As an internal medicine physician, I recommend the daily consumption of extra virgin olive oil as a core component of a healthy, low inflammation lifestyle. Olive oil is not only anti-inflammatory, it is also widely recognized as the major health-promoting factor of the Mediterranean diet.
The health-promoting effect also is a major component of the brain healing power of my recently patented medical treatment for Methods of Reversing Autonomic Nervous System Damage also known as The Nemechek Protocol®.
Olive oil contains a variety of compounds (phenols, oleic acid and Vitamin E) which lower inflammation and improve health by counteracting the toxic effects of compounds such as linoleic acid and palmitic acid. Linoleic acid and is a common component of pre-prepared or processed food that most people eat every day.
Linoleic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid that is required by the human body in order to create inflammation and was consumed by primitive humans when they ingested the plants as part of their diet. Unfortunately, modern humans around the world are consuming in excess of 20-30 times the necessary amount of linoleic acid.
Omega-6 competes with the omega-3 that our brains and nervous systems require to maintain their good health. Oleic acid is an omega-9 fatty acid that along with combined with phenols blocks, the harmful effects of omega-6 and repairs the damage already been done by omega-6 in the body.
Linoleic Acid Triggers Inflammation
Worldwide, the excessive intake of linoleic acid in convenient, cheap, processed foods is considered the primary driving force behind the global epidemic of chronic inflammatory diseases. The genes within human DNA are believed to be responsible for diabetes mellitus type 2, most cancers, strokes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, autoimmune disorders, Alzheimer’s dementia, and Parkinson’s disease.
The genes for these disorders remained harmlessly inactive within the human genome until they began being switched on in the last 100-150 years. The gene for predisposing an individual to develop the elevated blood sugar levels associated with diabetes mellitus type 2 are estimated to have laid mostly silent within the human genome for at least 25,000-35,000 years.
Now those genes are being turned on in large part from inflammation due to the ingestion of excessive linoleic acid and are triggering a worldwide epidemic of diabetes mellitus.
The same wave of food-borne inflammation that swept through the global population over the last century is also responsible for the general increases of all the other medical conditions previously mentioned (diabetes, cancers, strokes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, autoimmune disorders, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) which are estimated to be affecting three out of every five people at this time.
Fortunately, the consumption of a few tablespoons of high-quality extra virgin olive oil each day has the unique capacity to block the harmful inflammatory effects of linoleic acid.
The Protective Effect of Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) contains a variety of chemicals that help directly block the toxic effects of linoleic acid but further improve our health and protect our bodies from other sources of inflammation.
EVOO comes from the fruit of an olive tree that is crushed to extract the oil at a temperature no higher than 86 degrees. EVOO is high in oleic acid, at about 75%.
EVOO is minimally processed compared to other common cooking oils such as canola, corn, soybean and vegetable oils. These other oils lack the protective and reparative qualities of EVOO.
The primary protective effect of EVOO is the mono-unsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) known as oleic acid. Oleic acid is capable of not only blocking the toxic inflammatory effects of linoleic acid in a multitude of animal studies but can also help reverse inflammatory brain injury, diabetes, and obesity triggered by linoleic acid.
EVOO also contains a variety of other chemical compounds referred to as phenols. Phenols provide a wide variety of health benefits but are also important in preserving the health benefits of olive oil while it is stored in the bottle.
The greater the concentration of phenols in EVOO, the longer the shelf life of the oil. Unfortunately, phenols are a gaseous molecule that can pass through plastic when olive oil is stored in a plastic container. When this happens, the olive will deteriorate rapidly, and the olive oil will spoil even before the “Best by Date” on the container.
Because of this, only purchase EVOO that is stored in a dark green glass bottle or a tin container to prevent the loss of phenols and protect the oil from sunlight. Indirect sunlight exposure will reduce shelf life while direct sunlight can make the oil lose its extra virgin qualities within days.
A common misrepresentation by industrial olive oil producers is that while their olive oil may be of the heathy extra virgin grade when it is bottled, the oil has deteriorated because it was stored in a plastic container and is no longer considered healthy by the time it is purchased by the consumer.
What is the Difference between Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Plain Olive Oil?
Extra virgin is the highest quality and most expensive olive oil classification with superior physiochemical and sensory properties. It should have no defects and a flavor of fresh olives. Virgin olive oil is classified into EVOO according to the degree of acidity, which is the ratio of free fatty acids to total oleic acid.
EVOO must be produced entirely by mechanical means without the use of any solvents and under temperatures that will not degrade the oil. Olive oils that require any additional chemical or temperature extraction method are not considered to be extra virgin.
A producer must use fresh olives in good condition and monitor every step of the process with great care. Even in perfect storage conditions, the oil will degrade over time, so it is important to enjoy it within 18 months after the harvest date.
