Olive oil is an edible oil which encompasses within itself the secrets to health, radiance and longevity. It adds a distinct flavor to foods and salads. Regular massage with olive oil promotes a supple, nourished skin with an even tone. Civilizations that emerged along the Mediterranean attest to the rejuvenating and nourishing properties of this oil. What is interesting to note is that even modern scientific research is corroborating many of the “claimed” health benefits of olive oil. We shall see that it is not just useful as a healthy cooking oil and for regular skin care. Olive oil, especially of the extra virgin grade, has the potential to provide protection from heart disease, slow down the progression of neurodegenerative diseases, prevent metastasis of breast cancer, increase antioxidant defenses to slow down ageing and much more. One of the polyphenols of extra virgin olive oil has been found to play a role in improving lifespan which has been an ancient, deep desire of mankind.
Traditional process of extraction of extra virgin olive oil is remarkable, and it is one of the gems of our collective cultural knowledge. This is accomplished by using the mill stones, draught animals and fiber baskets. Freshly harvested olives are put into the vat over a base rock. Mill stone is rotated at a slow speed which grinds and churns the olives into a paste. Granite stone is preferred for the millstone. It is hard and very resistant to wear and tear. The pulp is collected and placed into baskets made of fiber. They are placed one over the other as a stack. These are then pressed downwards by a mechanical press. Vertical pressure makes the olive pulp to leach oil. This is the purest extra virgin olive oil, produced without any solvents or heat. Because heat is nowhere used in the traditional process, it yields the highest amounts of polyphenols.
Color, Taste and Aroma
The color of olive oil has always been a matter of controversy. It is widely believed that grassy green is the definitive color of extra virgin olive oil. But this is not always necessary. The color of freshly pressed oil undergoes a slight change after a few days. Chlorophyll compounds lend shades of olive green, bluish green and brown to olive oil. Carotenoids lend an intense yellowish orange color with hints of red. The result is a complex color profile which looks greenish yellow at the outset. Depending on the relative proportion of chlorophylls and carotenoids, the color of olive oil varies. This in no way means that an extra virgin olive oil should always have a dominant light green color like that of clean grass.
Much can be known about the quality of an olive oil from its taste. Although the taste and texture of virgin and extra virgin olive oils vary depending on the cultivar and the region, there can be derived some basic taste properties. Extra virgin olive oil is essentially a bitter oil. This is clear from its first taste itself. It is also an astringent which means that when we eat or drink EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), it leaves the inside of the mouth dry and pulled up, sort of tightened. It creates a burning sensation at the back of the throat, which is caused by one of the polyphenols in it. This is a peppery after taste. However, olive oil also has a fruity element to it. This element comes off as similar to apple and butter, which is strange. But this is what makes olive oil so unique in taste. If the oil has been made using the ancient, traditional method wherein baskets of hemp have been used, the oil would have a mild hemp flavor too. Some olive oils may taste similar to grass, peach or even mint. 
Extra virgin olive oil has mild grassy aroma which feels refreshing. It has pungent volatile compounds which can make some people tear up. Olive oil should not have a wine like aroma. If it smells like wine and tastes like over ripe grapes, it is quite possibly made from fermented olives. These olives may have been lying far too long between the grinding and pressing process. Such an oil should not be consumed, it should be thrown out instantly.
Extra virgin olive oil can cause many slow yet beneficial changes in our body chemistry. These are its therapeutic effects.
- Skin Healing – It is documented that olive oil can make wounds like burns, cuts and scrapes heal faster.
- Skin rejuvenation – This effect is due to linoleic acid in it. Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid which our body needs to maintain a very thin oily layer on the top of our epidermis. This protects our skin from dehydration.
- Emollient – It is natural moisturizer, primarily due to omega-9 fat called oleic acid and, in some measure, due to palmitic acid. Regular application of olive oil makes the skin smooth.
- Antioxidant – Polyphenols found exclusively in extra virgin and virgin olive oil make it a very potent antioxidant.
- Anti-ageing – Due to its antioxidant power, it can slow down the decay of cells of our body. Vitamin E protects skin from photoaging caused by ultraviolet rays of the sun. It contains other antioxidants too, like carotenoids and chlorophyll. A special polyphenol from EVOO may also be capable to increase lifespan by working on a genetic level.
- Anti-inflammatory and pain reliever – Due to its inflammation dousing effects, it is useful in relieving pain in conditions even as severe and inflammatory as rheumatoid arthritis. When we drink olive oil, it works similar to NSAID type pain medication.
- Blood Pressure – It is perhaps the best known edible oil against hypertension.
