The benefits of olive oil

February 28, 2024

Gluten Free – Gluten Free Available – Vegetarian – Spicy – Hormone & Antibiotic Free – From Scratch

Olive Oil Benefits: Anti-Cancer, Anti-Inflammatory, and Brain-Protective

Learn about how olive oil protects the brain, wards off cancer, promotes gut health, and reduces inflammation.

By Jingduan Yang                                                                                                           2/21/2024

Olive oil has remarkable health benefits, according to numerous studies. Research indicates it has anti-cancer properties, protects the brain, reduces inflammation and pain, lowers blood lipids and blood sugar, and promotes gut microbiota health.

In this article, we will explore ways to maximize olive oil’s many benefits.

A Sacred Food

Olive oil is extracted from the fruit of the olive tree and is the primary plant oil used in Mediterranean cuisine. Its history dates back to ancient Greek and Roman times when it was considered a sacred food and cosmetic product. I have two friends who are particularly fond of olive oil.

One is the famous New York fashion designer Norma Kamali. Despite being 78 years old, her skin, physique, and spirit are all very young. She can do exercises that many young people cannot. She has been using olive oil for over 30 years, not only for cooking but also for skin care, adding it to various cosmetics. She even travels around the world to find the purest olive oil and has her own olive oil brand.

The other friend is Dr. Daniel Monti, the director of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University. He was my mentor during my residency. Dr. Monti consumes olive oil every day; if it is not on the table, he will specifically ask the waiter for it to add to his food. Despite his age, he looks young and is very energetic.

So how has olive oil affected their health? Let’s take a closer look.

Lowers Blood Lipids and Protects the Heart

The main component of olive oil is monounsaturated fatty acids, with oleic acid being the most abundant. This superfat can reduce “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) and increase “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein), thus reducing the risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. Studies have found that the Mediterranean diet, which includes large amounts of extra-virgin olive oil, can significantly reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease.

One of my patients had familial hypercholesterolemia but was unwilling to take lipid-lowering medication, opting instead to consume extra-virgin olive oil daily. After two years, his lipid levels have returned to normal, which is remarkable.

Olive Oil: Why it’s healthier than other cooking oils

Extra-virgin olive oil refers to the purest and most natural olive oil directly pressed from the olive fruit without any processing or refining. It retains the most nutrients and does not contain any chemicals or additives.

Reduces Risk of Death From Dementia

Olive oil not only protects the heart but also the brain.

In July 2023, a research team from Harvard University presented a study at the American Society for Nutrition’s annual meeting. By analyzing dietary questionnaires and death records of more than 90,000 Americans over the past 30 years, they found that compared to those who rarely or never consumed olive oil, those who consumed more than half a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil per day had a 28 percent lower risk of dying from dementia.

Additionally, those who used a teaspoon of olive oil daily instead of an equivalent amount of margarine or mayonnaise had an 8 percent to 14 percent lower risk of dying from dementia. This result was quite surprising.

Anne-Julie Tessier, the study’s lead author, stated in a press release, “Some antioxidant compounds in olive oil can cross the blood-brain barrier, potentially having a direct effect on the brain.” She also mentioned that the improvement in cardiovascular health due to olive oil consumption may indirectly affect brain health.

Prevents Cancer and Lowers Blood Sugar

Another significant benefit of olive oil is its anti-cancer properties. A meta-analysis of 45 studies found that people who consume olive oil daily have a 31 percent lower risk of any cancer compared to those who consume olive oil less frequently.

Furthermore, olive oil can lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin resistance. A review published in Clinical Nutrition in 2022, which included 36 studies and over 3.5 million participants overall, found that consuming an additional 0.88 ounces (or about 1.83 tablespoons) of olive oil per day reduced the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 22 percent and the risk of cardiovascular disease by 16 percent.

Alleviates Inflammation and Pain

Olive oil contains polyphenols with anti-inflammatory effects. People who consume olive oil regularly experience reduced chronic inflammation and joint pain, leading to a decreased reliance on anti-inflammatory drugs.

In recent years, studies have found that the polyphenols in olive oil possess powerful antioxidant properties. They can neutralize free radicals, reduce cellular oxidative damage, and also exhibit anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and immunomodulatory activities.

Other Benefits

In addition to those mentioned above, olive oil has the following benefits:

  • Improves gut health: The condition of the gut is closely related to overall health. Olive oil can reduce gut inflammation, improve the gut microbiota environment, and provide therapeutic benefits for intestinal diseases, as many studies confirm.
  • Protects and beautifies the skin: Olive oil can be used internally and topically. Many celebrities and public figures, including my friend Norma Kamali, use olive oil as a natural skin care product, which has proven very effective.

Precautions for Certain Groups

While olive oil offers remarkable health benefits, it may also bring side effects for certain individuals. The following four groups of people should be particularly cautious when using olive oil:

  • People allergic to or intolerant of olive oil: If you experience symptoms such as rash, itching, skin redness, sore or itchy throat, asthma, or digestive discomfort like abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or bloating after using olive oil, it may indicate an allergy or intolerance. In some cases, the reaction is a cross-reaction, meaning it may not be a direct response to olive oil itself but rather to specific components within it.
  • People with gallbladder issues: Patients with gallbladder issues such as chronic cholecystitis and gallstones or those who have had a cholecystectomy should avoid using olive oil. This is because olive oil, being a fat, requires the gallbladder to secrete bile to aid in absorption and metabolism. Individuals with gallbladder issues may experience various discomforts after consuming olive oil, including pain, indigestion, and bloating.
  • People with poor pancreatic function: Chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cysts, and pancreatic cystic fibrosis can affect how the body processes fats. Therefore, patients with these conditions should avoid using olive oil.
  • People who have undergone gastrointestinal surgery: People who have just undergone gastrointestinal surgery may have difficulty digesting fats; these people should also avoid using olive oil.

How to Select and Store Olive Oil

Quality is key when choosing olive oil, with extra-virgin olive oil being the preferred option. This type is directly pressed from fresh olives, without additional processing like heating or refining, and contains no additives, thus preserving the highest nutrient content.

In comparison, processed olive oils, such as refined olive oil or blends with other oils, are less beneficial.

Lastly, proper storage of olive oil is crucial. It is essential to avoid exposing it to high temperatures and sunlight. Due to its low smoke point, olive oil is best used for dressing cold dishes or added after cooking to retain its nutritional value and delicate flavor.