Over time, these plaques may become so large that they can join in blocking off the artery completely. This, as we know, causes a heart attack. At the root of cardiovascular disease progression is the formation of oxidized LDL. Paraoxonase 1 functions as an antioxidant by preventing the conversion of LDL cholesterol into oxidized LDL. Consumption of EVOO increases the levels of this enzyme. [13]

So even if you are taking foods high in saturated fat and therefore increasing the risk of raising LDL cholesterol, so long as you are also taking EVOO, it may not cause significant harm. That is because olive rich in polyphenols would reduce the formation of plaque material.

Neuroprotective

Extra virgin olive oil demonstrates powerful neuroprotective effects. It holds promise in not just delaying the onset of neurodegenerative disease, but it could brain cell degradation. This is one of the most challenging tasks in medicine. Its neuroprotective effects are due to a combination of effects that is not limited to the antioxidant effect of the polyphenols.

A prominent clinical study involving 522 people found that consumption of extra virgin olive oil over a period of 6.5 years (median for the study) showed that participants improved their cognitive scores. It was proven that extra virgin olive oil plays a role in attenuating those processes that lead to age-related slow degeneration of memory and thinking capacity. Molecular biologists attribute this effect to the polyphenols in EVOO. Polyphenols in olive oil have been evaluated for their efficacy in specific chronic neurodegenerative diseases. Many of them were found to be helpful in in-vitro studies or animal tests.

  • Alzheimer’s – Oleocanthal, Oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, and tyrosol have been found in animal studies and in-vitro studies that inhibit several of the mechanisms linked to Alzheimer’s. The inhibition of polymerization of tau proteins by Oleocanthal is considered to be instrumental in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Oleocanthal inhibits the action of COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, which means that the inflammation levels in the body remain low. [14]
  • Parkinson’s – In Parkinson’s, the levels of dopamine in the brain start to decline. Current therapies involve boosting the levels of dopamine or preventing its degradation by free radicals. Of late, it is increasingly agreed that there could be multiple pathways aggravating Parkinson’s. Polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil can theoretically protect these processes. Tyrosol in EVOO reduces the degradation of mitochondria in brain cells. Mitochondria are the basic power plants of our body. They are found in each cell, and therein they produce energy from food. If they get degraded, any cell can do nothing but die out. Oleuropein reduces the natural rate of cell damage. Some of our body’s cells die out every day, and they are dissolved away. In their place, new cells are formed. This process, known as autophagy, is central to good health and disease-free life. Oleuropein also reduces oxidative stress on the mitochondria. What this means is that the mitochondria are protected from gradual decay by a bombardment of free radicals. Hydroxytyrosol was seen to be performing a detoxing effect by activating detoxifying enzymes. This is also significant because environmental toxins are also believed to be responsible for the progression of Parkinson’s. Only about 10% of the cases of Parkinson’s are genetic in origin. Hydroxytyrosol was most effective as it boosted dopamine levels in rats. Since most of these studies were either done on cell cultures in labs or on rats, we need studies involving Parkinson’s patients to see how and to what extent these protective effects extend to us humans. [14]
  • Multiple Sclerosis – In this condition, lesions start to develop on the nerves. Multiple sclerosis affects the protective coating around our nerves, which is known as the myelin sheath. This affects normal body functions. It can cause incontinence in urinary and bowel function. Balance and coordination are affected. Muscles become progressively weak and thin. In some cases, multiple sclerosis can also produce psychiatric symptoms. MS, as it is called in short, is one of the most perplexing conditions because its cause is not yet known. Nor do we know much about its progression. Some people seem to experience a bout of MS and then recover. While others suffer from chronically worsening MS, which is debilitating. In one study, two compounds from olive oil prevented neurodegeneration in mice. These were oleanolic acid and erythroid. These two prevented an autoimmune attack on the central nervous system by the body’s immune system. It is strongly believed that an autoimmune reaction causes MS, and as such, there is a preliminary basis for Extra Virgin Olive Oil consumption to prevent neurodegeneration. [14]

Similar studies have found that some polyphenols from EVOO could help other neurological conditions like Cerebellar Ataxia and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.

Olive Oil and Cancer Prevention

From large-scale population-level studies, people living around the Mediterranean seem to suffer less from chronic diseases like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer. Their diet includes ample amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grain wheat, and extra virgin olive oil, fresh from the expeller. And, of course, lots of grapes. This diet must indeed be playing a role in reducing the incidence of chronic diseases.

