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Olive oil has been called a "good fat" for a while now. I came across a few very recent review articles summarizing recent research aimed at understanding why it's healthful -- identifying antiinflammatory compounds, anticancer compounds, many powerful antioxidants. One intriguing observation is that olives and extra virgin olive oil have a very high lignan content, which is one of the important assets of flax seeds. I've pasted the abstracts in here--interesting reading!


Lipids. 2004 Dec;39(12):1223-31.
<n>Olive oil and modulation of cell signaling in disease prevention.
Wahle KW, Caruso D, Ochoa JJ, Quiles JL.

School of Life Sciences, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, AB25 1 HG, Scotland, United Kingdom. [email protected]

Epidemiological studies show that populations consuming a predominantly plant-based Mediterranean-style diet exhibit lower incidences of chronic diseases than those eating a northern European or North American diet. This observation has been attributed to the greater consumption of fruits and vegetables and the lower consumption of animal products, particularly fat. Although total fat intake in Mediterranean populations can be higher than in other regions (ca. 40% of calories), the greater proportion is derived from olive oil and not animals. Increased olive oil consumption is implicated in a reduction in cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and, to a lesser extent, a variety of cancers. Olive oil intake also has been shown to modulate immune function, particularly the inflammatory processes associated with the immune system. Olive oil is a nonoxidative dietary component, and the attenuation of the inflammatory process it elicits could explain its beneficial effects on disease risk since oxidative and inflammatory stresses appear to be underlying factors in the etiology of these diseases in man. The antioxidant effects of olive oil are probably due to a combination of its high oleic acid content (low oxidation potential compared with linoleic acid) and its content of a variety of plant antioxidants, particularly oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, and tyrosol. It is also possible that the high oleic acid content and a proportionate reduction in linoleic acid intake would allow a greater conversion of alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to longer-chain n-3 PUFA, which have characteristic health benefits. Adoption of a Mediterranean diet could confer health benefits in high-risk populations.

Eur J Cancer Prev. 2004 Aug;13(4):319-26.
Olives and olive oil in cancer prevention.
Owen RW, Haubner R, Wurtele G, Hull E, Spiegelhalder B, Bartsch H.

Division of Toxicology and Cancer Risk Factors, German Cancer Research Center, Im Neuenheimer Feld 280, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany. [email protected]

Epidemiologic studies conducted in the latter part of the twentieth century demonstrate fairly conclusively that the people of the Mediterranean basin enjoy a healthy lifestyle with decreased incidence of degenerative diseases. The data show that populations within Europe that consume the so-called 'Mediterranean diet' have lower incidences of major illnesses such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Studies have suggested that the health-conferring benefits of the Mediterranean diet are due mainly to a high consumption of fibre, fish, fruits and vegetables. More recent research has focused on other important factors such as olives and olive oil. Obviously fibre (especially wholegrain-derived products), fruits and vegetables supply an important source of dietary antioxidants. What is the contribution from olives and olive oil? Apparently the potential is extremely high but epidemiologic studies rarely investigate consumption of these very important products in-depth, perhaps due to a lack of exact information on the types and amounts of antioxidants present. Recent studies have shown that olives and olive oil contain antioxidants in abundance. Olives (especially those that have not been subjected to the Spanish brining process) contain up to 16 g/kg typified by acteosides, hydroxytyrosol, tyrosol and phenyl propionic acids. Olive oil, especially extra virgin, contains smaller amounts of hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol, but also contains secoiridoids and lignans in abundance. Both olives and olive oil contain substantial amounts of other compounds deemed to be anticancer agents (e.g. squalene and terpenoids) as well as the peroxidation-resistant lipid oleic acid. It seems probable that olive and olive oil consumption in southern Europe represents an important contribution to the beneficial effects on health of the Mediterranean diet.

Public Health Nutr. 2004 Oct;7(7):953-8.
Ageing and the Mediterranean diet: a review of the role of dietary fats.
Battino M, Ferreiro MS.

Institute of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, Universita Politecnica delle Marche, Ancona, Italy. [email protected]

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the relationship between food and health. Concerns have been raised about dietary fats and their relative nutritional advantages or disadvantages. In investigations of the associations between health and fat intake, special emphasis has been placed on the benefits of virgin olive oil for counteracting certain neurodegenerative diseases and ageing. With respect to ageing, accumulating evidence indicates that an improvement in quality of life can be reached by modulation of the extrinsic factors that influence many ageing processes. Of the modifiable factors, nutrition appears to be one of the strongest elements known to influence the rate of ageing as well as the incidence of age-associated diseases such as atherosclerosis and neurodegenerative pathologies. This paper reviews the theory of ageing and the role of fatty acids in the mechanisms affecting its evolution. It also confirms that virgin olive oil, an essential component of the Mediterranean diet, provides large amounts of stable and not easily oxidizable fatty acids as well as remarkable quantities of powerful antioxidant molecules.

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