The Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, cereals, fruit, fish, milk, wine and olive oil and has salutary biological functions. Olive oil is the main source of fat, and the Mediterranean diet's healthy effects can in particular be attributed not only to the high relationship between unsaturated and saturated fatty acids in olive oil but also to the antioxidant property of its phenolic compounds. The uniqueness of olive oil lies in the fact that it isn't produced by solvent extraction, but rather by a cold-press mechanical process that preserves both the chemical nature of the oil and the natural antioxidants that are produced in response to environmental stress.
Olive oil is composed of 70% oleic acid, tocopherols - Vitamin E (5–25mg/100 g), carotenoids (1– 2mg/100g), phenolic compounds (20–500mg/L) and phytosterols (98–185mg/100g). Minor components include flavonids, rutin, leuteolin and squalene.
The main phenolic compounds, hydroxytyrosol, oleuropein and oleocanthal, have powerful antioxidant activity both in vivo and in vitro. These phenolic compounds also underlie several of the noteworthy sensory characteristics of extra-virgin olive oils such as bitterness and a prized sensory attribute, an unusual pungency restricted to the throat that often leads to coughing and throat clearing. Indeed, high quality extra virgin olive oils are sometimes referred to as “one cough” or “two cough oils” (the latter being more highly prized) because of this peculiar pungency.
Let’s have a look at all those main health benefits of extra virgin olive oil – but first things first, it all begins with oxidative stress.
Free radicals reactive oxygen species (ROS) are produced by living organisms as a result of normal cellular metabolism and environmental factors, such as air pollutants or cigarette smoke. ROS are highly reactive molecules and can damage cell structures such as carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins and alter their functions. The shift in the balance between oxidants and antioxidants in favor of oxidants is termed “oxidative stress.” Oxidative stress contributes to many pathological conditions and diseases, including cancer, neurological disorders, atherosclerosis, hypertension, ischemia/perfusion, diabetes, acute respiratory distress syndrome, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and asthma.
Regulation of reducing and oxidizing (redox) state is critical for cell viability, activation, proliferation, and organ function. Aerobic organisms have integrated antioxidant systems, which include enzymatic and nonenzymatic antioxidants that are usually effective in blocking harmful effects of ROS. However, in pathological conditions, the antioxidant systems can be overwhelmed. Hence application of external source of antioxidants can assist in coping this oxidative stress. Synthetic antioxidants such as butylated hydroxytoluene and butylated hydroxyanisole have recently been reported to be dangerous for human health. Thus, the search for effective, nontoxic natural compounds with antioxidative activity has been intensified in recent years. The role of dietary antioxidants as functional foods is critical and here's where extra virgin olive oil comes in.
It's been acknowledged that the phenolic compound oleuropein give extra virgin olive oil its bitter taste. So there's something to think about, as many people don't like bitter olive oils.
It's very interesting that in the development of the olive fruit, three phases are usually distinguished: a growth phase, during which accumulation of oleuropein occurs; a green maturation phase that coincides with a reduction in the levels of chlorophyll and oleuropein; and a black maturation phase that is characterized by the appearance of anthocyanins and during which the oleuropein levels continue to fall. I must emphasize that during processing of inedible green olives for human consumption as table olives, oleuropein is removed from olives.
Oleuropein and oleuropein aglycon have been intensively studied for some promising results with respect to their effects on human health and their potential medicinal properties. It has been found that diets containing olive oil phenols may increase in vivo resistance of Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) to oxidation; the effectiveness of oleuropein has been explained in part through its ability to act as an antioxidant and in part through a hypocholesterolaemic effect.
Besides antioxidant activity oleuropein is also known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-atherogenic, anti-cancer activities, antimicrobial activity, antiviral activity, hypolipidemic and hypoglycemic effect. Many studies showed that oleuropein aglycone is the most potent phenolic compound in decreasing breast cancer cell viability.
Phenolic compound oleocanthal is the principal molecule responsible for this pharyngeal pungency in extra virgin olive oil. There are many well characterized oral irritants, especially from chili peppers and horseradish, but none have this unusually localized sensation. The only other compounds known to trigger this restricted pharyngeal irritation is the anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen.
Oleocanthal possesses a wide range of biological effects:
- a potent anti-oxidant,
- a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent,
- a neuroprotectant that alters the structure and function of the neurotoxins, β-amyloid and Tau proteins, associated with the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s diseas,
- an inhibitor of cell proliferation, migration, and invasion of human breast and prostate cancer,
- an inhibitor of AMPK (5' adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase) in colon cancer cells,
- and an inhibitor of macrophage inflammatory protein -1α in multiple myeloma.
Oleocanthal rapidly induces robust cancer cell death via different mechanisms. What’s interesting is that this process doesn’t destroy healthy cells – it puts them to sleep for a while, but they quickly recover with no side effects.
Targeted cancer therapies that are cytotoxic to tumors and non-toxic to non-cancerous tissues are in high demand but in short supply. Extra virgin olive oil has it!
α-Tocopherol (Vitamin E)
Another phenolic compound found in the extra virgin olive oil is α-tocopherol, the form of vitamin E. An olive oil with high tocopherol content has a high degree of protection and therefore a longer life, while at the same time consumption of such oil protects human cells from oxidative stress – it's a potent antioxidant.
It protects the body against eye and skin problems, cancer, diabetes, and reduces the risk neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's.
It is widely used in skin creams and lotions because it reduces scarring and promotes healing, and is excellent for the hair as well. A recent study has shown that vitamin E also can protect the lungs against air pollution.
With respect to Parkinson’s disease, the administration of high doses of vitamin E may slow the development of the disease and reduce the severity of other neurological disorders.
The interesting fact is that one molecule of α–tocopherol protects 20,000 molecules of unsaturated fatty acids from going rancid.
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) are found in abundance in nuts, fish, and vegetable oils, particularly olive oil, which is composed of about 70 percent MUFAs. MUFAs protect against disease by increasing the fluidity and elasticity of the cell membranes. The consumption of these healthy fats has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis and colon cancer.
It has been acknowledged that higher-fat diets that are high in MUFAs and low in Saturated fatty acids (SFA) lower total and LDL cholesterol to a degree similar to that observed for a lower-fat, cholesterol-lowering diet. Moreover, the high-MUFA diets have the added benefit of not increasing triacylglycerol concentrations or lowering High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol concentrations!
The significance of both LDL and HDL cholesterol concentrations in affecting cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk is well established. Controlled clinical trials have shown that a 1% reduction in total and LDL-cholesterol concentrations results in an ≈1.5% decrease in the incidence of CVD. Moreover, the risk of CVD is increased by 2–3% for every 0.026-mmol/L (1 mg/dL) decrease in HDL cholesterol. Recently, an elevated triacylglycerol concentration was shown to be a univariate predictor of CVD. Specifically, a 1-mmol/L increase in triacylglycerol is associated with a 14% increase in CVD risk in men and a 37% increase in women. Fascinating stuff!
As we can see the health benefits of olive oil are unrivaled, and research reveals more benefits nearly every day. In fact, we are only just beginning to understand the countless ways olive oil can improve our health, and our lives and on top of being healthy, extra virgin olive oil will add flavor to any meal and is truly a CULINARY DELIGHT!
And remember – BITTERNESS & PUNGENCY is what You are looking for!!