Cancer is one of the most difficult diseases to treat. In recent years, we are beginning to study the role of polyphenols in preventing cancers from taking root in the first place. Turmeric was found to be strongly preventive. It contains a polyphenol called curcumin which exhibits anti-cancer properties. Similarly, resveratrol, a polyphenol subtype found in grapes and few other foods, is also anti-cancer. This led researchers to screen polyphenols of extra virgin olive oil for possible anti-cancer properties.

One prominent study found that olive oil (extra virgin grade) contained a polyphenol from the secoiridoid class named DOA. It stands for decarboxymethyl oleuropein aglycone. It prevented the action of mTOR and DNMT on cancer-causing stem cells. This was found to be strongly preventive in breast cancer. More importantly, the researchers concluded that the polyphenol from EVOO naturally prohibited epigenetic mechanisms that led to the conversion of tumors into the more life-threatening version, cancers, and their subsequent metastasis. We are beginning to realize that cancers can be caused not just by genetic changes (mutations) but even epigenetic changes (these changes do not alter the DNA of our cell, but only the processes related to DNA (like methylation) are affected). Since we have discovered this new mechanism of the proliferation of cancer, it is quite possible that the new strategy of finding polyphenols and other natural antioxidants that suppress such epigenetic changes could become a mainstay of cancer prevention diets. Well, it could also aid us in developing medication derived from these nutrients, which might have lesser side effects than present chemotherapy medication. [15]

Olive oil can be useful not just in preventing cancers. New research indicates that it could also be used to treat cancers. Oleocanthal, a polyphenol in EVOO, can kill cancer kills by penetrating their lysosomes. Lysosomes are a subdivision of a cell (an organelle) that devour the cell when it has reached its age. But in cancer cells, lysosomes tend to be weak. So cancerous cells take advantage of this weakness and avoid programmed cell death. In this way, they increase faster and longer. Oleocanthal from olive oil can return the cell’s life cycle to normalcy. If cancer cells begin to die at the programmed time, they can be curbed. [16]

Nutritional Information

Olive oil is universally renowned for its excellent fatty acid profile. It has one of the highest levels of unsaturated fat, known as oleic acid. Almost 85% of the oil can be made up of just oleic acid. This means that saturated fats are found only in minor quantities. Since our current guidelines emphasize that we should take more unsaturated fats, this makes olive oil one of the healthiest cooking oils on the planet. A closer look at the fatty acid (lipid) profile reveals more details about its health benefits.

Fatty AcidCarbon Notation and TypePercentage in oil
Oleic acidC 18 : 1 , Monounsaturated55 – 83%
Linoleic acidC 18 : 2 , Polyunsaturated3.5 – 21%
Palmitic acidC 16 : 0 , Saturated7.5 – 20%
Stearic acidC 18 : 0 , Saturated0.5 – 5%
Arachidic acidC 20 : 0 , Saturated0.8%

Source: 17

As far as the composition of fatty acids is concerned, there seems to be no significant difference between olive pomace oil, virgin olive oil, and extra virgin olive oil. However, the fatty acid content varies from country to country and even within the country. Different cultivars of olives yield different chemical signatures.

If olive oil is very rich in oleic acid, it will naturally be low in linoleic acid and palmitic acid (the other two major fats). Although linoleic acid is an essential fat for the body, it does play a role in specific pro-inflammatory reactions. Olive oil, on the other hand, can boast powerful anti-inflammatory effects.

Vitamin E

Olive oil contains appreciable amounts of Vitamin E in alpha-tocopherol form. It is this form of vitamin E that is most usable (bioavailable) to our body. Greek extra virgin olive oils can contain up to 370 mg per kilogram of olive. The daily requirement of Vitamin E for an adult is 15mg. Daily consumption of EVOO may not provide the entire RDA (recommended dietary allowance), but it surely gives us a boost to reach that daily needed amount. We should strive to get the recommended amount of Vitamin E daily because it is a supreme antioxidant. It protects almost the entire body from free radical damage. Vitamin E protects our heart and blood vessels by preventing the oxidation of fats once they have been metabolized into the bloodstream. Vitamin E does this by curbing the infamous lipid peroxidation process. Secondly, and much more importantly, Vitamin E plays a quintessential role in protecting our nerves. If we remain deficient in Vitamin E for long periods, we are unknowingly exposing ourselves to the risk of developing chronic neurodegenerative diseases. Vitamin E is also great for our skin and hair as it protects them from premature aging caused by harsh ultraviolet rays coming in from the sun. Vitamin E thus slows photoaging. However, we need to eat foods rich in Vitamin C to make Vitamin E work better. That is because each vitamin E molecule gets used up when it fights with one free radical. Vitamin C revitalizes the Vitamin E (chemically), enabling the Vitamin E to provide longer-lasting protection.