Olive Oil Reduces the Risk of Death from Diabetes Mellitus, Strokes and Heart Attacks
Extra virgin olive oil improves a wide variety of traditional markers for diabetes and cardiovascular disease and is known to greatly reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
Worldwide cardiovascular diseases account for over 17 million deaths a year and over 7 million of those deaths are from coronary artery disease. EVOO is considered to be a potentially cardioprotective food as it helps control the risk factors of coronary artery disease and aids in the reduction of cytokines and inflammatory markers.
Some of the well-known benefits that arise from the daily consumptions of olive oil are:
- Decreases Blood Pressure
- Increases HDL Cholesterol Levels and Protective Function
- High Phenol Olive Oil Decreases LDL Cholesterol
- Decreases LDL Cholesterol Oxidation (oxidized cholesterol is dangerous)
- Decreases Excessive Blood Clotting
- Decreases Inflammation and Oxidation throughout the Body
- Decreases Insulin and Blood Glucose (sugar) Levels
EVOO and Weight Control
The autonomic nervous system is the brain’s master control mechanism, also regulates your gut physiology, appetite, mood, and inflammation.
EVOO helps people feel full after a meal which helps people control their weight. This full feeling is associated to a derivative of oleic acid called OEA (Oleoiletanolamide).
Research suggests that ingesting dietary fat stimulates epithelial cells of the small intestine and releases the OEA. Upon release it engages sensory fibers of the vagus nerve to diminish food intake. The vagus nerve is the autonomic nervous system’s main nerve.
The absorptive epithelium of the small intestine converts the oleic acid contained within the olive oil into OEA. OEA acts with receptors causing the feeling of satiety which affects meal size and reduces feeding frequency.
The autonomic vagus nerve also plays an important role in metabolism. The vagus nerve communicates information about the volume and type of nutrients between the gut and the brain. The vagus nerve can send signals upwards to the brain and inhibit or stimulate food intake.
The Benefit of a High Phenol Olive oil
Phenol is a term for a special kind of molecule (also called phenolics) and olive oil contains a variety of phenols that are known to have their own powerful health promoting properties. Phenolic compounds are created when the olive is crushed to obtain the oil.
Total phenol levels in extra virgin olive oil can range from 50 – 1,500 mg/kg but those above 200 mg/kg are considered in the health-promoting range.
Olive oil phenols are known to lower blood pressure and increase the levels of healthy cholesterol (HDL), and are anti-inflammatory. Phenol compounds are also powerful anti-oxidants, inhibit cancer growth and limit the development of stroke and heart attack causing atherosclerosis.
Studies have shown the anti-inflammatory effects of olive oil at different stages in the development of atherosclerosis have a positive effect on the reduction of cell adhesion molecules, platelets, monocytes, and lymphocytes involved in the inflammatory process.
From a total of 17 different phenols found in olive oil, oleocanthal and squalene are two of the most important.
Oleocanthal creates the peppery sensation when you swallow pure olive oil. It is also a powerful, natural anti-inflammatory agent that operates in a fashion similar to ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) but without the side effects of bleeding ulcers and kidney problems that accompany NSAIDS. I have had patients cancel their knee replacement surgeries after consistent consumption of EVOO because of their reduction in joint pain.
Oleocanthal has also been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease because it can reduce the accumulation of amyloid proteins. EVOO is the only cooking oil that contains oleocanthal.
EVOO is one of the richest renewable sources of squalene. Squalene is a phenol structurally similar to beta-carotene that supports skin health and helps keep your skin looking healthy by protecting it from the harmful rays of the sun and also greatly lowers the incidence of skin cancer.
Interestingly, my wife and I live in the perpetually sunny climate of Arizona and we do not wear sunscreen. We realized we stopped sun burning once we added EVOO supplementation to our already high omega-3 diet.
In addition to the squalene, EVOO has anti-aging qualities because it contains natural anti-oxidants that play a role in protecting lipid membranes from oxidative damage. High levels of Vitamin E in EVOO also protect cells from free radicals to help reduce the effects of aging.
The phenol content of olive oil is related to a variety of factors such as growing conditions (weather, water, etc.), the variety of olive tree (referred to as cultivar), production methods (quality of olive, time of harvest, filtering), and storage conditions (heat, exposure to oxygen, type of container).
The phenol content is also one of the important factors in determining how fresh olive oil will remain in the bottle as the higher the phenols, the longer the oil it can be stored in the glass bottle and the longer it will retain its beneficial properties as EVOO.
There is no evidence that consuming less olive oil per day because it may have a higher amount of phenols will give you the same health benefits. I highly recommend against doing this.
There are many types of phenols from many different types of plants. Phenols from strawberries, wine or any other food have different biological effects are are not the same as the unique phenols found in olive oil.
How to Buy High Quality Olive Oil
There is a great deal of poor-quality olive oil in the marketplace that. Some estimate that 75% of olive oil marked extra virgin no longer meets the criteria of extra virgin olive oil by the time the consumer purchases it.
