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The Magic of Olive Oil
by Eva Urbaniak, N.D.

Olive oil has been commonly used since ancient times, as a food, in cooking, as an anointing medium, a nourishing lubricant for the skin and hair and as fuel for traditional oil lamps.
In more recent times, manufacturers of cosmetics, soaps and pharmaceuticals have also successfully developed and marketed products containing olive oil.
Olive oil has also become more popular among health conscious consumers. Since the health status today of the typical American consumer is seriously in jeopardy, there is more good news, through research, about olive oil.
First, let's delve into a few general facts about dietary fats.

Types of Dietary Fat:
Saturated, Monounsaturated, and

  • Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and happen to be very resistant to rancidity. Animal foods like butter, lard, and hydrogenated oils, palm and coconut oils are all members of this group. (Although there has recently been more research done on the benefits of coconut oil, it is still a saturated fat.) Saturated fats contribute to heart disease by raising blood levels of fat and "bad," or LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. However, some saturated fats like those found in avocados, are actually healthy.

  • Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and are fairly resistant to rancidity (oxidation). A type called oleic acid, concentrated in certain vegetable oils (olive, peanut, canola, and new hi-oleic hybrids of sunflower and safflower); helps prevent heart disease by reducing blood levels of overall fat and LDL cholesterol.

  • Polyunsaturated fats are also liquid at room temperature but are highly prone to rancidity. In moderation, they do not promote heart disease. Polyunsaturated fats are found in nuts, seeds, whole grains, and common cooking oils (corn, sesame, sunflower and safflower).

High oleic monounsaturated oils, like olive oil, are consumed by Mediterranean peoples, and although their diet is fairly high in fat, they enjoy low rates of heart disease. The fat in their diet is primarily olive oil. However, their American counterparts consume huge amounts of saturated and hydrogenated fats (margarine, Crisco) through eating fast food and highly processed food, and heart disease continues to be our number one killer.
Research now solidly backs up the health benefits of olive oil. Consuming more heart-healthy oils like olive oil in cooking, dipping and salad dressings is most certainly a wise thing to do.

So, not all fat is bad.

Until fairly recently, it was believed that blood levels of cholesterol, other fats like triglycerides and LDL cholesterol caused atherosclerosis. While overall fat intake is a critical factor, new research has shown that the immediate cause is oxidation of these fats in the blood. Olive oil is the only oil that has the unique property of being able to directly lower circulating fats and LDL cholesterol in the blood and to help prevent the oxidation of these fats.
Some of the other benefits of olive oil are that it contains no cholesterol, consists of approximately 82% monounsaturated fat, and can lower LDL cholesterol without affecting HDL (high-density lipoprotein), or good cholesterol levels. And since the ratio of these two levels (HDL should be higher and LDL lower) is considered more important than overall cholesterol levels, improving the ratio with the use of olive oil can directly lower the risk of atherosclerosis (fatty deposits in the arteries) and heart disease.

Do you recall Morgan Spurlock, the "Supersize Me" man? He went on a diet of nothing but fast food, and became so sick, his doctor demanded that he stop his experiment or risk possible imminent death. Within a very short period of time of eating these unhealthy fats, his blood lipids went completely haywire.
One of the serious problems with fast food is that the oil in which French fries are cooked is super heated over and over again and most probably does not get changed on a daily basis. Each time the oil is re-heated, it becomes altered and starts to break down. Decomposition of the oil results in the creation of hydroperoxids and aldehydes. Aldehydes are toxic compounds which create oxidative stress in cells, are generators of free radicals, and are known contributors to degenerative illnesses.

I recall a patient years ago who wanted to make some positive changes in his diet. He confessed to succumbing on a regular basis to fast food meals, burgers and French fries, junk food, etc. I drew his blood and put the tube in the centrifuge in order to separate the red blood cells from the plasma, which contains water, serum, and protein substances in solution. Normal plasma is clear, thin and colorless, or has a slight yellow tinge. After centrifuging, all the red blood cells drop to the bottom of the tube, and the upper half of the tube contains the clear plasma. A few minutes later when I went to retrieve the blood sample, I could not believe my eyes when I saw the plasma half of the tube filled with a substance that looked like the filling from a chocolate eclair. It was definitely not clear, but thick, yellow and creamy-looking. His analysis came back with an overall cholesterol level elevated at over 300mg/dL (optimal is less than 200mg/dL), high triglycerides, above 400mg/dL (optimal is less than 150mg/dL), high LDL cholesterol at 200mg/dL (optimal is less than 100mg/dL) and HDL was low at just under 40mg/dL, (optimal is higher, 60mg/dL or higher gives some protection against heart disease). What separated in that centrifuge visually and indisputably convinced me that it was fat, thick, sticky, oxidized fat that was circulating in this patient's arteries, laying down the groundwork for a heart attack or stroke in his future if he did not change his dietary ways.

Olive oil was definitely part of his treatment plan.

Extra virgin olive oil, the purest and best olive oil, because of its high levels of polyphenol antioxidants, also exerts anti-inflammatory, anti-clotting, and anti-hypertensive effects. In both animal and human studies, it brought about relaxing of the arteries, making them more elastic. It is theorized that, in the long term, increased elasticity of arterial walls reduces vascular stress and consequentially the risk of two common causes of death-heart attack and stroke. This could explain the lower incidence of both diseases in regions where olive oil and olives are consumed on a daily basis. Olive oil also aids in bone mineralization, liver and gall bladder function, and is even part of the famous liver flush regime that has saved many people from having their gallbladders removed. It also provides necessary fatty acids for normal growth and development in children and prevention of calcium loss in the elderly.
Incorporating about 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. But the olive oil should replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories eaten in a day.

Breakthroughs in Cancer Research with Olive Oil
It has been known for some time now, that women who eat a Mediterranean diet high in olive oil have a lowered breast cancer risk. A study published in 2005 in the Annals of Oncology determined that the oleic acid in olive oil suppressed the cancer-causing gene in breast cells grown in culture. It also verified that oleic acid worked synergistically with an anti-cancer antibody drug, killing cancer cells. This study confirmed the fact that the Mediterranean Diet, and more specifically, olive oil, can affect cancer cells. Olive oil is also accessible, safe, and inexpensive.

Commercial Grades of Olive Oil....What Kind is Best?

Maybe you have wondered, as I did, what the difference is between extra virgin, virgin, and just plain olive oil. The greatest health benefits of olive oil are found in extra virgin or virgin olive oil, and the price range can go from reasonable to astronomical. Organic oil is also available.
The basic guidelines for an olive oil to be called virgin olive oil are that the oil is extracted only by manual or mechanical means, and there are no alterations to the oil by any kind of chemical treatment. Extra virgin olive oil is a virgin olive oil with a free acidity of not greater than .8%, along with meeting the other requirements for virgin olive oil. This oil adds flavor to salad dressings, is delightful for dipping bread combined with balsamic vinegar and can be used to enhance the flavor of prepared foods.
Most people are familiar with the expression "EVOO", thanks to TV's Rachel Ray. (It is certainly faster and easier to say than "extra virgin olive oil.")
Virgin olive oil has a free acidity of 2% and also meets the aforementioned requirements for a virgin olive oil. This is a good oil to brush on meat before cooking, or when stir-frying, or other high heat cooking methods. It is almost as good as extra virgin olive oil but less expensive.

Olive oil is a wonderful natural product that can enhance health in many ways, internally and externally. Try some today!

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