Polyphenols

Although these phytonutrients are well known for their antioxidant power, it is not common knowledge that their range of therapeutic (medicinal) actions within the body is very diverse and powerful. Extra virgin olive oil contains unique polyphenols, which bring their unique health benefits to the table.

Polyphenol and its typeTherapeutic Effect and mechanisms underlying
Oleuropein (seco-iridoid)Anti-cancer (induces autophagy), specific activity against liver cancer and breast cancer, anti-metastasis effect in breast cancer

Healthy weight maintenance (regulates fatty acid and glucose metabolism via inhibition of PPARG gene receptor)

Anti-Alzheimer’s (protects mice from amyloid beta protein plaque formation)

Cardioprotection


Anti-tumor
Tyrosol (phenylethanoid)Antioxidant (lowers lipid peroxidation)

Anti-atherosclerosis (prevents plaque buildup in arteries)

Can increase lifespan
Hydroxytyrosol (phenylethanoid)Prevents DNA damage by acting as antioxidant

Anti breast cancer by inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death)

Hepatoprotective

Anti-diabetes

Can extend lifespan

Cardioprotective

Anti-inflammatory
(lowers systemic inflammation)
Oleocanthal (phenylethanoid)Anti-Alzheimer’s (it plays a role by binding to tau proteins)

Neuroprotective (it prevents formation of amyloid beta proteinaceous plaques in the brain)

Anti-ageing

Natural painkiller (similar to NSAID medication)

Source: 18

From the above table, it is clear that polyphenols do not just act as antioxidants. They exert a wide array of protective and preventive effects. These polyphenols are responsible for the low incidence of coronary artery disease, neurodegenerative disorders, and other chronic diseases among the Mediterranean regions. Combined with a diet rich in naturally grown fruits, vegetables, whole wheat, oceanic fish, fresh, natural cheese (without preservatives), and some red wine makes the Mediterranean diet a powerhouse of nature’s most delicate nutrients.

Extra virgin olive oil contains chlorophyll. It is in the form of a compound called pheophytin alpha. This is what lends extra virgin olive oil its greenish tinge. Chlorophyll is a unique antioxidant. But it also acts as an anti-inflammatory and a potent anti-cancer nutrient. EVOO provides an appreciable amount of phytosterols. These are plant-derived micronutrients and are similar to cholesterol in function. They compete with cholesterol when it is being absorbed from food in the intestine. In this way, foods rich in phytosterols help reduce cholesterol levels in the blood, which is good for the heart and cardiovascular system.

EVOO provides incredibly healthy carotenoids. We mostly associate carotenoids with health benefits for the eyes, but they have many more health benefits to offer. EVOO is rich in beta carotene and lutein. Beta carotene, apart from being an antioxidant, is also a form of provitamin A. This means that when we eat carrots, beta carotene from them is converted by our body into retinol which is the usable form of Vitamin A. Many naturally produced edible oils are rich in vitamin A. Beta carotene helps raise our daily intake of Vitamin A to meet RDA levels, especially if we do not eat eggs or drink milk. Beta carotene protects vision and keeps the teeth, bones, and skin healthy. It has a role to play in the natural rate of sloughing of skin. Our body sheds off dead skin cells periodically, and in its place, new skin cells are formed. This renews the skin.

Lutein plays a prominent role in protecting eyes from age-related degeneration. It seems to prevent the formation of cataracts. The latest research is shedding more light on the beneficial effects of the various carotenoids. Lutein, for example, was found to boost cognitive performance in older men and women. [19]

Side Effects, Safe Dosage and Drug Interactions

Extra virgin and virgin olive oils are considered safe oils. Olive oil has hardly any side effects or toxicity issues. One can safely consume up to 2 tablespoons of oil, and that too regularly. It is not known to cause allergic reactions or adverse skin sensitivity generally. Some people may have nausea or may vomit when they eat it drizzled on salads. It may take some time for the taste preference to adjust because of its bitterness, astringency, and pungency.

Olive oil can lower blood pressure, as discussed earlier. If you are taking medication to control hypertension, taking olive oil at the same time may cause blood pressure to plummet to dangerously low levels.

Olive oil can also lower blood glucose levels. Someone who has diabetes and taking medication should not use olive oil without a doctor’s advice. Both the medication and olive oil can cause blood glucose to go so low as to cause hypoglycemia.

It is safe to be taken during pregnancy and lactation. The International Olive Council recommends it. One study has shown that pregnant women who had been taking olive oil, their infants did not experience much wheezing in their first year. [20] Such tasks sit well with cultural knowledge. In many cultures around the Mediterranean and even in the Indian subcontinent, newborn infants have been massaged using olive oil.

