Olive oil is one of the main ingredients in the Mediterranean diet; one of the healthiest ways of eating we can choose1. Enjoying extra virgin olive oil in our daily diet has the potential for a wide range of health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease, overweight and obesity and diabetes. And now evidence is coming forward that olive leaf extract may also benefit our health.
In this article, we’ll look at the role olive oil and olive leaf may play in keeping our hearts healthy.
What’s the difference between olive oil and olive leaf?
Olive oil comes from the fruit of the olive tree. It’s a plant oil that’s high in monounsaturated fats. Olive oil is manufactured in three grades: olive oil, virgin olive oil and extra virgin olive oil, with extra virgin olive oil being the highest quality. You can compare different grades of olive oils here.
The leaves of the olive tree are traditional medicine of many Mediterranean countries2. You can now find olive leaf extract capsules or liquid extract on pharmacy shelves all round the world, or buy it as olive leaf tea.
Why should we care about our heart health?
Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in the western world, responsible for 41,800 deaths in 2018 (26% of all deaths) in Australia3, and around 655,000 deaths a year (25% of all deaths) in the United States4. Cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol impact the every-day lives of millions. Meaning they have to make changes to their lifestyles and take a range medications to enjoy life.
What does the research say about olive oil and heart health?
Results of the research including randomised control trials, systematic reviews and meta-analyses are compelling that the Mediterranean diet is beneficial for heart health5-7. Extra virgin olive oil is an essential ingredient in the Mediterranean diet and contributes to a high intake of monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidant phytochemicals6: biophenols, phytosterols and vitamin E.
Extra virgin olive oil naturally contains bioactive compounds, and products labelled simply as ‘olive oil’ have typically been refined and are lacking in the appropriate quantities of these bioactives7-9 Results from a recent study investigating the difference between high and low biophenol extra virgin olive oil indicated that biophenol amount may influence blood pressure, an important factor implicated in increased cardiovascular risk. Consumption of high biophenol extra virgin olive oil caused a significant decrease in peripheral and central systolic blood pressure10.
Results from a meta-analysis6 investigating the effect of individual dietary components of the Mediterranean diet on cardiovascular disease risk indicated that adequate olive oil intake independently caused significant reduction in the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
25-50ml of olive oil a day, and especially extra virgin olive oil, has been found to
- Reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Reduce blood pressure
- Reduce oxidative damage
- Improve lipid profiles
- Reduce inflammatory markers associated with cardiovascular disease
What does the research say about olive leaf extract and heart health?
Olive leaf isn’t as widely known about as olive oil but indications are that it may also play a role in helping to keep our hearts healthy. Results from research investigating the difference between olive oil and extra virgin olive oil indicates that the amount of biophenols is partly responsible for the improvements in heart health that olives provide, and olive leaf contains much higher levels of these bioactive compounds than extra virgin olive oil11. Oleuropein and Hydroxytyrosol are the main compounds found in olive leaf extract that has been implicated in the effects on heart health12.
Of the few studies investigating the heart health effects of olive leaf extract, many have been cell or animal models rather than human studies, providing an excellent opportunity for further research in this area.
Indications from human-studies are that olive leaf extract may help 2,13,-18
- Reduce inflammation
- Reduce oxidative injury and ischaemic disease
- Improve lipid profile
- Reduce blood pressure
Should we be using olive oil and olive leaf extract to help our heart health?
The research is quite clear that extra virgin olive oil is an important ingredient in helping to keep our heart healthy1. Whether we’re trying to prevent heart disease as we get older, or reduce the impact of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol after diagnosis.
Although the research volume is much smaller and much of the evidence is on cell or animal models, indications are that olive leaf extract may provide additional benefits to heart health because of the high levels of antioxidant biophenols2.
How can we use olive oil or olive leaf extract to help our heart health?
- Aim to have 2-3 tablespoons (25-50ml) of extra virgin olive oil every day as part of a Mediterranean-style diet
- Choose extra virgin olive oil as your main oil in cooking or as a salad dressing
- Swap butter for extra virgin olive oil on toast or breads
- Find out more about cooking with olive oil
- Olive leaf extract with 51mg16-136mg13 oleuropein per day may have positive effects on heart health
- Olive leaf extract can be easily used in smoothies
- Consider enjoying olive leaf tea.
Want to discover more about olive oil and olive leaf extract?
Learn more about extra virgin olive oil
Learn more about olive leaf extract
How to choose a good quality extra virgin olive oil
11 health benefits of extra virgin olive oil that you can’t ignore
Olive Leaf – an ancient health remedy
- Dinu M, Pagliai G, Casini A, Sofi F. Mediterranean diet and multiple health outcomes: an umbrella review of meta-analyses of observational studies and randomised trials. European journal of clinical nutrition. 2018 Jan;72(1):30-43.
