At last there is some good news about fat. Formerly everybody heard about saturated fat, trans-fat, and other dangerous fats that kill us slowly. But now we know of something better. Fat with a future instead of a fate, fat that builds better hearts, safer brains, and longer lives. And it’s in food that looks good, tastes good, and is good for you! Health & Healing has the latest—scientific news on a pillar of the Mediterranean diet and one of the finest foods on earth—the olive!
Few people know that there is a big island off the coast of Greece called Crete, which has fewer heart attacks by far than does even classical Japan with its utterly low- fat program. What are the big secrets of this Mediterranean Diet that has proven so useful for health of heart and brain?
A research group, including Walter Willett from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Harvard Medical School, examined the effect of the Mediterranean diet on the plasma level of inflammatory and endothelial markers of dysfunction. The team developed a Mediterranean-diet score which was applied to 685 women from the Nurse’s Health Study, aged 43 to 69 and free from cardiovascular disease. Blood was drawn from each of these subjects and at the same time, dietary intake was assessed with a nutritional questionnaire. The Mediterranean-diet score for each woman was based on their proximity to the Mediterranean dietary lifestyle. Next the researchers measured plasma levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP), Interleukin 6, E-Selectin and soluble cellular adhesion molecules, and (svCAM-1)—all of which are markers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction [of the lining of blood vessels]. They found that CRP was 24 percent lower, Interleukin 6 was 16 percent lower, and E-Selectin was 13 percent lower. This was done by comparing patients from the highest quintile to the lowest quintile. The authors concluded that a higher Mediterranean-diet score was associated with lower levels of these markers of inflammatory conditions of the blood vessels.1 This documents in humans, right down to the molecular level, some of the clear benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
Reversing the Mediterranean Diet
By now most everyone knows that the Mediterranean diet is a winner. What about reversing it? A research group took away olive oil from 48 healthy middle aged men and women in southern Italy. They substituted animal fats as found in the typical American diet. Results? After 42 days the men’s cholesterols went from 214 up to 245. The women’s cholesterol levels went up 16 percent. LDL’s (the bad cholesterol dump trucks) went up 19 percent.2 No wonder some of the Mediterranean cultures win in the health Olympics for heart disease.
Olives in the Bible
From Genesis to Revelation olives and olive oil were prominent pillars of service to God and man. Olive is mentioned 40 times. Olives were preserved through the flood. Olive oil sustained the light of the sanctuary and composed the oil of anointing. In Solomon’s temple olive wood framed the door and made up the internal structure of the angels in the Most Holy Place. Olive oil was in the recipe prescribed for a peace offering. “If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer, with the sacrifice of thanksgiving, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, or cakes of blended four mixed with oil.”3 No wonder Solomon had cellars for olive oil.4 We must look deeper than labels and rumors. What is so special about olives? What is new in olive chemistry?
What have olives got to offer? Plenty! Take heart disease, for example. Olives are loaded with good fat instead of bad saturated fat that plugs the arteries. Olives have a blend of excellent virtues. For instance, oleic acid as found in olives which neither plugs the arteries nor is vulnerable to oxidation, sustains excellent coronary artery health and helps functions of the heart. After decades of research and study it is quite obvious that oleic acid as is found in olives is a clear winner in the fat wars because it neither plugs up coronaries nor is vulnerable to oxidation, which does the actual damage. And more, olives have special phytochemicals like hydroxytyrosol in them that not only reduce cholesterol but can actually pass through capillaries into the surrounding tissues and right on into the coronary plaques themselves. Most adults in their 40s already have plaques. Hydroxytyrosol can reverse oxidized cholesterol and LDL at the molecular level. Since it is oxidized cholesterol and LDL that is doing the killing damage this is a break-through mechanism. Meanwhile an overall lifestyle program with its cholesterol, weight, blood pressure and stress management can combine to deliver superior reversal of the greatest killer in modern Westernizing world—atherosclerosis.