- Neuroprotective – Research on special polyphenols from EVOO indicate that it can be used to prevent the manifestation of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and so on.
- Cardioprotective – It reduces the risk of coronary artery disease and stroke through its antioxidant effect. It prevents degradation of LDL cholesterol in the most harmful oxy-LDL form which is primarily responsible for deposition plaques inside arteries.
Health Benefits and Uses
Olive Oil for Acne
Olive oil is not helpful in acne from a scientific standpoint. It has a moderate pore clogging potential because its comedogenicity rating is 2. It does not seem to possess any powerful antibacterial activity against the pathogens widely considered responsible for acne. These are the bacteria, P. acnes and S. aureus. In practice, however, many people use olive oil as part of the oil cleanse method. And it shows mixed results. Although some people do break out from olive oil, many others have mentioned in prominent forums that regular cleansing of skin with extra virgin or virgin olive oil has helped to considerably lessen acne pimples.
Oil Cleanse Method is slightly detailed but not too intricate. The basic philosophy is that we should clean our face using a pure oil, apart from the regular cleansing with soap and water. Oils that have been used not just for centuries, but for millennia, do possess remarkable properties. Olive oil has remained a backbone of daily skincare regimen for traditional cultures all around the Mediterranean.
Firstly, the face is cleansed with fresh water, preferably cold. Then the face must be wiped and made dry. After this, Extra virgin olive oil should be massaged into the face. After massaging for only about 5 minutes or so, one would notice bits of gunk accumulating on the fingernails. This is the oil soluble dirt, products, and dead skin cells that are “cleansed” off by the oil. Try to get out as much of the gunk as possible. Avoid scraping the skin with the fingernails as this would worsen the inflammation. After most of the dead skin and oily residue has been gently scraped off, make sure to absorb excess oil using cotton balls soaked in plain water or rose extract. This cleansing mechanism can be done each day. If time is a constraint, once a week would also do.
Oil Cleansing Method does present the risk of increasing oiliness on the face. But it really helps to maintain a much cleaner, toned and hydrated facial skin. This regimen can help with acne as well. In some men, even cystic acne responds to extra virgin olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil delivers potent antioxidants in the form of polyphenols. It also exerts an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin, which reduces redness.
Olive oil stands out for its ability to heal burn wounds. In one study, olive oil combined with sea buckthorn oil performed better than commonly available burn wound cream. The combination showed better regeneration of the affected skin (re-epithelialization) and reduce the risk of ulcers.  Usually we find that commonly used cooking oils are not very effective outside the realm of general skincare. But in the case of olive oil, there are incredibly powerful medicinal effects to be witnessed.
Another study highlighted the efficacy of olive oil in burn wound healing at an even deeper level. When patients who were admitted to burn wards with up to 20% of their entire surface affected by burn injuries were kept on a diet rich in olive oil, they responded faster, and the duration of hospitalization was shortened. It was contrasted against sunflower oil. Olive oil not only aids in wound healing when applied topically but also when it is consumed as food. 
Olive oil helps the body to create new connective tissue at the place where the burn has eaten away at the skin. It promotes the formation of new epithelial cells. These are the cells that make up the epidermis.
Does this mean that whenever we get burned, we should immediately rush for olive oil?
Well no. Olive oil should not be applied immediately after a burn. The first step is to perform first aid. Any burn wound should be thoroughly cleaned and cooled using cool water but not ice-cold water. Do not apply ice onto a burn wound. Also, no kind of fat should be applied. This includes olive oil or butter or margarine. After the burn is sufficiently cooled down, it is suitable to apply Aloe Vera gel. It soothes the skin and prevents it from drying off. Only after this should olive oil be applied. Olive oil as a home remedy should only be used on minor or first-degree burns spread over a small area. If the person is burned deep (second degree) or over a large area of the skin, then it is medical emergency. 
Olive oil promotes faster recovery from minor cuts and wounds that do not require hospitalization. It can also reduce the risk of scarring after the injury. However, it is not quite conclusive whether it helps in acne scars. Some people find that it reduces the visibility of the acne scar. This could be due to a toning effect created by polyphenols (antioxidants) in extra virgin and virgin olive oil. But olive oil does not seem to aid in repair of the dermis, the deeper layer of the skin. Acne scars are formed due to the damage to dermis layer of the skin and that is why they are so difficult to heal completely.
