Adding olive oil to your diet – even just once a week – lowers your risk of suffering clogged-up arteries which can trigger heart attacks and strokes, a new study found.
It’s long been known that the Mediterranean diet – of which olive oil is a key component – is associated with good heart health.
But now researchers have shown why and how.
Studying the blood of 63 obese, non-smoking adults, they found those olive oil seemed to protect blood platelets from dangerous ‘activation’ which can cause a build-up and blood clots.
The team at the NYU School of Medicine believe that, beyond containing plenty of antioxidants, it has something to do with the structure of olive oil’s molecules.
Something about the molecular make-up of olive oil makes our platelets resilient to clotting up
‘People who are obese are at increased risk of having a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular event, even if they don’t have diabetes or other obesity-associated conditions,’ lead author Dr Sean Heffron at New York University School of Medicine said.
‘Our study suggests that choosing to eat olive oil may have the potential to help modify that risk, potentially lowering an obese person’s threat of having a heart attack or stroke.’
Platelets are blood cell fragments that stick together and form clumps and clots when they are activated.
They contribute to the buildup of artery-clogging plaque, known as atherosclerosis, the condition which underlies most heart attacks and strokes.
The study involved asking 63 obese, nonsmoking, non-diabetic individuals with an average age of 32.2 and where morbidly obese with an average BMI of 44.1.
It found those who ate olive oil at least once a week had lower platelet activation than participants whose ate it less often, and that the lowest levels of platelet aggregation were observed among those who ate olive oil more frequently.
They did not see any of these beneficial effects from red meat, eggs, butter, or margarine.
Co-author Ruina Zhang, a medical student, added: ‘To our knowledge, this is the first study to assess the effects of dietary composition, olive oil specifically, on platelet function in obese patients.’
The researchers admit the findings relied on participants completing food survey questionnaires on how often they ate olive oil, but not how much olive oil they ate.
And because it was observational, the study could not prove that eating olive oil will reduce platelet activation in obese adults.
Commenting on the findings Professor Linda Van Horn of the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, said: ‘The study that is being presented at this meeting is unique in the fact that it’s trying to understand more carefully how olive oil might actually benefit a person who’s trying to improve their risk or lower their risk for heart disease.
‘These investigators have taken on the opportunity to compare individuals who were all overweight, but were not smoking or didn’t have diabetes or other factors that could confound these results and instead showed that those who consumed olive oil more frequently had better outcomes related to their platelets.
‘That’s important because it’s the platelets that are involved in clotting and, of course, clotting factors are relevant when it comes to cardiovascular disease.
‘So the study was attempting to really differentiate why and how consuming olive oil more frequently might have benefits for individuals.
‘And so then it was a great opportunity to take a look at some of these mechanisms.
‘As a preliminary study, the study was very small, it had three groups, but the largest number in any one group was 24 people, so it was a useful pilot or preliminary approach to taking a deeper dive into understanding how olive oil could, in fact, improve the platelet factor and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in that mechanism.’
The preliminary research was presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2019 in Houston.