Does olive oil cause heart disease ?

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There are many myths when it comes to olive oil and I thought it would be wise to dedicate a blog post to debunking some of the incorrect claims.

Some of these incorrect claims include the belief that olive oil causes heart disease, impairs endothelial function and is a pro-inflammatory food, all of which couldn’t be further from the real truth.

Much of the fear surrounding olive oil stems from its rich content of fats.  However, the majority of the fats that olive oil contains are heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids.

A growing body of research is finding that diet patterns which are low in saturated fats, rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids(Omega-3(EPA/DHA/ALA)) such as the Mediterranean diet plan, help to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

In this blog post, we are going to debunk some of the fear mongering and incorrect claims surrounding olive oil using scientific research.

Myth #1: Olive oil causes heart disease

The first myth I am going to tackle is the incorrect claim that olive oil either causes or increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

According to a growing body of scientific research, the opposite is actually true here, in that a diet rich in olive oil actually significantly decreases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

Olive oil is one of the key components of the Mediterranean diet and where the cardiovascular health support benefits are partially derived from.

Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED Study.

“Higher baseline total olive oil consumption was associated with 48% (HR:0.52; 95% CI: 0.29 to 0.93) reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality. For each 10 g/d increase in extra-virgin olive oil consumption, cardiovascular disease and mortality risk decreased by 10% and 7%, respectively.

Olive oil consumption, specifically the extra-virgin variety, is associated with reduced risks of cardiovascular disease and mortality in individuals at high cardiovascular risk.

In summary, the study found that greater consumption of total olive oil, especially EVOO, was associated with reduced cardiovascular disease and mortality risk in an elderly Mediterranean population at high cardiovascular risk. [1]

Myth #2: Olive oil is pro-inflammatory and causes inflammation

The next myth to debunk is the claim that Olive oil is pro-inflammatory and causes inflammation in the body.

Contrary to the popular belief of the low-fat vegan diet proponents, research has actually found that Olive oil is a strong anti-inflammatory food, due to the rich content of polyphenols.

Virgin olive oil contains numerous phenolic compounds that exert potent anti-inflammatory actions.

Oleocanthal is contained in virgin olive oil and possesses similar anti-inflammatory properties to ibuprofen. [2]

Research has also confirmed that olive oil can significantly reduce some markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein and interleukin-6.

Olive oil interventions (with daily consumption ranging approximately between 1 mg and 50 mg) resulted in a significantly more pronounced decrease in C-reactive protein (mean difference: −0.64 mg/L, (95% confidence interval (CI) −0.96 to −0.31), p < 0.0001, n = 15 trials) and interleukin-6 (mean difference: −0.29 (95% CI −0.7 to −0.02), p < 0.04, n = 7 trials) as compared to controls, respectively. [3]

Myth #3: Olive oil causes endothelial dysfunction

The final myth to debunk is the false and incorrect belief that olive oil impairs endothelial function.

This claim is largely from the proponents of cardiologist Dr Caldwell Esselstyn, who believes that all oils impair endothelial function, even olive oil.

Now this claim doesn’t appear to be rooted in any sort of scientific evidence, as the research has actually found the opposite to be true, which is that olive oil may actually improve endothelial function.

The latest systematic review and meta-analysis from 2015 investigated the effects of olive oil on inflammatory markers and endothelial function.

Thirty studies enrolling 3106 participants fulfilled the selection criteria. Pooled effects of different interventions were assessed as mean difference using a random effects model.

Values of flow-mediated dilatation (given as absolute percentage) were significantly more increased in individuals subjected to olive oil interventions (mean difference: 0.76% (95% CI 0.27 to 1.24), p < 0.002, n = 8 trials).

These results provide evidence that olive oil might exert beneficial effects on endothelial function as well as markers of inflammation and endothelial function, thus representing a key ingredient contributing to the cardiovascular-protective effects of a Mediterranean diet.

However, due to the heterogeneous study designs (e.g., olive oil given as a supplement or as part of dietary pattern, variations in control diets), a conservative interpretation of the results is necessary. [3]

Another study from 2012 published in the American journal of hypertension once again found more evidence that olive oil can exert a beneficial effect on endothelial function.

Olive oil polyphenols have been associated with several cardiovascular health benefits.

This study aims to examine the influence of a polyphenol-rich olive oil on blood pressure (BP) and endothelial function in 24 young women with high-normal BP or stage 1 essential hypertension.

