The Mediterranean diet is touted by the medical and clinical nutrition therapy spheres as being an evidence-based diet that helps with weight loss and preventing and treating a plethora of chronic diseases. As denoted by the name of this diet, it includes foods typically consumed in the Mediterranean region around Italy, Greece and Crete, for instance. Foods cultivated and enjoyed in this balmy maritime oasis in Western Europe, include fresh regional vegetables such as artichokes, tomatoes, eggplants, leafy vegetables, herbs such as rosemary and basil, fruits such as citrus fruits, fresh cheeses, wheat, beans, fish, nuts and seeds, a little splash of vino rosso with meals and of course, olives. Olive oil is a hotly demanded cultivar in the globalized economy with numerous health benefits which will be further elucidated here.
What is olive oil?
Olive oil is a lipid or oil extracted from the fruit of the evergreen tree, Olea europaea, and has been used for millennia in cooking and food preparation. There are several grades of olive oil, which are determined by at what step in the extraction process they are collected, with the best and most fresh variety classified as extra virgin oil. It is also the least oxidized variety, the most expensive grade, and is liberated from the first pressings of the olives.
Olive oil consists primarily of the monounsaturated fatty acid, oleic acid, with smaller amounts containing linoleic acid (a polyunsaturated omega 6), and minute amounts of saturated fats. It also contains health-promoting, bioactive phytochemicals such as antioxidative polyphenols, phytosterols and vitamin E, with the highest content of these aforementioned compounds found in this freshly extracted extra virgin olive oil.
The Benefits of Olive Oil
Benefits and uses at a glance:
- Cardiovascular and endocrine health
- Autoimmune conditions
- Antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties
- Improves gut microbiome
Olive oil consumption has been shown in numerous analysis and randomized clinical studies, to be cardioprotective. In fact, in a trial enrolling 7500 participants, it was shown to lower blood pressure, and the risk of developing cardiovascular disease including stroke and heart attack by 30%, a result which has been shown consistently in the literature. The reason for this obvious benefit is attributed to its favorable fatty acid profile containing predominantly monounsaturated fatty acids which helps to lower the “bad” LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol. In excess, LDL tends to accumulate cholesterol-rich plaques in arteries and blood vessels which can lead to stroke, embolisms and heart attacks.
There is also evidence that increasing quantities of olive oil in the diet helps to increase the “good” HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol which removes the fatty buildup in blood vessels. Olive oil also contains antioxidants which prevent the oxidation of LDL and the inflammatory cascade that would be induced. It even helps to reduce blood coagulation, or the propensity to clot, making blood less viscous and easier to flow through the vessels.
Clinical trials also show that olive oil consumption in addition to a healthy Mediterranean diet, helps in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes by decreasing HbA1c levels and insulin resistance, in addition to the favorable effects on heart health and inflammation.
Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
As was stated, the supreme quality of extra virgin olive oil is rich in vitamin E and phenolic compounds which fight free radicals. Free radicals such as ROS or reactive oxygen species, are pro-oxidative molecules that can damage cell membranes in tissues and oxidize LDL cholesterol in blood vessels that promote inflammation. This antioxidative property of olive oil in addition to an overall healthy diet rich in fresh produce indicative of a Mediterranean diet, benefits the heart and the body as a whole.
Olive oil decreases pro-inflammatory chemical mediators called cytokines in the body. This modulation of inflammation has effects on preventing disease and as an adjunct to therapy for several disease manifestations, as chronic inflammation can damage and reduce the functioning of tissues and organs.
Osteoarthritis is a condition caused in part by advancing age and excessive weight. Like most chronic diseases, it is associated by aberrant and chronic inflammation, which in this case mounts its destructive response in the major weight bearing joints. Diets high in refined carbohydrates and saturated fats are associated with more inflammation and worsening of osteoarthritis. Conversely, monounsaturated fats such as oleic acid found in olive oil, and omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish and some seeds, are associated with a decrease in inflammatory cytokines and immune cells, helping to decrease pain and arthritis progression.
In addition to healthy dietary practices and losing excessive weight, taking supplements such as JointFuel360, can all be employed to alleviate pain and prevent joint destruction. JointFuel360, contains premium, scientifically-based ingredients such as antioxidants including Boswellia serrata, resveratrol, turmeric which contains curcuminoids that alleviate inflammation as well as pepperine containing black pepper that increases the absorption of curcumin. It also contains collagen and hyaluronic acid which are structural components of joints, and may help rebuild those connective tissues.
Autoimmune conditions such Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease, are caused by a dysregulated immune response where antibodies are formed against “self” antigens from specific tissues of the body, causing damage and destruction to those targeted tissues. Due to the anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties of the Mediterranean diet and olive oil, there is evidence to suggest that this dietary therapy may help with these conditions.
The polyphenols contained within olive oil act as prebiotics and are therefore, metabolized by the bacteria in the large intestine to produce beneficial compounds that are absorbed and can reduce markers of colorectal cancers and heart disease. These polyphenols can also modulate the microbiome to foster the growth of beneficial species in the gut to improve overall health.
There is overwhelming evidence from animal trials, clinical and observational studies, that prove olive oil has anti-tumorigenic potential. The strongest evidence for these effects is on colorectal and breast cancers. In fact, in one trial, women following a Mediterranean diet with high amounts of olive oil, showed a 62% reduction in breast cancer compared to women on a low-fat diet.
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