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Olive Oil: From the Branch of Peace

Olive trees are plentiful as we drive around Tuscany. The olive branch has long been known as a sign of peace. No wonder why. Olive oil has tremendous health benefits to prevent diseases of inflammation. In Italy, I am amazed with the amount of olive oil in used various recipes. While I might use a couple of tablespoons, our chef at our cooking class generously used ½ cup or more.

Olive oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, contains large amounts of antioxidants, and has strong anti-inflammatory properties. It contains the antioxidants omega 9, Vitamin A, traces of Vitamin C and Vitamin E as well as Vitamin K. It also contains essential amino acids, squalene, flavonoids, polyphenols, and oleocanthal, which has anti-inflammatory properties.

Data on the nutrigenomics of olive oil are increasing. Olive oil is the main health-promoting component in the Mediterranean diet and its positive effects on genes in relationship to lifestyle and age related conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease have been studied.

Aging and Skin Care
Olive oil helps to prevent aging associated with inflammation. It’s powerful anti-aging properties prevent inflammation and when used regularly, can slow down the aging process and help you maintain a healthy vibrant glow. Many beauty products and soaps add olive oil to promote skin benefits.

Cancer
Some cancers may be prevented through the consumption of olive oil in a Mediterranean diet. Breast cancer risk was one cancer where there is such evidence. Oleocanthal within olive oil was show to impact liver and colon cancer in preclinical studies.

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD):
The polyphenol fraction of extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) may be partly responsible for its cardiovascular protective effects. A systematic review of 26 studies showed that high polyphenol oils decrease CVD-risks in Mediterranean descent people, although longer studies in non-Mediterranean populations are needed to show conclusive benefit. The high polyphenol olive oils significantly improved measures of malondialehyde, oxidized LDL, total cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol. Some of the studies showed additional improvements in inflammatory markers and blood pressure. The specific type of olive oil may impact cardiovascular risk factors. Refined OO (ROO), mixed OO (MOO), low phenolic (extra) virgin OO (LP(E)VOO), and high phenolic (extra) virgin OO (HP(E)VOO) were examined for effects on cardiovascular risk factors. No differences between types of olive oil was noted for total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and diastolic blood pressure. HP(E)VOO slightly reduced LDL-cholesterol compared to LP(E)VO.

Olive oil also is thought to possibly help to prevent strokes. A study showed that high consumption of olive oil led to increased oleic acid associated with a reduced risk of stroke.

Depression:
Olive oil may even good help prevent depression. An Italian study of elderly people showed that eating a Mediterranean diet reduced risk of depression.

Metabolic Syndrome/Diabetes:
A Mediterranean diet supplemented with virgin olive oil or nuts was found to increase plasma antioxidants and decreases xanthine oxidase activity in patients with the metabolic syndrome However, there were no changes in oxidative damage. EVOO also improves after meal glucose levels as well as LDL cholesterol, which may explain the anti-atherosclerotic effect of the Mediterranean diet. In patients with Type 1 diabetes, EVOO reduces glycemic response when a high glycemic index meal is consumed.

Neurological diseases:
A Mediterannean diet protects against not only cardiovascular disease and cancer, but cognitive decline with aging. The role of natural phenols in EVOO and red wine (mainly oleurpein, alalglycone and olecanthal) prevent the amyloid aggregation and toxicity that contribute to the development and progression of neuroinflammation and Alzheimer’s Disease from deposition of aggregated proteins and peptides in tissues that lead to progressive functional impairment. In general, it’s a good addition to promote brain health. Adding nuts or EVOO to the diet improves cognition compared to a low-fat diet.

Use/Precautions:
There are many oils that are sold that claim to be olive oil but are either diluted or not even olive oil. Take care to get a good quality product. Olive oil is a tasty addition to roasting or pan-cooking fresh vegetables. It can be used on top of meats prior to roasting with herbs and spices. It’s a great base for marinades or salad dressings. You can even apply it directly to your skin.

Summary:
For your overall health, olive oil and the Mediterranean diet have been shown to provide numerous health benefits. So take advantage of the peace from inflammation that olive oil can bring.

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