We concluded that the consumption of a diet containing polyphenol-rich olive oil can decrease blood pressure and improve endothelial function in young women with high-normal BP or stage 1 essential hypertension. [4]

Studies have also found that the polyphenol fraction of extra virgin olive oil protects against endothelial dysfunction induced by high glucose and free fatty acids through modulation of nitric oxide and endothelin-1.

Thus, our results suggest a protective effect of olive oil polyphenols on endothelial dysfunction induced by hyperglycemia and free fatty acids. [5]

References

[1] Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED Study

https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1741-7015-12-78

[2] Molecular mechanisms of inflammation. Anti-inflammatory benefits of virgin olive oil and the phenolic compound oleocanthal.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21443487

[3] Effects of Olive Oil on Markers of Inflammation and Endothelial Function—A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4586551/

[4] Olive oil polyphenols decrease blood pressure and improve endothelial function in young women with mild hypertension.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22914255

[5] Olive oil polyphenols protect endothelial dysfunction induced by high glucose and free fatty acids by modulating nitric oxide and endothelin-1

http://www.atherosclerosis-journal.com/article/S0021-9150(14)00535-8/abstract

[6] Polyphenol fraction of extra virgin olive oil protects against endothelial dysfunction induced by high glucose and free fatty acids through modulation of nitric oxide and endothelin-1

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4215463/

The information in this article has not been evaluated by the FDA and should not be used to diagnose, cure or treat any disease, implied or otherwise.

2 thoughts on “Does olive oil cause heart disease ?

  • May 24, 2018 at 3:23 pm
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    Olive oil causes heart disease irrespective of the effects discussed here. Even if olive oil has, by itself, a positive influence on endothelial function, in the end it’s still a source of almost empty calories. We know from studies of people living in certain indigenous societies, that heart disease can be almost totally absent, and that this is almost certainly due to the diet that lacks oils and fat (not totally, but they get the vast majority of their calories from whole grain carbs) with exercise also playing a role.

    People sticking to a Western diet will struggle to get the recommended 40 grams of fiber a day. If you eat like these indigenous people do, you’ll easily get 80 grams a fiber a day (I do this myself, and I get about this amount every day). The average fiber intake is about 20 grams a day.

    Magnesium intake of indigenous people is around 1 gram a day, much more than the RDA of 400 mg, which in turn is a lot more than the average intake. Potassium intake is of the order of ten grams a day, also way more than the RDA and the recommended intake. And salt intake in some groups of people is of the order of tenth of gram or less per day, about 50 to 100 times less than the average intake.

    A healthy dinner in my book could be 1 kg of potatoes and 600 grams of vegetables and some walnuts. The potatoes will give you 20 grams of protein, comparable to 80 grams of meat, also w.r.t. amino acid composition. Or 250 grams (dry weight) of brown rice or whole grain pasta instead of the potatoes.

    The same dinner with the same calories with vegetables fried in olive oil, must have far less carbs in there. But leaving out the carbs leads to a loss of protein, so you must add meat or fish. While this makes up for the shortfall in proteins, you’re not compensating for the loss of minerals and fibers. And with less rice or potatoes, you probably won’t be eating as much vegetables either. It are these changes that on the long run lead to heart disease.

    Reply
    • May 6, 2019 at 6:52 am
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      This is exactly why we require scientific evidence because your claims aren’t evidence-based.

      Olive oil doesn’t just appear to improve endothelial function, it also lowers inflammatory biomarkers, improves metabolic health, has potent antioxidant properties due to the polyphenol fraction, offering a myriad of potential cardiovascular health benefits.

      The scientific evidence consistently concludes olive oil is a heart-healthy food as part of a balanced diet pattern.

      “Consumption of EVOO is associated with a reduction in inflammatory biomarkers and molecules implicated in atherosclerosis as well as CVD incidence and mortality as well as other complications such as heart failure and atrial fibrillation. Moreover, these anti-inflammatory and cardioprotective effects of EVOO are mostly attributable to its high content of polyphenol molecules.

      CONCLUSION:

      Currently available evidence supports the anti-inflammatory and cardio-protective roles of EVOO. ”

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29149823

      Another recent study from 2018:

      CONCLUSION:

      The studies analyzed demonstrated the role of EVOO as anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and vasodilatory nutrient that may contribute to lower the atherosclerotic burden.

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29141571

      Reply

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