These are scars caused by tears in the dermis, the layer underneath the outermost layer of skin. Initially, when they are formed, the skin looks reddish or purplish underneath. Over time, the stretch mark lightens in color. If you run your finger across them slowly, you can actually feel a minute depression. This sort of groove is the subsidence of skin because of degradation of elastin fibers in the dermis, or a tear in the dermis. They are very common both in men and women. Once they are formed, there is actually very little that can be done. Most of us have them and we have tried numerous natural and synthetic products and remedies for them. At best, regular application of a natural oil can help to diminish their appearance. But it is a folly to think that a stretch mark can be eradicated. They never really go away.
Modern treatments for stretch marks are risky and quite dangerous because they have serious side effects. Medication prescribed for stretch marks usually begins with isotretinoin creams. Isotretinoin is toxic to the liver. Dermatological procedures like microdermabrasion and laser treatments can damage our delicate skin. These treatments are also very costly, and even they cannot ensure that stretch marks completely fade away.
It would be prudent to opt for natural remedies to lighten the scars. Olive oil is widely used for this purpose. Firstly, because it is most widely available. Secondly, in ancient Greek civilization, it was used for almost any skincare related condition. But one can use any oil, like sesame oil, coconut oil, sweet almond oil and so on. Cocoa butter is also a very popular natural remedy for stretch marks and it is used by millions worldwide.
Daily regimen for stretch marks should address all the major issues of human skin. One should definitely include an oil for regular massage. A deep tissue massage helps not just with the stretch marks, it heralds health benefits for the entire body and mind. Oil based massages dissolve out muscular strain, relieve stressed nerves and aid in draining out toxins through the lymphatic system. It keeps skin toned, moisturized and keeps inflammation within check. It is also important to drink sufficient water. Aloe vera gel can be applied liberally to keep the skin hydrated.
Note- Elevated stress levels can lead to stretch marks. Mayo clinic reports that if cortisone levels are higher than normal (cortisone is one of the stress hormones released by the adrenal glands), then it leads to degradation of elastin fibers in the skin matrix which subsequently leads to stretch marks. 
Ancient Greek civilization had long imparted this wisdom that olive oil had the ability to arrest the decline of health with age. In some regions of Greece, the traditional ways of life have not been lost. People still consume seemingly high amounts of extra virgin olive oil, freshly cold pressed from olives dropped down off trees so old they may have seen the entire known human history unfold before them. Now, scientific basis have emerged that have not only validated the anti-ageing credentials of extra virgin olive oil, but even tried to quantify the effect.
It is the extra virgin olive oil that is plush with powerful phytonutrients known as polyphenols. They act as antioxidants in the body. As such they protect cells of our body from degradation by free radicals. New evidence has emerged that tells us that the anti-ageing mechanism of polyphenols from EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) works at an even deeper level, the level of genes.
mTOR is one of the genes responsible for carrying out programmed ageing. The genetic makeup of each individual is different. And that is why ageing progresses differently in different people. mTOR gene can be prompted to activation by our food choices, cytokines (signalling molecules released by our immune system), our inherent growth factors and even insulin. Excessive activity of mTOR gene is suppressed by a protein called as AMPK. In one revealing study, researchers identified that a class of polyphenols in EVOO, called secoiridoids, bolstered the activity of AMPK. In summary, consumption of EVOO in diet suppressed excessive activity of the gene related to ageing.  Researchers witnessed that the anti-ageing effect of EVOO is similar to resveratrol. Most of us know resveratrol as a popular supplement that is purportedly taken to slow down ageing. The entire family of polyphenols exert strong antioxidant effect over various organ systems. The key to anti-ageing thus is to consume good quality and quantity of fruits, especially berries, tea, coffee, herbal teas, cocoa and vegetables.
In another study, rats were fed a diet rich in extra virgin olive oil. At the later stages of their lives, their cognitive function, memory and neuromuscular coordination was measured. It was found that rats that were on an EVOO rich diet improved on their memory tasks and their coordination was improved. This holds immense promise for people suffering from memory decline in Alzheimer’s and loss of balance and coordination due to cerebellum ataxias. Presently, there are no definitive treatments for accelerated brain degeneration. It is heartwarming to know that natural products, something as common as extra virgin oil, could not just slow down the progression of these slow yet severely debilitating diseases but could also lead to a rejuvenation by reversing brain cell ageing. The researchers attributed this effect to the polyphenols in EVOO and their potent antioxidant and related anti-inflammatory effects. 
