Health Properties of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The Mediterranean diet includes the nutritional contribution of various chemical substances present in the food and responsible for protective effects in human beings, including the consumption of 25-30 g / day of extra virgin olive oil as the main source of fat. The extra virgin olive oil is produced exclusively by mechanical pressure and without any chemical processing and is particularly rich in natural antioxidants that prevent the onset of different pathologies.

The nutritional quality and health benefits arising from the consumption of olive oil are attributed both to a high quantity of oleic acid, and to the optimum relationship between fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6 and to a significant quantity of minor components with antioxidant properties, as the unsaponifiable fraction of tocopherols and phenolic compounds. Those compounds have shown, in vivo and in vitro, antimicrobial, antioxidants, anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory properties, anti-carcinogenic and antiviral agents. They also confer aromatic notes to the product and, compared to other vegetable oils, allow maintaining a significant stability in terms of resistance against the processes of self-oxidation and thermal oxidation.

Experimental tests have demonstrated that the phenolic compounds present in extra virgin olive oil have many biological properties and are, at least in part, responsible for the beneficial effects arising from the consumption of olive oil (Trombetta et al., 2017). The main source of fat in the Mediterranean diet is the extra virgin olive oil and this is partly responsible of the positive properties entrusted to the Mediterranean diet. In the course of the history the extra virgin olive oil has been recognized as a valuable pharmacological agent in the hands of the ancient Greek doctors. 

Hippocrates mentioned approximately 60 pathological cases in which the extra-virgin olive oil can be used, for example in many skin conditions such as wounds and burns. It is important to emphasize that the extra virgin olive oil contains about 36 phenolic compounds, in particular the oleocanthal that can be recognized from a sensorial point of view. In fact, like the ibuprofen, even the oleocanthal produces a localized irritation in the oral-pharyngeal region and further researches have found that the oleocanthal has an anti-inflammatory action similar to the ibuprofen. It is assumed that the long term daily ingestion of extra-virgin olive oil, can be partially responsible for favourable health conditions of the Mediterranean populations. 

The low chronic doses of ibuprofen or aspirin showed anti-carcinogenic and anti-thrombotic effects. Therefore, it is plausible that low chronic doses of oleocanthal can attenuate inflammation in time and can therefore contribute to a significant reduction of the onset of chronic inflammatory disease. Several studies have confirmed that the oleocanthal is the only irritating compound present in the extra-virgin olive oil, to such an extent that in some cases the content of oleocanthal in various extra virgin olive oils has been quantified by measuring the irritation of the throat, subsequent to their ingestion. However, in order to exclude the possibility that other compounds present in olive oil may be responsible of the irritating action, the oleocanthal was synthesized and dissolved in corn oil (which is normally not irritating).

The measure of the irritation to the throat by adding oleocanthal in corn oil was proportional to the dose of oleocanthal added, confirming that the oleocanthal is the only compound responsible for the irritating feeling to the throat, typical after ingestion of extra virgin olive oil. Although has been identified a similarity between the oleocanthal and ibuprofen, able to activate the same anti-inflammatory path, it is important to stress that its action is affected by several variables both inter-individual and intra-individual, but also by the fact that the concentrations of oleocanthal are different in the various extra-virgin olive oils. Certainly, there are strong proofs that oleocanthal is an effective anti-inflammatory agent and shows pharmacological actions in vitro.

However, studies in vivo are needed in the future to clarify its full potential as pharmacological agent. The Phenols in extra-virgin olive oil operate synergically and complement each other in terms of anti-inflammatory, antioxidants and antimicrobial properties.

SOURCES:

Analytical Evaluation and Antioxidant Properties of Some Secondary Metabolites in Northern Italian Mono- and Multi-Varietal Extra Virgin Olive Oils (EVOOs) from Early and Late Harvested Olives, Domenico Trombetta, Antonella Smeriglio, Daniele Marcoccia, Salvatore Vincenzo Giofrè, Giovanni Toscano, Fabio Mazzotti, Angelo Giovanazzi and Stefano Lorenzetti, Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2017, 18, 797. 

Oleocanthal, a Phenolic Derived from Virgin Olive Oil: A Review of the Beneficial Effects on Inflammatory Disease, Lisa Parkinson and Russell Keast, Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2014, 15.

The Health Benefiting Mechanisms of Virgin Olive Oil Phenolic Compounds, Lisa Parkinson and Sara Cicerale, Molecules 2016, 21, 1734.

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