Olives and the Brain
Hydroxytyrosol and its weaker cousin tyrosol can pass through the blood brain barrier and reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Pasinetti and Eberstein, writing in the Journal of Neurochemistry, point out that olives and olive oil are helpful in the prevention of this commonest form of dementia.5 Delaying the onset of the Alzheimer’s disease dementia by only five years reduced the frequency of the disease by nearly half. Olives not only help prevent dementia, they also support everyday function of the “healthy” mind. By increasing membrane flexibility of the cells, olives help to improve enzyme action at the synaptic level. Saturated fat, on the other hand, compromises cell biology pervasively. Thus excellence of both mind and soul are fostered by the regular use of olives.
Olives and Cholesterol
We’ve alluded to cholesterol already, but here is a specific example of how olives can combat this potential silent killer. Research on workers in the Netherlands showed that olives lowered cholesterol, when compared to high carbohydrate diets. When 11 volunteers were put into strictly-controlled conditions in a metabolic ward, olive oil was found to reduce cholesterol 10 percent. Healthful HDL levels were sustained.6
Olives and Hypertension
While working at Loma Linda University, Dr. Blankenship discovered and reported that olives can relax the aorta, which is the largest artery in the body. By chromatographic measurement, Dr. Blankenship showed that olives increase a relaxing hormone, called prostacylin (PGI2).7 More recent research from the Netherlands has further defined and extended the details of this beneficial effect.8 These researchers showed that hydroxytyrosol from olives can penetrate the arteries and activate a nitric oxide (NO) system which relaxes arteries and facilitates vasodilation. Oxidative stress tends to impair this critical NO system but olives protect it, and thereby promote a lower blood pressure.
These discoveries linking olives with vasodilation help explain the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for the prevention and treatment of hypertension. The blood pressure issue is crucial, because it is one of the main factors fostering strokes and heart attacks and heart failure all over the Western world. Elevated blood pressure is also a major factor in the metabolic syndrome that is eroding the health of millions in affluent circles.
Olives and the Stomach
Almquist and Stokstad, of U.C. Davis, showed that heating cow’s milk gives ulcers to “baby cows” or calves. They also demonstrated that what has been called “vitamin U” will nullify this problem. Cheney of Stanford and others used this information to good effect by applying it for the healing of ulcers in human patients. Minimally processed olives, such as saltwater cured ones, contain this valuable but sensitive vitamin. But the conventional process of canning olives destroys it. Properly prepared olives have been shown to be kind, gentle, and healing to the irritated stomach.9 It is true that raw fresh green vegetables also contain vitamin U. However, cabbage juice can produce spasm of the pylorus, whereas olives relax the stomach. This is a key point in favor of the therapeutic use of olives.
Olives and the Lungs
Because olives are blessed with the capacity to reduce inflammation in several different ways and exert a mild constructive effect on all cellular membranes, it is little wonder that they support healthful function of the lungs.
Olives and Painful Joints
Another profitable phytochemical in olives, called oleocanthal, can help quench inflammation of joints. One of the mechanisms of olecanthal’s action is similar to that of ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil). As found in extra virgin olive oil, Oleocanthal can inhibit both the COX 1 and COX 2 enzymes of inflammation. This valuable feature helps extra virgin olive oil to reduce pain and morning stiffness, making it a valuable anti-inflammatory agent without the potentially adverse side effects of drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin.
Olives and the Kidneys
Olives are a remedy of particular choice for the kidneys. These critical organs are especially vulnerable to inflammation via the bloodstream. But by splendidly reducing inflammation as well as promoting vasodilation in the kidneys and elsewhere, olives can lower blood pressure and foster healing.
Olives and Cancer
Fresh unheated olives that have not been compromised with harsh chemicals such as lye, or ferrous gluconate, a strong oxidizing agent, have excellent phytochemicals in them that are useful in preventing cancer.
Another phytochemical of interest in olives is caffeic acid. It has been shown to inhibit growth of human breast-cancer cells by a research team that includes the established olive biochemist, Boskou, as published in the journal, Breast Cancer Research.10
Olives and AIDS
High doses of maslinic acid have been shown to inhibit the spread of the AIDS virus but not to cure this plague.11
What About Olive Oil?
Years ago extra virgin oil was not even sent to the USA. American consumers didn’t know the difference. No more. Now most everybody knows that you get what you pay for.