We have seen that when extra virgin olive oil is made part of diet, it can slow down ageing. When it is applied onto the skin, there too it exerts an anti-ageing effect. It contains high amounts of vitamin E which protects the skin from ultraviolet related accelerated ageing, known as photo-ageing. It is common knowledge that staying in locations where the ultraviolet radiation is high causes the skin to degenerate faster. It leads to dryness, wrinkles, sagging of the skin, fine lines and sunspots. It is best to avoid direct exposure of the skin to harsh sun rays. Oils rich in vitamin E exert a mild sunscreen like effect. Secondly, antioxidants in EVOO, which includes vitamin E as well as polyphenols, protect skin cells from oxidative damage.
A full body massage using extra virgin olive oil is therapeutic for the body and mind. Massage dissolves strain built in the muscles, tendons and ligaments. It soothes the nerves. Massage stimulates the brain to release chemicals known as endorphins. These endorphins induce a feeling of euphoria and also decrease sensations of pain.
It had been known that people living around the Mediterranean in Europe had longer life spans, lower incidence of heart diseases and better function in old age. It is believed that this is due to the low stress lifestyle, immersed in nature. Medical researchers attribute it to their diet. This diet came to be known as the Mediterranean diet. One of the staples in this diet is extra virgin olive oil. It is ubiquitous all across the Mediterranean cultures.
Modern studies confirm the positive effect that extra virgin olive oil has on hypertension. In one study, elderly people suffering from hypertension were either kept on a diet rich in sunflower oil or virgin olive oil for 4 weeks. Measurements of blood pressure revealed that people who consumed virgin olive oil saw a dramatic reduction in systolic blood pressure. Down from an average of 150 mmHg to 136 mmHg. Since 140 mmHg is the cut off for hypertension, these people had now passed into the pre-hypertension zone which is not as disconcerting.  With passing years, blood pressure starts to climb up because the walls of our blood vessels are now not as elastic as they would have been at youth. Medication given to hypertension patients is generally considered as having the least side effects. If mild hypertension can be brought down using dietary changes it can have a tremendously uplifting effect on elderly people as their medication would be reduced or stopped altogether.
People who are overweight or obese might refrain from taking larger amounts of fat in their diet. But a very recent study published in 2018 came up with a startling observation. Women with body fat percentage higher than healthy levels saw a reduction in blood pressure when they consumed a calorie restricted diet, but which had high levels of extra virgin olive oil in it. During the trial they had to eat a high fat breakfast which had a whopping 25ml of EVOO per day. This reinforces the idea that even in people who are overweight, consumption of healthy oils like EVOO which is rich in unsaturated fat and antioxidants is a healthy choice. The average reduction in blood pressure (diastolic) after 9 long weeks of modified diet was 5 mmHg. 
So we notice that extra virgin and virgin olive oil aid in reduction of blood pressure levels. Now that this is established, we need to delve deep into the underlying mechanisms powering this effect. Extra virgin oil may be changing the composition of gut flora which could be linked to a reduction in blood pressure.  It could also be due to an improvement in the function of the endothelium of blood vessels. It could be leading to a toning of the blood vessels.
A very widely cited medical study evaluated 7216 men and women, all aged between 55 and 80 and at high cardiovascular disease risk. They were on a regimen of either a Mediterranean diet rich in nuts or extra virgin olive oil, or a low-fat diet. After a few years had passed by, these participants were tested again. It was found that those who were on a Mediterranean diet rich in EVOO had lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease (stroke and heart attacks).  It was speculated that the polyphenol antioxidants in EVOO were responsible for the protective effects on the heart and blood vessels. Later studies have clearly mentioned that this effect occurs because of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It is also in part due to improvement in the lipid profile.
Polyphenols reduced the levels of markers of oxidative stress. It shows that the polyphenols that display antioxidant effect in labs do exert free radical scavenging effects inside the body as well. Levels of LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol were reduced. Even as total cholesterol was coming down, HDL cholesterol was rising up. HDL cholesterol is widely known as the “healthy” type of cholesterol.  But this is not the end of EVOO’s beneficial effects. In fact, its impact on the cardiovascular system is much deeper and it is important to understand this.
Inside our bodies, we produce an enzyme known as Paraoxonase 1. This is mainly produced in our liver, from where it gets absorbed into our blood. Within our blood, we carry fats in the form of cholesterol and triglycerides. These fats reach the blood after the fats that we have eaten are digested, absorbed and assimilated. LDL cholesterol circulating in the blood gets oxidized into oxidized LDL. The higher the free radicals in our body, faster is the conversion of LDL into its oxidized form. This conversion is unhealthy for the body because it is this oxidized LDL that forms plaques in the arteries and narrows them. Over time, these plaques may become so large that they can join to completely block off the artery. This as we know, causes the heart attack. At the root of cardiovascular disease progression is the formation of oxidized LDL. Paraoxonase 1 functions as an antioxidant by preventing the conversion of LDL cholesterol into oxidized LDL. Consumption of EVOO increases the levels of this enzyme. 
