Fact or Myth: Is Olive Oil Good for Your Heart?

This is a FACT.

The Mediterranean diet has longed been hailed as the healthiest diet for the heart, and in no small part to its predilection for olives and olive oil. A 2012 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that healthy Mediterranean individuals who consumed olive oil on a daily basis had a 44% reduction in cardiovascular deaths as Mediterranean individuals who did not use olive oil. Recent research, however, has revealed that it’s not so much the monounsaturated fat content in olive oil that imparts olive oil’s heart healthy benefits, as it is the polyphenols in olive oil.

olive oilOlive Oil’s Heart Healthy Benefits

Olive oil is rich in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that, until recently, was thought to be the primary catalyst of olive oil’s heart healthy benefits. Oleic acid has been shown to increase healthful HDL cholesterol and lower harmful LDL cholesterol. There’s a kink in the oleic acid theory, however, because other oils high in oleic acid—like canola oil—do not exert any cardio-protective benefits.

New evidence is piling up, and it all points to the polyphenolic compounds in olive oil, which have demonstrated a direct influence on improved blood cholesterol and arterial function, which likewise enhance blood pressure, overall artery health, and a subsequent reduced risk in heart attack, stroke, and sudden death from a cardiac event.

A study published in Medical Science Monitor in 2004 showed that adults who took 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil every day for 6 weeks had an average decrease of 31.5 mg/dl in total cholesterol and an average decrease of 30 mg/dl in LDL “bad” cholesterol. The recent Eurolive study points to the mechanism behind such benefit.

Researchers gave healthy men 1 ½ tablespoons of either high-, low-, or medium-polyphenol olive oil each day for 3 weeks. At the end of the study, the men who drank the olive oil high in polyphenols showed an averaged reduced oxidized LDL level of 3.2 U/L while the men who drank low-polyphenol olive oil showed no improvement whatsoever. (Oxidized LDL is damaging to the heart because it seeps into the walls of the arteries, damaging the interior lining, prompting inflammation, and accelerating the atherosclerosis that can cause a cardiovascular event.) The men supplementing with high-polyphenol olive oil saw a 1.74 mg/dl boost in HDL cholesterol (a 1 mg/dl increase in HDL correlates with a 2.3% decrease in heart disease!).

Decades long research also shows that olive oil can dramatically lower blood pressure…to the point that with daily supplementation you may be able to ditch those statins!

 Olive Oil’s Heart Healthy Components

  • Polyphenols, especially hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol, but also verbascoside, help to neutralize free radicals before they can oxidize and damage cells and DNA…lower blood pressure…and protect against atherosclerosis.
  • Oleuropein helps treat hypertension, fight free radicals, and alleviate chronic inflammation.
  • Phytosterols lower LDL cholesterol levels in the blood by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine.

Tips for Purchase

Opt for extra-virgin olive oil, which uses “first pressed” premium quality olives that are less refined. For perspective, refined olive oils have a mere 2.7 mg/kg of polyphenols compared to extra-virgin olive oils, which have 150-350 mg/kg of polyphenols. Because the quality of olive oil varies according to processing methods, temperature, soil, growing conditions, etc., it’s best to review the “Buyer’s Guide to Olive Oil” at extravirginity.com.

According to the American Olive Oil Producers Association, olive oil is heat stable at up to 410°F.