Biochemically, the best olive oil contains the better phytochemical composition. Olives were created in Eden and sustained through the flood for man’s benefit. They are proving to be a treasure trove for remedies and preventives. When fresh olives are brought in from the orchards and squeezed with smooth stone or stainless steel rollers, the first juice to be expressed is what is called extra virgin olive oil. Biochemical analysis of both olives and olive oil is plain: the more man interferes with what God makes, the worse the results. The more harsh the chemicals added, the more of the natural virtues that are subtracted!12 13
Conventional olives are lye cured. Lye, or sodium hydroxide, is so strong that it can give a person chemical burns. We learned, first-hand from Dr. Winea Simpson, MD, from her actual experiments at Loma Linda, that animals go blind on lye-cured olives. Why? Because, lye destroys critical fat-soluble vitamins.
But lye is only the beginning of the problem. In order to fool unsuspecting housewives, olives are fashionably dyed black with ferrous gluconate. This process ruins still more of the good valuable properties in whole olives. Iron salts are bad news for the brain. They also promote oxidation and are thought to accelerate the aging of cells.14 15 16
Then there is canning. This process wipes out vitamin U. Fermentation is another unfortunate practice. Spanish olives are fermented with germs such as lactobacilli, which boosts the flavor but impairs the nutritional value. Be wary of vinegar, as well, in which many olives are packaged. This fermented corrosive solution is erosive to the gastric mucosa (lining of the stomach). Moreover, tracer studies have shown that the acetic acid in vinegar can form cholesterol.
How Can We Optimize Sources for Olives?
Despite the damaging effects of lye and heat, conventionally canned olives are still useful. The oleic acid, which is a very stable compound, is not destroyed by these processes. But if you can get better, do! Healthful black Greek olives can be found in Greek or Middle Eastern outlets. Look for those cured in salt water or olive oil, free from vinegar and without harmful added spices.
This salt-water method of pitting fresh olives optimizes their medicinal benefits. The process can be done in the home. In a nutshell, fresh olives are pitted with an instrument such as a cherry pitter or a laboratory cork borer. Put the pitted olives in glass fruit jars with a 12-percent ice-cream salt, iodized table salt, or sea salt solution. Place the jars immediately into refrigeration. This will keep your olives firm by inhibiting proteolytic-enzymatic softening.
Change the salt water every day to leach out the bitter naturally found in fresh olives. In about a week, your olives will be ready to eat and enjoy. Their taste will be as superior to conventionally processed olives as whole wheat bread is to white bread. Your home-cured olives can be stored by placing them in small plastic bags for convenient future use and freezing them. Moderate the salty flavor by soaking them in pure water before use. The reason for the 12-percent salt solution is to inhibit bad germs from growing on them.
We have tested out these olives at Loma Linda University and have shown that they can reduce stress ulcers in the stomachs of Fischer white rats. We believe this therapeutic effect is due to their vitamin U content combined with the other helpful phytochemicals found in whole olives. It preserves the virtues of olives without the vices of lye, vinegar, fermentation, or the heat of canning. For additional details and the pricking method, please refer to the aforementioned issue, Vol. 13, No. 2.
Whole olives are superior to fractions thereof. Some of the virtues in olives are concentrated in and very near the skin, as is the case with apples. Thus, in order to receive all these virtues packaged by the Creator in the olive, we need to eat whole olives and then thoroughly chew them. Moreover, the reflexes from our teeth stimulated by serious chewing activate optimum mucosal protection from the food in the stomach. Swallowing oils or pills can’t accomplish these benefits.
Whole Food for Whole People
There is a false theory floating around in shallow circles called reductionism. It claims that vitamin C equals oranges, and that fiber is synonymous with whole wheat bread. Obviously this concept is oversimplified. Neither does oleic acid equal whole olives. In other words, the sum is greater than the parts.
Food Plus Medicine
Years of careful study and some reflection suggest that olives are designed by a loving Creator not just for flavor but also for natural healing. The scope, sweep, and quality of the olive contribution to natural therapy are most encouraging. Man can make drug stores but only God can make olive trees.
As has been so often quoted, let food be your medicine and medicine your food. This certainly applies in the case of olives. In addition to being helpful and healing for the stomach, kidneys, lungs, brain, cardiovascular system, joints, cancer prevention, and inflammation, these tasty capsules from nature can also safely relieve constipation, confer some immunological benefits, and inhibit the growth of certain harmful microorganisms. The chemistry of this excellent fruit is advancing, but we have yet to understand the full value of whole olives for whole people.
