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Olive Oil Keeps Blood Vessels Healthy

Olive oil is a famously important part of the healthy Mediterranean diet, due—according to researchers—to it being rich in antioxidant compounds called polyphenols, which help prevent heart disease. One study found that taking supplemental olive oil helped improve blood vessel function in people diagnosed with mild atherosclerosis, though adding EGCG (epigallocatechin 3-gallate), a heart-healthy polyphenol found in green tea, did not enhance this effect.

Looking for an additive effect

The study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, included 82 people with early signs of blood vessel dysfunction. This type of dysfunction has to do with the ability of the blood vessel lining to expand and contract appropriately and is believed to be an early sign of atherosclerosis.

The participants were assigned to take either 30 ml (1 ounce) of olive oil alone or the same amount of EGCG-enriched olive oil every day for four months. The olive oil given to both groups was high in polyphenols even without EGCG, and therefore was presumably extra-virgin rather than refined olive oil.

People with the greatest blood vessel dysfunction improved the most. Otherwise, at the end of the study, the researchers found the same results in both groups: blood vessel function improved, levels of the blood cells involved in inflammation decreased, and there was no weight gain.

Olive oil stands alone

“Olive oil supplementation may be beneficial for most individuals and might theoretically reduce cardiovascular events,” the study’s authors said. However, since this was an uncontrolled study, the results do not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between olive oil and improved heart health. Olive oil’s heart-healthy effects have been shown in previous studies as well. By itself and as a part of a Mediterranean-style diet, olive oil appears to be a potent protector against heart disease.

Protect your blood vessels with olive oil

The amount of olive oil used in this study is a reasonable addition to a healthy diet. Here are some ways to get your 30 ml or 2 tablespoons of olive oil each day:

  • Better than butter. With some minced garlic and a pinch of salt, olive oil is a great bread dip.
  • A pesto rainbow. Olive oil is a good base for your herbs, whether you have basil or cilantro or another aromatic green. Blend with lemon, garlic, and toasted sunflower seeds to make a spread for crackers or a topping for pasta.
  • Heart-healthy hummus. Make chickpeas into a dip with lots of olive oil. Add garlic, lemon, and sesame tahini to make a delicious and nutritious hummus to have with carrots or crackers.

(Eur J Nutr 2012;doi:10.1007/s00394-012-0433-2)

Maureen Williams, ND, completed her doctorate in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle and has been in private practice since 1995. With an abiding commitment to access to care, she has worked in free clinics in the US and Canada, and in rural clinics in Guatemala and Honduras where she has studied traditional herbal medicine. She currently lives and practices in Victoria, BC, and lectures and writes extensively for both professional and community audiences on topics including family nutrition, menopause, anxiety and depression, heart disease, cancer, and easing stress. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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The information presented by Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2019.