According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), heart disease is the single biggest cause of death which ultimately will affect you or someone you know. So what can you do to reduce the chances of you and those you care for being affected?
Many are aware of the Mediterranean diet and that it is associated with a longer life and better health. The British Heart Foundation strongly recommends this diet based on evidence it reduces the risk heart disease and high blood pressure. One of the major components of the diet is extra virgin olive oil which has been shown to protect against heart disease by various mechanisms;
- Lowering inflammation
- Protecting LDL cholesterol from oxidation
- Lowering blood pressure
- Improving the lining of blood vessels
- Prevent blood clotting
Our bodies are exposed to low-grade chronic inflammation continuously and this increases as we get older. Our bodies are less and less capable of repairing themselves and fighting disease as a result. Extra virgin olive oil contains over 36 phenolic compounds and it is these that give the oil its peppery note. One of these compounds, oleocanthal, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. It operates down the same pathways as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory and elicits the same response in the body as ibuprofen.
Protecting LDL cholesterol from oxidation
You may have heard about bad cholesterol LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and good cholesterol HDL (high-density lipoprotein). However, the worst form is oxidised LDL and here are just a few of the serious effects it can have.
- Damage to beta cells of the pancreas, which are involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates and so can lead to Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
- Inflammation of the liver (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)).
- It can cause structural damage to your tendons leading to inflammation and pain. It could be the cause of why tendons like your Achilles aches after exercise.
A 2012 study published in the American Society for Nutrition showed that the same benefits due to olive oil, in preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, were not present when sunflower oil was taken instead.
Lowering blood pressure
A 2004 study was carried out on patients taking medication for mild to moderate high blood pressure in which they were given either olive oil or sunflower oil for 6 months. Those taking olive oil were able to reduce their medication by on average 50% and some were even able to stop taking it altogether. None of these benefits were seen in the group taking sunflower oil.
Improving the lining of blood vessels
A study published in 2012 reported that patients with impaired function of the lining of their blood vessels (endothelium) showed, 'significantly improved endothelial function' when taking olive oil in their diet. This reduced function was associated with inflammation of the endothelial lining and was seen as a predictor of cardiovascular disease in those with a high risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. The olive oil was having an anti-inflammatory effect.
Prevent excessive blood clotting
A 2007 Spanish study reported that taking olive oil reduced the concentration of two components involved in blood clotting; factor VII antigen and plasminogen activator inhibitor-1. Excess clotting activity in the blood is associated with vascular disease.
There are hundreds of studies on the beneficial effects of introducing olive oil into one's diet. The benefits reported here are associated with the polyphenolic compounds found in high concentrations in extra virgin olive oil and their action to reduce inflammation in the body.