So even if you are taking foods that are high in saturated fat and therefore increasing the risk of raising LDL cholesterol, so long as you are also taking EVOO, it may not cause significant harm. That is because olive rich in polyphenols would reduce the formation of plaque material.
Extra virgin olive oil demonstrates powerful neuroprotective effects. It holds promise in not just delaying the onset of neurodegenerative disease, but it could possibly brain cell degradation. This is one of the most challenging tasks in medicine. Its neuroprotective effects are due to a combination of effects which is not limited to the antioxidant effect of the polyphenols.
A prominent clinical study involving 522 people found that consumption of extra virgin olive oil over a period of 6.5 years (median for the study), participants witnessed an improvement in their cognitive scores. It was proven that extra virgin olive oil definitely plays a role in attenuating those processes that lead to age related slow degeneration of memory and thinking capacity. Molecular biologists attribute this effect to the polyphenols in EVOO. Polyphenols in olive oil have been evaluated for their efficacy in specific chronic neurodegenerative diseases and many of them were found to be useful in in-vitro studies or animal tests.
- Alzheimer’s – Oleocanthal, Oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol have been found in animal studies and in-vitro studies that they inhibit several of the mechanisms that are linked to Alzheimer’s. The inhibition of polymerization of tau proteins by Oleocanthal is considered to be instrumental in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Oleocanthal inhibits the action of COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, which means that the inflammation levels in the body remain low. 
- Parkinson’s – In Parkinson’s, the levels of dopamine in the brain start to decline. Current therapies involve boosting the levels of dopamine, or preventing its degradation by free radicals. Of late, it is being increasingly agreed that there could be multiple pathways aggravating Parkinson’s. Polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil can theoretically provide protection against these processes. Tyrosol in EVOO reduces the degradation of mitochondria in brain cells. Mitochondria are the basic power plants of our body. They are found in each cell and therein they produce energy from food. If they get degraded, any cell can do nothing but die out. Oleuropein reduces the natural rate of cell damage. Some of our body’s cells die out every day and they are dissolved away. In their place, new cells are formed. This process, known as autophagy, is central to good health and a disease free life. Oleuropein also reduces oxidative stress on the mitochondria. What this means is that the mitochondria are protected from gradual decay by bombardment of free radicals. Hydroxytyrosol was seen to be performing a detoxing effect by activating detoxifying enzymes. This is also significant because environmental toxins are also believed to be responsible in the progression of Parkinson’s. Only about 10% of the cases of Parkinson’s are genetic in origin. Hydroxytyrosol was most effective as it actually boosted dopamine levels in rats. Since most of these studies were either done on cell cultures in labs, or on rats, we need studies involving Parkinson’s patients to see how and to what extent do these protective effects extend into us humans. 
- Multiple Sclerosis – In this condition, lesions start to develop on the nerves. Multiple sclerosis affects the protective coating around our nerves which is known as myelin sheath. This affects normal body functions. It can cause incontinence in urinary and bowel function. Balance and coordination are affected. Muscles become progressively weak and thin. In some cases multiple sclerosis can also produce psychiatric symptoms. MS, as it called in short, is one of the most perplexing conditions because its cause is not yet known. Nor do we know much about its progression. Some people seem to experience a bout of MS and then recover. While others suffer from chronically worsening MS which is debilitating. In one study, two compounds from olive oil prevented neurodegeneration in mice. These were oleanolic acid and erythrodiol. These two prevented an autoimmune attack on the central nervous system by the body’s own immune system. It is strongly believed that MS is caused by an autoimmune reaction, and as such there is preliminary basis for consumption of Extra Virgin Olive Oil to prevent neurodegeneration. 
Similar studies have found that some polyphenols from EVOO could help in other neurological conditions like Cerebellar Ataxia and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
Olive Oil and Cancer Prevention
It is known from large scale population level studies that people living around the Mediterranean seem to suffer less from chronic diseases like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer. Their diet includes ample amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grain wheat and extra virgin olive oil, fresh from the expeller. And of course, lots of grapes. This diet must surely be playing a role in reducing the incidence of chronic diseases.
