The magic of the Mediterranean diet has long been touted as heart healthy and olive oil has been a prime ingredient. Now, new studies are looking at the science behind olive oil as a balm for long life.
The latest studies show that drizzling a little olive oil on your salad regularly can ward off damage to your heart from air pollution and help lower your blood pressure. In fact, new research shows that, as little as, two thirds of a teaspoon of olive oil daily can reduce the effect of air pollution on heart health. Another study showed the combination of olive oil and certain vegetables lowers blood pressure.
The traditional Mediterranean Diet usually includes foods high in fiber, low in fat, and rich in omega 3. There is a lot of legumes, cereals, fruits and vegetables. Consumption of fish and wine is moderate. Dairy is mostly yogurt and cheese. Meat consumption is low. But, olive oil has long been lauded as the key ingredient in the Mediterranean diet that seems has health benefits for a long life.
In the first study, British scientists have found that combining unsaturated fats in olive oil and nitrate-rich vegetables can lower blood pressure. The Mediterranean diet typically gets ‘good’ unsaturated fats from olive oil, nuts and avocados and the nitrates from spinach, celery and carrots. When the two substances are combined, however, they form nitro fatty acids. As reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the nitro fatty acids have been shown to lower blood pressure in studies on mice.
Noting that the study does help explain why the Mediterranean diet is so good for heart health, Dr. Sanjay Thakrar, Research Adviser with the British Heart Foundation, the project’s co-funders, added that the results indicate how a particular combination could combat high blood pressure. “However, more work is necessary as these experiments were conducted in mice,” he said, pointing out that “this compound could also be having its effect through other pathways.”
Meanwhile, an other study, conducted by U.S. government researchers, found that olive oil can decrease the health impact of high levels of air pollution, which is linked to heart disease, stroke and asthma. The findings, from Icahn School of Medicine and Mount Sinai in New York, were recently presented at the American Thoracic Society International Conference.
The study used 42 healthy adult participants who were given three grams of olive oil or fish oil each day or neither for four weeks before being exposed to two hours of filtered air. The following day they were exposed to two hours of polluted air. Using ultrasound, their blood vessels were examined before, right after and 20 hours after the exposures.
The participants who did not take supplements showed significant narrowing of their blood vessels immediately after exposure to the air pollution. The group that took fish oil supplements showed similar results. However, the group that took olive oil had no significant narrowing in their blood vessels.
Other biological changes were noted, too. The group that took olive oil exhibited an increased level of a protein that breaks down blood clots after their exposure to the air pollution. Blood clots can cause heart attacks when lodged near the heart or strokes when lodged in the brain.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency research biologist Dr. Haiyan Tong, noted that the results suggest that using olive oil supplements may protect against the long-term negative vascular effects from exposure to air pollution in daily life. He indicated that if the information is replicated in further studies, use of olive oil supplements may provide a safe and effective way to counteract some health consequences of exposure to air pollution.
By Dyanne Weiss