What Should We Do About Olives?
- Understand that olives are good for us.
- Discern that conventional canned olives are deficient; they do contain a good fat called oleic acid but other virtues are gone.
- Understand that extra virgin olive oil is very valuable when used in place of [and not merely in addition to other less desirable oils.
- For whole olives, find a local source of Greek or middle Eastern olives without vinegar and added harmful spices. Rinse any excess salt out of olives if necessary.
- For the best olives, cure your own as suggested.
- Eat olives and olive oil often, in healthful moderation, and enjoy their culinary, nutritional, preventive, and therapeutic benefits!
- elenolic acid
- maslinic acid
- linoleic acid
- vitamin A
- vitamin E
- vitamin U
- oleic acid
- caffeolyquinic acid
Willett, W.C., et al., Mediterranean Diet and Incidence of and Mortality from Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke in Women. Circulation, 119(8):1093-1100, 2009.↩
Fero-Luzzi, A., et al., Changing the Mediterranean Diet: Effects on Blood Lipids. Amer J Clin Nutr, 40(5):1037-1047, 1984.↩
Leviticus 7:12, NKJV.↩
1 Chronicles 27:28.↩
Pasinetti, G.M., and Eberstein, J.A., Metabolic syndrome and the role of dietary lifestyles in Alzheimer’s disease. J Neurochemistry, 106(4):1503-1514, 2008.↩
Baggio, G., et al., Olive-oil-enriched Diet: Effect on Serum Lipoprotein Levels Biliary Cholesterol Saturation. Amer J Clin Nutr, 47(6):960-964, 1988.↩
Blankenship, J.W., et al., Uniqueness of Dietary Olive Oil in Stimulating Aortic Protstacyclin in Post-weanling Rats. Prostaglandins, Leukotriences Essential Fatty Acids, 36(1):31-34, 1989.↩
Rietjens, S.J., et al., The olive oil antioxidant hydroxytyrosol efficiently protects against the oxidative stress-induced impairment of the NO response of isolated rat aorta. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol, 292(4):H1931-H1936, 2007.↩
Baldwin, B.E., Please Pass the Olives. J Health & Healing, 13(2):16-21, c. 1988.↩
Kampa, M., et al., Antiproliferative and apoptotic effects of selective phenolic acids on T47D human breast cancer cells: potential mechanisms of action. Breast Cancer Res, 6(2):R63-R74, 2004.↩
Garcia-Granados, A., New Discovery in the Fight Against IDS sees Major Decrease in Spread. Medical News Today, July 12, 2007, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/76404.php↩
Ramirez-Tortosa, M.C., et al., Extra-virgin olive oil increases the resistance of LDL to oxidation more that refined olive oil in free-living men with peripheral vascular disease. J Nutr, 129(12):2177-2183, 1999.↩
Papadopoulos, G., and Boskou, D., Antioxidant effect of natural phenols on olive oil. 68(9):669-671, 1991.↩
Tayfun Agar, I., et al., Quality of fruit and oil of black ripe olives is influenced by cultivar and storage period. J Agric Food Chem, 46(9):3415-3421, 1998.↩
Brenes-Balbuena, M., et al., Phenolic compounds related to the black color formed during the processing of ripe olives. J Agric Food Chem, 40(7):1192-1196, 1992.↩
Jimenez, A., et al., Factors affecting the “Spanish green olive” process: their influence on financial texture and industrial losses. J Agric Food Chem, 45(10):4065-4070, 1997.↩
Palva-Martins, F., et al., Powerful protective role of 3, 4-dihydroxyphenylethanolelenolic acid dialdehyde against erythrocyte oxidative-induced hemolysis. J Agric Food Chem, 58(1):135-40, 2010.↩
Brenes, M., et al., Phenolic compounds in Spanish Olive Oils. J Agric Food Chem, 47(9):3535-3540, 1999.↩
Sivakumar, G., et al., Demethyloleuropein and beta-glucosidase activity in olive fruits. Biotechnol J,2(3):381-5, 2007.↩