Cancer is one of the most difficult diseases to treat. In recent years, we are beginning to study about the role of polyphenols in preventing cancers from taking root in the first place. Turmeric was found to be strongly preventive. It contains a polyphenol called curcumin which exhibits anti-cancer properties. Similarly, resveratrol, a kind of polyphenol subtype found in grapes and few other foods is also anti-cancer. This led researchers to screen polyphenols of extra virgin olive oil for possible anti-cancer properties.
One prominent study found that olive oil (extra virgin grade) contained a polyphenol from secoiridoid class named as DOA. It stands for decarboxymethyl oleuropein aglycone. It prevented the action of mTOR and DNMT on cancer causing stem cells. This was found to be strongly preventive in breast cancer. More importantly, the research concluded that the polyphenol from EVOO naturally prohibited epigenetic mechanisms that led to conversion of tumors into the more life-threatening version, cancers and their subsequent metastasis. We are beginning to realize that cancers can be caused not just by genetic changes (mutations) but even epigenetic changes (these changes do not alter the DNA of our cell but only the processes related to DNA (like methylation) are affected). Since we have discovered this new mechanism of proliferation of cancer, it is quite possible that the new strategy of finding polyphenols and other natural antioxidants that suppress such epigenetic changes could become mainstay of cancer prevention diets. Well, it could also aid us in developing medication derived from these nutrients, which might have lesser side effects that present chemotherapy medication. 
Olive oil can be useful not just in preventing cancers, new research indicates that it could also be used to treat cancers. Oleocanthal, a polyphenol in EVOO can kill cancer kills by penetrating their lysosomes. Lysosomes are subdivision of a cell (an organelle) which devour the cell when it has reached its age. But in cancer cells, lysosomes tend to be weak. So cancerous cells take advantage of this weakness and avoid programmed cell death. In this way, they proliferate faster and longer. Oleocanthal from olive oil can return the cell’s life cycle to normalcy. If cancer cells begin to die at programmed time, they can be curbed. 
Olive oil is universally renowned for its excellent fatty acid profile. It has one of the highest levels of an unsaturated fat known as oleic acid. Almost 85% of the oil can be made up of just the oleic acid. This means that the saturated fats are found only in minor quantities. Since our current guidelines emphasize that we should take more of unsaturated fats, this makes olive oil one of the healthiest cooking oils on the planet. A closer look at the fatty acid (lipid) profile reveals more details about its health benefits.
|Fatty Acid||Carbon Notation and Type||Percentage in oil|
|Oleic acid||C 18 : 1 , Monounsaturated||55 – 83%|
|Linoleic acid||C 18 : 2 , Polyunsaturated||3.5 – 21%|
|Palmitic acid||C 16 : 0 , Saturated||7.5 – 20%|
|Stearic acid||C 18 : 0 , Saturated||0.5 – 5%|
|Arachidic acid||C 20 : 0 , Saturated||0.8%|
As far as composition of fatty acids is concerned, there seems to be no significant difference between olive pomace oil, virgin olive oil and extra virgin olive oil. However the fatty acid content varies from country to country, and even within the country. Different cultivars of olives yield different chemical signatures.
If an olive oil is very rich in oleic acid, it will naturally be low in linoleic acid and palmitic acid (the other two major fats). Although linoleic acid is an essential fat for the body, it does play a role in certain pro-inflammatory reactions. Olive oil on the other hand can boast of powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
Olive oil contains appreciable amounts of Vitamin E in alpha tocopherol form. It is this form of vitamin E that is most usable (bioavailable) to our body. Greek extra virgin olive oils can contain up to 370 mg per kilogram of olive. The daily requirement of Vitamin E for an adult is 15mg. Daily consumption of EVOO may not be able to provide the entire RDA (recommended dietary allowance) but it surely gives us a boost to reach that daily needed amount. We should strive to get the recommended amount of Vitamin E daily because it is a supreme antioxidant. It protects almost the entire body from free radical damage. Vitamin E protects our heart and blood vessels by preventing oxidation of fats once they have been metabolized into the blood stream. This is done by Vitamin E by curbing the infamous lipid peroxidation process. Secondly, and much more importantly, Vitamin E plays a quintessential role in protecting our nerves. If we remain deficient in Vitamin E for long periods of time, we are unknowingly exposing ourselves to the risk of developing chronic neurodegenerative diseases. Vitamin E is also great for our skin and hair as it protects them from premature ageing caused by harsh ultraviolet rays coming in from the sun. Vitamin E thus slows photoaging. However we need to eat foods rich in Vitamin C to make the Vitamin E work better. That is because each vitamin E molecule gets used up when it fights with one free radical. Vitamin C resuscitates the Vitamin E (chemically) which enables the Vitamin E to provide longer lasting protection.
