Michael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

A Big Upside to Olive Oil

IT’S ONLY AN OBSERVATIONAL STUDY, but a recent examination of 90,000 healthcare professionals in the United States suggests that consuming even a tiny amount of olive oil is associated with reduced early mortality.

Publishing in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers report the results of their evaluation of whether olive oil consumption is associated with mortality in two groups of US men and women.

“I like cooking pasta. Maybe it’s that I always wanted to be Italian American in some dark part of my soul; maybe I get off on that final squirt of emulsifying extra virgin, just after the basil goes in, I don’t know.”
― Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

Olive oil — health benefits

Before we get into the details, remember that this is only an observational study. While it shows an association between olive oil consumption and reduced early mortality, it does not establish causality. With that caveat, here are the findings:

Compared with those who rarely or never consumed olive oil (the lowest intake), those who consumed greater than 0.5 tablespoons per day or more than seven grams daily (the highest intake) had a one-fifth lower mortality risk over a 28-year follow-up, starting from an average age of 56 years.

For those with the highest intake (compared with those consuming the lowest amount of olive oil), there appeared:

  • a one-fifth (19 percent) lower risk of cardiovascular disease
  • a nearly one-fifth (17 percent) lower risk of cancer death
  • a nearly one-third (29 percent) lower risk of dying from neurodegenerative disease
  • a nearly one-fifth (18 percent) lower risk of dying from lung disease.
Photo by Sharon Pittaway on Unsplash

Olive oil — Why the health benefits?

Why might olive oil be associated with these health improvements? The researchers offer some ideas, estimating that replacing 10 grams daily of margarine, butter, mayonnaise, or dairy fat with the equivalent of olive oil leads to goodness.

Continuing, they add that olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (mainly oleic acid). It also has polyphenols and vitamin E, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Want to try a good olive oil dip? Here you go:Ridiculously Good Olive Oil DipThis easy and group-friendly olive oil dip comes together quickly, and it never fails. I mean, who doesn’t want to dip…www.inspiredtaste.net.

Olive oil seems impressive but there is a big caveat

My take (on the article, not the delicious olive oil dip): The study is well-designed (including extended follow-up and repeated measurements of diet and disease risk factors); it is only observational.

Is it the olive oil making us healthier or something else (perhaps olive oil consumers are wealthier, for example, and we know that socioeconomic status is correlated with heath, for example). Still, the results are in-line with many other studies.

There appeared to be no reduction in mortality in models where the researchers substituted olive oil for vegetable oil, suggesting that vegetable oils may provide similar health benefits as olive oil.

Thank you for joining me. You probably guessed that I love extra virgin olive oil. What olive oil do you think is best? Do you do cooking with olive oil?

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Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

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