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Breast Cancer Awareness Month & Dr. Mary Flynn's Presentation for the Advanced Course at UC Davis Olive Center

Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Health

Mary M. Flynn, PhD, RD, LDN.

Associate Professor of Medicine, Clinical, Brown University

Research Dietitian, The Miriam Hospital.

Founder of “The Olive Oil Health Initiative of The Miriam Hospital at Brown University “

People raised on diets that daily include extra virgin olive oil (EVoo) have lower rates of most chronic diseases, such as less heart disease, cancers, arthritis, and type 2 diabetes. EVoo has been shown to decrease a number of risk factors for chronic diseases.  Some of the risk factors improved with olive oil are:

Oxidation.  Excessive oxidation increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, and general aging.  Oxidation is encouraged with the main type of fat found in vegetable oils (polyunsaturated fat).  EVoo is rich in monounsaturated fat, which does not oxidize.  EVoo also contains a number of phenols that are antioxidants, which lower oxidation.  EVoo with a high phenolic content has been shown to decrease LDL oxidation(1), which lowers the risk of heart disease.  Oxidation of DNA can initiate cancers and EVoo with a high phenolic content will decrease DNA oxidation (2).

Blood levels of fasting insulin and glucose.  Higher blood levels of both insulin and glucose have been related to an increased risk of heart disease and several cancers.  Two tablespoons of EVoo a day was shown to decrease blood levels of glucose and insulin (3).  Besides decreasing your risk of heart disease and cancer, EVoo would also improve blood glucose control for diabetics.

Blood pressure.  Two to 3 tablespoons of EVoo a day has been shown to lower blood pressure (4).  EVoo with a higher phenol content lower systolic blood pressure in men compared to a lower phenol content oil (5).

Inflammation.  High levels of inflammation (measured in the blood) that occur with a disease, like heart disease or cancer, have been related to a less favorable outcome.  Oleocanthal, found in some EVoo and is responsible for the “burning” sensation when swallowed, is a natural anti-inflammatory agent (6).  It works like ibuprofen does to limit the production of inflammatory compounds in the body.

Blood coagulation. blood that is too clotty will increase your risk of heart disease and cerebral vascular accidents (strokes).  EVoo high in phenols has been shown to decrease blood from clotting (7).

Body weight. I have found that people express concern that “olive oil is a fat”, when I recommend that they use more EVoo.  However, patients who use EVoo as part of a weight loss program lose weight better than on a low-fat diet (8).  Studies have hown that people who use EVoo as their main diet fat also tend to have a lower body weight (9) and gain less weight over time (10).  A meal that contains fat leads to satiety, meaning you are satisfied from eating the meal so you stop eating; it also means that it will take longer for you to get hungry for your next meal.

The health benefits of EVoo start at about 2 tablespoons a day and many studies show that the benefits increase with higher intakes.  I recommend that EVoo is used mainly to prepare vegetables using 1 tablespoon of EVoo per cup of vegetables.  

Not all EVoo sold in the US that is labeled “extra virgin” is truly extra virgin. For extensive information on olive oil, please consult:www.truthinoliveoil.com.   This website, by Tom Mueller who wrote the book,Extra Virginity (2012), which is a must-read for anyone who is interested in olive oil, provides extensive information on how to find out if an olive oil is authentically extra virgin and where to buy it.

  1. Covas MI, Nyyssonen K, Poulsen HE, et al. Ann Intern Med 2006;145:333-41.
  2. Salvini S, Sera F, Caruso D, et al. Br J Nutr 2006;95:742-51.
  3. Madigan C, Ryan M, Owens D, Collins P, Tomkin GH. Diabetes Care 2000;23:1472-7.
  4. Ferrara LA, Raimondi AS, d'Episcopo L, Guida L, Dello Russo A, Marotta T. Arch Intern Med 2000;160:837-42.
  5. Fito M, Cladellas M, de la Torre R, et al. Atherosclerosis 2005;181:149-58.
  6. Beauchamp GK, Keast RS, Morel D, et al. Nature 2005;437:45-6.
  7. Ruano J, Lopez-Miranda J, de la Torre R, et al.. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;86:341-6.
  8. Flynn MM, Reinert SE. J Womens Health (Larchmt);19:1155-61.
  9. Panagiotakos DB, Chrysohoou C, Pitsavos C, Stefanadis C. Nutrition 2006;22:449-56.
  10. Bes-Rastrollo M, Sanchez-Villegas A, de la Fuente C, de Irala J, Martinez JA, Martinez-Gonzalez MA. Lipids 2006;41:249-56.