Buying Guide

The International Olive Council guides the olive oil industry. It is this body that sets standards for various grades of olive oil. The highest grade of purity is extra virgin olive oil because it has the least amount of free fatty acids (less than 1% of the total weight of oil). Next comes virgin olive oil. It can have up to 2% as free fatty acids. Olive pomace oil is the extraction from the leftover cake after the first pressing has been done. It is generally recommended for cooking and deep-frying. Refined olive oil is one that has been bleached and deodorized to subdue taste and aroma. It has the least amount of polyphenols and other micronutrients.

In recent years, we notice that a new type of product is being marketed. It is the ozonated olive oil. In this oil, ozone gas is bubbled through an extra virgin, virgin, or any other grade of olive oil. It is claimed that such oil is more effective at treating skin infections and joint conditions. Its promoters also claim that it administers ozone therapy, which is highly controversial. There are no peer-reviewed reputed medical journals that support these claims. On the contrary, internal consumption of ozone-laden oil may be dangerous.

Olive oil is prone to rancidity because it contains mostly unsaturated fats. Rancid oil starts to leak an offensive odor and tastes like stale peanuts. It should be discarded without delay. Unrefined and pure olive oil has a low shelf life. It may stay pure for six months to a year. That is why it is said that a bottle of olive oil should be used in one season itself.

References

  1. https://www.oliveoilsource.com/page/olive-oil-tasting-terms
  2. They were healing effect of sea buckthorn, olive oil, and their mixture on full-thickness burn wounds. Edraki M. et al., Adv Skin Wound Care. 2014 Jul;27(7):317-23
  3. Effect of oral olive oil on healing 10-20% total body surface area burn wounds in hospitalized patients. Najmi M. et al., Burns. 2015 May;41(3):493-6.
  4. Burns First Aid – Mayoclinic.
  5. Stretch Marks – Mayoclinic.
  6. Xenohormetic and anti-aging activity of secoiridoid polyphenols present in extra virgin olive oil. Javier A. Menendez et al, Cell Cycle. 2013 Feb 15; 12(4): 555–578.
  7. Long-term dietary extra-virgin olive oil rich in polyphenols reverses age-related dysfunctions in motor coordination and contextual memory in mice: role of oxidative stress. Pitozzi V. et al., Rejuvenation Res. 2012 Dec;15(6):601-12.
  8. Virgin olive oil reduces blood pressure in hypertensive elderly subjects. Perona JS et al, Clin Nutr. 2004 Oct;23(5):1113-21.
  9. Consumption of extra virgin olive oil improves body composition and blood pressure in women with excess body fat: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Galvao Candido F et al, Eur J Nutr. 2018 Oct;57(7):2445-2455.
  10. Changes in Gut Microbiota Linked to a Reduction in Systolic Blood Pressure in Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats Fed an Extra Virgin Olive Oil-Enriched Diet. Hidalgo M. et al, Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2018 Mar;73(1):1-6.
  11. Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED Study. Guasch – Ferre M. et al, BMC Med. 2014 May 13;12:78.
  12. The effect of high-polyphenol extra virgin olive oil on cardiovascular risk factors: A systematic review and meta-analysis. George E.S. et al., Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2018 Apr 30:1-24.
  13. Extra-virgin olive oil consumption reduces the age-related decrease in HDL and paraoxonase one anti-inflammatory activity. Loued S. et al, Br J Nutr. 2013 Oct;110(7):1272-84.
  14. Bioactivity of Olive Oil Phenols in Neuroprotection. Christina Angeloni et al, Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Nov; 18(11): 2230.
  15. Extra-virgin olive oil contains a metabolic-epigenetic inhibitor of cancer stem cells. Bruna Corominas-Faja et al, Carcinogenesis. 2018 Apr; 39(4): 601–613.
  16. (-)-Oleocanthal rapidly and selectively induces cancer cell death via lysosomal membrane permeabilization: Onica LeGendre et al., Molecular, and Cellular Oncology, Volume 2, 2015.
  17. Olive Oil Composition. G. Bekas et al., Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
  18. Nutraceutical Properties of Olive Oil Polyphenols. An Itinerary from Cultured Cells through Animal Models to Humans. Stefani Rigacci and Massimo Stefani, Int J Mol Sci. 2016 Jun; 17(6): 843.
  19. Effects of Lutein/Zeaxanthin Supplementation on the Cognitive Function of Community-Dwelling Older Adults: A Randomized, Double-Masked, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Billy R. Hammond Jr. et al., Front Aging Neurosci. 2017; 9: 254.
  20. Olive oil during pregnancy is associated with reduced wheezing during the first year of life of the offspring. Castro-Rodriguez J.A. et al, Pediatr Pulmonol. 2010 Apr;45(4):395-402.

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