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Olive oil

September 2007

Atherosclerosis—epidemiological studies on the health effects of a Mediterranean diet.

Mediterranean diets are characterized by olive oil, as the dominant fat source and a high to moderate consumption of fruit and vegetables, cereal products, fish, legumes, in combination with little meat and wine with meals. The “reference” Mediterranean diet seems to differ according to country, but is associated with good health and a long life expectancy. From the Seven Countries Studies, it has been shown that especially the traditional Cretan diet was associated with very low 25-year mortality rates for coronary heart disease, cancer and all-causes. In terms of nutrients and bioactive compounds the “reference” Mediterranean diet is low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fatty acids, high in antioxidants especially vitamin C and E, and high in fiber and folic acid. Several epidemiological studies have investigated these dietary components either separately or in combination in other than Mediterranean populations. In general, also in other populations beneficial effects on the coronary risk profile have been observed, which gives further support to the positive health effects of the Mediterranean diet. Intervention studies in East Finland and Southern Italy have convincingly shown that the coronary risk profile (lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure levels) is improved by a Mediterranean diet. Moreover, the Cretan diet was tested in cardiac patients and showed a 70% lower cardiac and all-causes mortality compared to the control diet. In conclusion, epidemiological studies and intervention trials suggest that the Cretan Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of coronary heart disease.

Eur J Nutr. 2004 Mar;43 Suppl 1:I/2-5

Olive oil and modulation of cell signaling in disease prevention.

Epidemiological studies show that populations consuming a predominantly plant-based Mediterranean-style diet exhibit lower incidences of chronic diseases than those eating a northern European or North American diet. This observation has been attributed to the greater consumption of fruits and vegetables and the lower consumption of animal products, particularly fat. Although total fat intake in Mediterranean populations can be higher than in other regions (ca. 40% of calories), the greater proportion is derived from olive oil and not animals. Increased olive oil consumption is implicated in a reduction in cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and, to a lesser extent, a variety of cancers. Olive oil intake also has been shown to modulate immune function, particularly the inflammatory processes associated with the immune system. Olive oil is a nonoxidative dietary component, and the attenuation of the inflammatory process it elicits could explain its beneficial effects on disease risk since oxidative and inflammatory stresses appear to be underlying factors in the etiology of these diseases in man. The antioxidant effects of olive oil are probably due to a combination of its high oleic acid content (low oxidation potential compared with linoleic acid) and its content of a variety of plant antioxidants, particularly oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, and tyrosol. It is also possible that the high oleic acid content and a proportionate reduction in linoleic acid intake would allow a greater conversion of alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to longer-chain n-3 PUFA, which have characteristic health benefits. Adoption of a Mediterranean diet could confer health benefits in high-risk populations.

Lipids. 2004 Dec;39(12):1223-31

The effect of polyphenols in olive oil on heart disease risk factors: a randomized trial.

BACKGROUND: Virgin olive oils are richer in phenolic content than refined olive oil. Small, randomized, crossover, controlled trials on the antioxidant effect of phenolic compounds from real-life daily doses of olive oil in humans have yielded conflicting results. Little information is available on the effect of the phenolic compounds of olive oil on plasma lipid levels. No international study with a large sample size has been done. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate whether the phenolic content of olive oil further benefits plasma lipid levels and lipid oxidative damage compared with monounsaturated acid content. DESIGN: Randomized, crossover, controlled trial. SETTING: 6 research centers from 5 European countries. PARTICIPANTS: 200 healthy male volunteers. MEASUREMENTS: Glucose levels, plasma lipid levels, oxidative damage to lipid levels, and endogenous and exogenous antioxidants at baseline and before and after each intervention. INTERVENTION: In a crossover study, participants were randomly assigned to 3 sequences of daily administration of 25 mL of 3 olive oils. Olive oils had low (2.7 mg/kg of olive oil), medium (164 mg/kg), or high (366 mg/kg) phenolic content but were otherwise similar. Intervention periods were 3 weeks preceded by 2-week washout periods. RESULTS: A linear increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels was observed for low-, medium-, and high-polyphenol olive oil: mean change, 0.025 mmol/L (95% CI, 0.003 to 0.05 mmol/L), 0.032 mmol/L (CI, 0.005 to 0.05 mmol/L), and 0.045 mmol/L (CI, 0.02 to 0.06 mmol/L), respectively. Total cholesterol-HDL cholesterol ratio decreased linearly with the phenolic content of the olive oil. Triglyceride levels decreased by an average of 0.05 mmol/L for all olive oils. Oxidative stress markers decreased linearly with increasing phenolic content. Mean changes for oxidized low-density lipoprotein levels were 1.21 U/L (CI, -0.8 to 3.6 U/L), -1.48 U/L (-3.6 to 0.6 U/L), and -3.21 U/L (-5.1 to -0.8 U/L) for the low-, medium-, and high-polyphenol olive oil, respectively. LIMITATIONS: The olive oil may have interacted with other dietary components, participants’ dietary intake was self-reported, and the intervention periods were short. CONCLUSIONS: Olive oil is more than a monounsaturated fat. Its phenolic content can also provide benefits for plasma lipid levels and oxidative damage.