- Acar-Tek N, Ağagündüz D. Olive Leaf (Olea europaea L. folium): Potential Effects on Glycemia and Lipidemia. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2020;76(1):63-8.
- Australian Institute of Health and Wellness. Cardiovascular Disease. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/heart-stroke-vascular-diseases/cardiovascular-health-compendium/contents/deaths-from-cardiovascular-disease Accessed September 2020
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease Facts. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm Accessed September 2020
- Zamora-Zamora F, Martínez-Galiano JM, Gaforio JJ, Delgado-Rodríguez M. Effects of olive oil on blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Grasas y Aceites. 2018 Oct 5;69(4):272.
- Grosso G, Marventano S, Yang J, Micek A, Pajak A, Scalfi L, Galvano F, Kales SN. A comprehensive meta-analysis on evidence of Mediterranean diet and cardiovascular disease: are individual components equal?. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 2017 Oct 13;57(15):3218-32.
- Guasch-Ferré M, Hu FB, Martínez-González MA, Fitó M, Bulló M, Estruch R, Ros E, Corella D, Recondo J, Gómez-Gracia E, Fiol M. Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED Study. BMC medicine. 2014 Dec 1;12(1):78.
- Jimenez-Lopez C, Carpena M, Lourenço-Lopes C, Gallardo-Gomez M, Lorenzo JM, Barba FJ, Prieto MA, Simal-Gandara J. Bioactive compounds and quality of extra virgin olive oil. Foods. 2020 Aug;9(8):1014.
- Barbaro B, Toietta G, Maggio R, Arciello M, Tarocchi M, Galli A, Balsano C. Effects of the olive-derived polyphenol oleuropein on human health. International journal of molecular sciences. 2014 Oct;15(10):18508-24.
- Sarapis K, Thomas CJ, Hoskin J, George ES, Marx W, Mayr HL, Kennedy G, Pipingas A, Willcox JC, Prendergast LA, Itsiopoulos C. The effect of high polyphenol extra virgin olive oil on blood pressure and arterial stiffness in healthy Australian adults: A randomized, controlled, cross-over study. Nutrients. 2020 Aug;12(8):2272.
- Nocella C, Cammisotto V, Fianchini L, D’Amico A, Novo M, Castellani V, Stefanini L, Violi F, Carnevale R. Extra virgin olive oil and cardiovascular diseases: Benefits for human health. Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders-Drug Targets (Formerly Current Drug Targets-Immune, Endocrine & Metabolic Disorders). 2018 Jan 1;18(1):4-13.
- Breakspear I, Guillaume C. A Quantitative Phytochemical Comparison of Olive Leaf Extracts on the Australian Market. Molecules. 2020 Jan;25(18):4099.
- Lockyer S, Rowland I, Spencer JP, Yaqoob P, Stonehouse W. Impact of phenolic-rich olive leaf extract on blood pressure, plasma lipids and inflammatory markers: A randomised controlled trial. European journal of nutrition. 2017 Jun 1;56(4):1421-32.
- Lockyer S, Yaqoob P, Spencer JP, Rowland I. Olive leaf phenolics and cardiovascular risk reduction: physiological effects and mechanisms of action. Nutrition and Aging. 2012 Jan 1;1(2):125-40.
- Hassen I, Casabianca H, Hosni K. Biological activities of the natural antioxidant oleuropein: Exceeding the expectation–A mini-review. Journal of Functional Foods. 2015 Oct 1;18:926-40.
- Lockyer S, Corona G, Yaqoob P, Spencer JP, Rowland I. Secoiridoids delivered as olive leaf extract induce acute improvements in human vascular function and reduction of an inflammatory cytokine: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial. British Journal of Nutrition. 2015 Jul;114(1):75-83.
- Cherif S, Rahal N, Haouala M, Hizaoui B, Dargouth F, Gueddiche M, Kallel Z, Balansard G, Boukef K. A clinical trial of a titrated Olea extract in the treatment of essential arterial hypertension. Journal de pharmacie de Belgique. 1996 Mar 1;51(2):69-71.
- Perrinjaquet‐Moccetti T, Busjahn A, Schmidlin C, Schmidt A, Bradl B, Aydogan C. Food supplementation with an olive (Olea europaea L.) leaf extract reduces blood pressure in borderline hypertensive monozygotic twins. Phytotherapy Research. 2008 Sep;22(9):1239-42.