Although these phytonutrients are well known for their antioxidant power, it is not common knowledge that their range of therapeutic (medicinal) actions within the body are very diverse and powerful. Extra virgin olive oil contains unique polyphenols which bring their own unique health benefits to the table.
|Polyphenol and its type||Therapeutic Effect and mechanisms underlying|
|Oleuropein (seco-iridoid)||Anti-cancer (induces autophagy), specific activity against liver cancer and breast cancer, anti-metastasis effect in breast cancer|
|Healthy weight maintenance (regulates fatty acid and glucose metabolism via inhibition of PPARG gene receptor)|
|Anti-Alzheimer’s (protects mice from amyloid beta protein plaque formation)|
|Tyrosol (phenylethanoid)||Antioxidant (lowers lipid peroxidation)|
|Anti-atherosclerosis (prevents plaque buildup in arteries)|
|Can increase lifespan|
|Hydroxytyrosol (phenylethanoid)||Prevents DNA damage by acting as antioxidant|
|Anti breast cancer by inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death)|
|Can extend lifespan|
(lowers systemic inflammation)
|Oleocanthal (phenylethanoid)||Anti-Alzheimer’s (it plays a role by binding to tau proteins)|
|Neuroprotective (it prevents formation of amyloid beta proteinaceous plaques in the brain)|
|Natural painkiller (similar to NSAID medication)|
From the above table, it is clear that polyphenols do not just act as antioxidants. They exert a wide array of protective and preventive effects. These polyphenols are responsible for the low incidence of coronary artery disease, neurodegenerative disorders and other chronic diseases among the Mediterranean regions. Combined with a diet rich in naturally grown fruits, vegetables, whole wheat, oceanic fish, fresh natural cheese (without preservative) and some red wine makes the Mediterranean diet a powerhouse of nature’s finest nutrients.
Extra virgin olive oil contains chlorophyll. It is in the form on a compound called pheophytin alpha. This is what lends extra virgin olive oil its greenish tinge. Chlorophyll is a notable antioxidant. But it also acts as anti-inflammatory and a potent anti-cancer nutrient. EVOO provides appreciable amount of phytosterols. These are plant derived micronutrients and are similar to cholesterol in function. They compete with cholesterol when it is being absorbed from food in the intestine. In this way, foods rich in phytosterols help to reduce cholesterol levels in blood, which is good for the heart and cardiovascular system.
EVOO provides the incredibly healthy carotenoids. We mostly associate carotenoids with health benefits for the eyes but they have many more health benefits to offer. EVOO is rich in beta carotene and lutein. Beta carotene apart from being an antioxidant is also a form of provitamin A. What this means is that when we eat carrots, beta carotene from them is converted by our body into retinol which is the usable form of Vitamin A. Many naturally produced edible oils are rich in vitamin A. Beta carotene helps to raise our daily intake of Vitamin A to meet RDA levels especially if we do not eat eggs or drink milk. Beta carotene protects vision and keeps the teeth, bones and skin healthy. It has a role to play in the natural rate of sloughing of skin. Our body sheds off dead skin cells periodically and in its place, new skin cells are formed. This renews the skin.
Lutein plays a prominent role in protecting eyes from age related degeneration. It seems to prevent the formation of cataracts. Latest research is shedding more light on the beneficial effects of the various carotenoids. Lutein, for example, was found to boost cognitive performance in older men and women. 
Side Effects, Safe Dosage and Drug Interactions
Extra virgin and virgin olive oils are considered safe oils. Olive oil has hardly any side effects or toxicity issues. One can safely consume up to 2 tablespoons of oil, and that too on a regular basis. It is not known to cause allergic reactions or adverse skin sensitivity generally. Some people may have nausea or may vomit when they eat it drizzled on salads. In may take some time for the taste preference to adjust because of its bitterness, astringency and pungency.
Olive oil can lower blood pressure as discussed earlier. If you are taking medication to control hypertension, taking olive oil at the same time may cause blood pressure to plummet to dangerously low levels.
Olive oil can also lower blood glucose levels. Someone who is suffering from diabetes and taking medication for it should not use olive oil without doctor’s advice. Both the medication and olive oil can cause blood glucose to go so low as to cause hypoglycemia.
It is safe to be taken during pregnancy and lactation. The International Olive Council recommends it. One study has shown that pregnant women who had been taking olive oil, their infants did not experience much wheezing in their first year.  Such studies sit well with cultural knowledge. In m any cultures around the Mediterranean and even in Indian subcontinent, new born infants have been massaged using olive oil.