Ann Intern Med. 2006 Sep 5;145(5):333-41

Anti-inflammatory effect of virgin olive oil in stable coronary disease patients: a randomized, crossover, controlled trial.

Objectives: To assess the effect of two similar olive oils, but with differences in their phenolic compounds (powerful antioxidant compounds), on inflammatory markers in stable coronary heart disease patients.Design: Placebo-controlled, crossover, randomized trial.Setting:Cardiology Department of Hospital del Mar and Institut Municipal d’Investigació Mèdica (Barcelona).Subjects: Twenty-eight stable coronary heart disease patients.Interventions: A raw daily dose of 50 ml of virgin and refined olive oil (ROO) was sequentially administered over two periods of 3-weeks, preceded by 2-week washout periods in which ROO was used.Results:Interleukin-6 (P<0.002) and C-reactive protein (P=0.024) decreased after virgin olive oil intervention. No changes were observed in soluble intercellular and vascular adhesion molecules, glucose and lipid profile.Conclusions: Consumption of virgin olive oil, could provide beneficial effects in stable coronary heart disease patients as an additional intervention to the pharmacological treatment.

Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007 Mar 21

Olives and olive oil in cancer prevention.

Epidemiologic studies conducted in the latter part of the twentieth century demonstrate fairly conclusively that the people of the Mediterranean basin enjoy a healthy lifestyle with decreased incidence of degenerative diseases. The data show that populations within Europe that consume the so-called ‘Mediterranean diet’ have lower incidences of major illnesses such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Studies have suggested that the health-conferring benefits of the Mediterranean diet are due mainly to a high consumption of fibre, fish, fruits and vegetables. More recent research has focused on other important factors such as olives and olive oil. Obviously fibre (especially wholegrain-derived products), fruits and vegetables supply an important source of dietary antioxidants. What is the contribution from olives and olive oil? Apparently the potential is extremely high but epidemiologic studies rarely investigate consumption of these very important products in-depth, perhaps due to a lack of exact information on the types and amounts of antioxidants present. Recent studies have shown that olives and olive oil contain antioxidants in abundance. Olives (especially those that have not been subjected to the Spanish brining process) contain up to 16 g/kg typified by acteosides, hydroxytyrosol, tyrosol and phenyl propionic acids. Olive oil, especially extra virgin, contains smaller amounts of hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol, but also contains secoiridoids and lignans in abundance. Both olives and olive oil contain substantial amounts of other compounds deemed to be anticancer agents (e.g. squalene and terpenoids) as well as the peroxidation-resistant lipid oleic acid. It seems probable that olive and olive oil consumption in southern Europe represents an important contribution to the beneficial effects on health of the Mediterranean diet.

Eur J Cancer Prev. 2004 Aug;13(4):319-26

Mediterranean dietary traditions for the molecular treatment of human cancer: anti-oncogenic actions of the main olive oil’s monounsaturated fatty acid oleic acid (18:1n-9).

The final proof about the specific mechanisms by which the different components of olive oil, the principal source of fat in a typical “Mediterranean diet,” exert their potential protective effects on the promotion and progression of several human cancers requires further investigations. A recent discovery that dietary fatty acids can interact with the human genome by regulating the amount and/or activity of transcription factors has opened a whole new line of research aimed to molecularly corroborate the ant-cancer benefits of the olive oil-based Mediterranean diet and the underlying mechanisms. Our most recent findings reveal that oleic acid (OA; 18:1n-9), the main olive oil’s monounsaturated fatty acid, can suppress the overexpression of HER2 (erbB-2), a well-characterized oncogene playing a key role in the etiology, invasive progression and metastasis in several human cancers. First, exogenous supplementation with physiological concentrations of OA significantly down-regulates HER2-coded p185(Her-2/neu) oncoprotein in human cancer cells naturally harboring amplification of the HER gene. Second, OA exposure specifically represses the transcriptional activity of the human HER2 gene promoter in tumor-derived cell lines naturally exhibiting HER2 gene amplification and p185(Her-2/neu) protein overexpression but not in cancer cells expressing physiological levels of HER2. Third, OA treatment induces the up-regulation of the Ets protein PEA3 (a transcriptional repressor of the HER2 gene promoter) solely in cancer cells naturally displaying HER2 gene amplification. Fourth, HER2 gene promoter bearing a PEA3 site-mutated sequence cannot be negatively regulated by OA, while treatment with OA fails to repress the expression of a human full-length HER2 cDNA controlled by a SV40 viral promoter. Fifth, OA-induced inhibition of HER2 promoter activity does not occur if HER2 gene-amplified cancer cells do no concomitantly exhibit high levels of Fatty Acid Synthase (FASN; Oncogenic antigen-519) as specific depletion of FASN, which itself similarly suppresses HER2 overexpression by inducing PEA3-dependent repression of HER2 gene promoter, strongly antagonizes the inhibitory effects of OA on HER2 gene promoter activity. Considering that OA treatment efficiently blocks FASN activity and down-regulates FASN protein expression, it is reasonable to suggest that an accumulation of supra-physiological concentrations of the FASN substrate malonyl-CoA, due to its reduced utilization by FASN in the presence of exogenous OA, appears to act as an indicator of “cell fuel” availability capable to suppress HER2 expression via formation of inhibitory “PEA3 protein-PEA3 DNA binding site” complexes on the endogenous HER2 promoter. Indeed, malonyl-CoA on its own dramatically decreases HER2 promoter activity, while OA or malonyl-CoA similarly up-regulates PEA3 gene promoter activity. This previously unrecognized ability of OA to directly affect the expression of a cluster of interrelated human cancer genes (i.e., HER2, FASN and PEA3) should open a new line of research aimed to explore the anti-cancer effects of OA. Certainly, an appropriate dietary intervention reproducing this prominent anti-oncogenic feature of the “Mediterranean diet” must be carried out in animal models and human pilot studies in the future. Only then we will know whether the old “Mediterranean dietary traditions” will become a new molecular approach in the management of cancer disease.

Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2006 Dec;7(6):495-502

Supplementation of fish oil and olive oil in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

OBJECTIVE: This study evaluated whether supplementation with olive oil could improve clinical and laboratory parameters of disease activity in patients who had rheumatoid arthritis and were using fish oil supplements. METHODS: Forty-three patients (34 female, 9 male; mean age = 49 +/- 19y) were investigated in a parallel randomized design. Patients were assigned to one of three groups. In addition to their usual medication, the first group (G1) received placebo (soy oil), the second group (G2) received fish oil omega-3 fatty acids (3 g/d), and the third group (G3) received fish oil omega-3 fatty acids (3 g/d) and 9.6 mL of olive oil. Disease activity was measured by clinical and laboratory indicators at the beginning of the study and after 12 and 24 wk. Patients’ satisfaction in activities of daily living was also measured. RESULTS: There was a statistically significant improvement (P < 0.05) in G2 and G3 in relation to G1 with respect to joint pain intensity, right and left handgrip strength after 12 and 24 wk, duration of morning stiffness, onset of fatigue, Ritchie’s articular index for pain joints after 24 wk, ability to bend down to pick up clothing from the floor, and getting in and out of a car after 24 wk. G3, but not G2, in relation to G1 showed additional improvements with respect to duration of morning stiffness after 12 wk, patient global assessment after 12 and 24 wk, ability to turn faucets on and off after 24 wk, and rheumatoid factor after 24 wk. In addition, G3 showed a significant improvement in patient global assessment in relation to G2 after 12 wk. CONCLUSIONS: Ingestion of fish oil omega-3 fatty acids relieved several clinical parameters used in the present study. However, patients showed a more precocious and accentuated improvement when fish oil supplements were used in combination with olive oil.

Nutrition. 2005 Feb;21(2):131-6

Phytochemistry: ibuprofen-like activity in extra-virgin olive oil.

Newly pressed extra-virgin olive oil contains oleocanthal--a compound whose pungency induces a strong stinging sensation in the throat, not unlike that caused by solutions of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen. We show here that this similar perception seems to be an indicator of a shared pharmacological activity, with oleocanthal acting as a natural anti-inflammatory compound that has a potency and profile strikingly similar to that of ibuprofen. Although structurally dissimilar, both these molecules inhibit the same cyclooxygenase enzymes in the prostaglandin-biosynthesis pathway.

Nature. 2005 Sep 1;437(7055):45-6

In vitro activity of olive oil polyphenols against Helicobacter pylori.

Helicobacter pylori is linked to a majority of peptic ulcers and to some types of gastric cancer, and resistance of the microorganism to antibiotic treatment is now found worldwide. Virgin olive oil is an unrefined vegetable oil that contains a significant amount of phenolic compounds. Under simulated conditions, we have demonstrated that these substances can diffuse from the oil into the gastric juice and be stable for hours in this acidic environment. In vitro, they exerted a strong bactericidal activity against eight strains of H. pylori, three of them resistant to some antibiotics. Among the phenolic compounds, the dialdehydic form of decarboxymethyl ligstroside aglycon showed the strongest bactericidal effect at a concentration as low as 1.3 microg/mL. Although the experimental conditions are different from other reported works, this bactericidal concentration is much lower than those found for phenolic compounds from tea, wine, and plant extracts. These results open the possibility of considering virgin olive oil a chemopreventive agent for peptic ulcer or gastric cancer, but this bioactivity should be confirmed in vivo in the future.

J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Feb 7;55(3):680-6