The FDA does not regulate EVOO. And with no regulation but the USDA, some oils are being sold that have been adulterated with soy and other oils. Others are of such poor quality that although they meet the minimum standard at the time of bottling by the time the consumer purchases the oil it has deteriorated so much it no longer contains the health benefits for the consumer.
The key factors that a consumer can look for when choosing the best possible olive oil are:
- Freshness is Everything: Never consume olive oil 18 months beyond the harvest date. Some producers only provide expiration dates, not harvest dates, making it hard to determine actual freshness.
- EVOO degrades when exposed to oxygen and light so once opened finish the bottle within 3-6 months.
- “Best by Dates” are now being put on some major brands but if the oil is stored in plastic container, those dates are invalid due to the loss of phenols through the plastic (see below).
- Phenol Content is Important: EVOO with phenol contents in the 800-500 mg/kg are much healthier for you and will not deteriorate during storage as quickly as those with lower phenol contents. Remember, oil stored in plastic deteriorates more quickly (see below).
- Glass or Metal Containers only: The phenol molecules that give the olive oil its health promoting properties and help maintain its self-life are gaseous molecules that will leak though a plastic bottle. In spite of the quality of the oil that went into the plastic bottle, it will often no longer quality as extra virgin nor be health-promoting by the time the consumer purchases it.
- Filtered Oil Lasts Longer: While unfiltered olive oil may have some unique taste properties, the plant matter that is not filtered out causes the oil to go rancid more quickly. Unfiltered olive oil only lasts 3 months after the oil is pressed.
- Do Not Store Near Heat: Olive oil stored in excessive heat will cause the oil to degrade faster. I recommend buying the oil straight from the farmer to minimize the risk of third parties not correctly storing the oil. Store in a cool, dry place in your house. Do not place the olive oil bottle next to your stove. High quality EVOO can withstand cooking temperatures up to 420 degrees but not prolonged heat exposure sitting next to your stove.
- Use COOC-Certified EVOO: The vast majority of olive oil certifications are more of a pledge by the manufacturer and some have a taste (sensory) certification. As a scientist, I need more assurance than this. I recommend consuming olive oils that are certified by the California Olive Oil Counsel (COOC). COOC-certification is the only approval worldwide that process that includes mandatory chemical analysis of the oil by third party laboratories and their standards are among the strictest worldwide.
- Buy Direct from The Growers: Many around the world have access to olive oil from local farmers. I have found olive oil farmers to be a passionate group and I believe your chances of getting the best possible olive oil is when you buy the oil directly from the farmers whether they are in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world.
Everyone Needs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
We live in a time of increased inflammation which is reflected in how people are collectively getting sick faster and at younger ages. The major source of this inflammation comes from grain-based oils (corn oil, soy oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, etc.) that we cook with or are added to the prepared foods we purchase. These inflammatory oils are in our food supply to stay so we must do everything we can to protect ourselves from their food-born inflammation.
This health crisis is affecting everyone. Inflammation is understood to be a major trigger for most non-infectious diseases and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 3 of every 5 people worldwide will die from an inflammatory disease such as heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, cancer, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s dementia.
In addition, when we feed our livestock (chicken, turkey and fish) corn or soy beans for instance, we are feeding them corn oil and soy oil. What we feed the animals we ultimately feed ourselves. These oils concentrate within the meat of these animals and become another source of inflammation for us.
To say it in the scary and simple words: the highly inflammatory nature of the food most of us consume everyday has rapidly become one of the greatest health threats to the entire global population.
So, while it may seem unusual for a physician to tell people to drink olive oil, the daily consumption of just 2 tablespoons of high-quality extra virgin olive oil will greatly reverse this risk of inflammation.
To make sure you get the daily amount consumed, add at least 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to your foods before eating them or simply do as I do, drink 2 tablespoons of EVOO a day like you would any medication of natural supplement.
The health benefits I have described make the quality and amount of extra virgin olive oil you consume one of the most important health-related decisions you should be making. And with cardioprotective, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, weight control, and anti-aging qualities, which most importantly fights food-born inflammation, high phenol EVOO is your health’s new favorite food.
I have been testing and treating the autonomic nervous system for 13 years and I have developed a recently patented treatment program, the Methods of Reversing Autonomic Nervous System Damage, also known as The Nemechek Protocol ® for Autonomic Recovery. It is designed to reduce multiple sources of inflammation and encourage the restoration the body’s natural brain repair mechanism.
I believe that the key to restoring our natural inflammation control mechanisms is through a reduction of inflammation throughout the brain and body by using every scientific, nutritional, and bioelectric tool available.
I am an internal medicine physician (D.O.) from UCLA and my Internal Medicine and Autonomic practice is in the Phoenix, Arizona area. For additional information, go to AutonomicMed.com.
This post is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information is not intended to be patient education, and it does not create any patient-physician relationship.
© 2019. Nemechek Consultative Medicine. All Rights Reserved.