Olive oil industry is guided by the International Olive Council. It is this body that sets standards for various grades of olive oil. Highest grade of purity is extra virgin olive oil because it has least amount of free fatty acids (less than 1% of total weight of oil). Next comes virgin olive oil. It can have up to 2% as free fatty acids. Olive pomace oil is the extraction from left over cake after the first pressing has been done. It is generally recommended for cooking and deep frying. Refined olive oil is one which has been bleached and deodorized to subdue taste and aroma. It has least amount of polyphenols and other micronutrients.
In recent years, we notice that a new type of product is being marketed. It is the ozonated olive oil. In this oil, ozone gas is bubbled through extra virgi, virgin, or any other grade of olive oil. It is claimed that such oil is more effective at treating skin infections and joint conditions. Its promoters also claim that it administers ozone therapy, which is highly controversial. There are no peer reviewed reputed medical journals that support these claims. On the contrary, internal consumption of ozone laden oil may be dangerous.
Olive oil is prone to rancidity because it contains mostly unsaturated fats. Rancid oil starts to leak an offensive odor and tastes like stale peanuts. It should be discarded without delay. Unrefined and pure olive oil has a low shelf life. It may stay pure for 6 months to a year. That is why it is said that a bottle of olive oil should be used in one season itself.
- Healing effect of sea buckthorn, olive oil, and their mixture on full-thickness burn wounds. Edraki M. et al, Adv Skin Wound Care. 2014 Jul;27(7):317-23
- Effect of oral olive oil on healing of 10-20% total body surface area burn wounds in hospitalized patients. Najmi M. et al, Burns. 2015 May;41(3):493-6.
- Burns First Aid – Mayoclinic.
- Stretch Marks – Mayoclinic.
- Xenohormetic and anti-aging activity of secoiridoid polyphenols present in extra virgin olive oil. Javier A. Menendez et al, Cell Cycle. 2013 Feb 15; 12(4): 555–578.
- Long-term dietary extra-virgin olive oil rich in polyphenols reverses age-related dysfunctions in motor coordination and contextual memory in mice: role of oxidative stress. Pitozzi V. et al, Rejuvenation Res. 2012 Dec;15(6):601-12.
- Virgin olive oil reduces blood pressure in hypertensive elderly subjects. Perona JS et al, Clin Nutr. 2004 Oct;23(5):1113-21.
- Consumption of extra virgin olive oil improves body composition and blood pressure in women with excess body fat: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Galvao Candido F et al, Eur J Nutr. 2018 Oct;57(7):2445-2455.
- Changes in Gut Microbiota Linked to a Reduction in Systolic Blood Pressure in Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats Fed an Extra Virgin Olive Oil-Enriched Diet. Hidalgo M. et al, Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2018 Mar;73(1):1-6.
- Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED Study. Guasch – Ferre M. et al, BMC Med. 2014 May 13;12:78.
- The effect of high-polyphenol extra virgin olive oil on cardiovascular risk factors: A systematic review and meta-analysis. George E.S. et al, Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2018 Apr 30:1-24.
- Extra-virgin olive oil consumption reduces the age-related decrease in HDL and paraoxonase 1 anti-inflammatory activities. Loued S. et al, Br J Nutr. 2013 Oct;110(7):1272-84.
- Bioactivity of Olive Oil Phenols in Neuroprotection. Christina Angeloni et al, Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Nov; 18(11): 2230.
- Extra-virgin olive oil contains a metabolo-epigenetic inhibitor of cancer stem cells. Bruna Corominas-Faja et al, Carcinogenesis. 2018 Apr; 39(4): 601–613.
- (-)-Oleocanthal rapidly and selectively induces cancer cell death via lysosomal membrane permeabilization. Onica LeGendre et al, Molecular and Cellular Oncology, Volume 2, 2015.
- Olive Oil Composition. G. Blekas et al, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
- Nutraceutical Properties of Olive Oil Polyphenols. An Itinerary from Cultured Cells through Animal Models to Humans. Stefani Rigacci and Massimo Stefani, Int J Mol Sci. 2016 Jun; 17(6): 843.
- Effects of Lutein/Zeaxanthin Supplementation on the Cognitive Function of Community Dwelling Older Adults: A Randomized, Double-Masked, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Billy R. Hammond Jr. et al, Front Aging Neurosci. 2017; 9: 254.
- Olive oil during pregnancy is associated with reduced wheezing during the first year of life of the offspring. Castro-Rodriguez J.A. et al, Pediatr Pulmonol. 2010 Apr;45(4):395-402.
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