Women face a variety of health challenges across the lifespan – with some conditions unique to them and others disproportionately affecting them when compared to men. Good nutrition can assist in the prevention and management of many of these conditions, and the Mediterranean diet and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) can play a key role. Read on to find out the various ways in which the Mediterranean diet and EVOO can assist in optimising women’s health.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death for women globally, and here in Australia a woman dies of coronary heart disease almost every hour of every day1. A healthy diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease, and recent research has shown that this is particularly the case for the Mediterranean diet. A systematic review from the University of Sydney showed that women who had a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet had up to 24% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 23% lower risk of death than those with a low adherence2. This study was one of the first to look at the association between the Mediterranean diet, CVD, and mortality specifically in women.
Nutrition can have a significant impact across multiple stages of fertility – from couples trying to conceive, to assisted reproductive treatments (ART) and in vitro fertilization (IVF)3.
Research has shown that foods and diets high in antioxidants and monounsaturated fats are especially important in this area, as they can help with inflammation – a key issue for those struggling with infertility4. EVOO is full of antioxidants, including vitamin E, and therefore may be beneficial for fertility, whether couples are trying to conceive naturally, or are undergoing ART or IVF. When looking specifically at IVF treatment, there is research showing that adherence to a Mediterranean style diet may strengthen IVF outcomes. In particular, one study showed that people consuming a Mediterranean style diet were more likely to get pregnant via IVF than people consuming a ‘health-conscious diet’ which was lower in fat5.
Reproductive health conditions:
Reproductive conditions like endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) affect many women – with endometriosis affecting around 10% of women and PCOS affecting around 8-13% of women worldwide6,7. These conditions can be painful and can impact fertility, and while there is no cure, nutrition can help manage symptoms and the ability to conceive8. Endometriosis is an inflammatory condition, so once again, foods high in antioxidants are important for treatment8. Recent studies also suggest that a Mediterranean-style diet may be beneficial for those with PCOS, particularly when trying to conceive9.
Mental health plays an important role in overall well-being, and recent research has shown that diet can have a significant impact on mood. In fact, higher quality diets are consistently linked with reductions in the risk of depression, while unhealthy diets have the opposite effect (associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety)10. In particular, a Mediterranean style diet has been shown to be helpful in the prevention and treatment of mood disorders such as depression10,11. In fact, recently released international guidelines for using lifestyle interventions for the treatment of major depressive disorders suggested that eating a nutrient dense diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, can reduce the risk of major depressive disorder. While the guidelines recommend clinicians take an individualized approach to dietary advice, one of the tips provided states “to include extra virgin olive oil as the main source of cooking and added oil”12.
There is emerging evidence that the polyphenols in EVOO may prevent the loss of bone mass, an important factor in the development of osteoporosis. Research suggests that the phenolic compounds can help to promote bone cell growth (osteoblasts) and inhibit bone cell breakdown (osteoclasts) which can help maintain bone density and strength13-15. It is important to note that the evidence in this space is still emerging, however it is an exciting addition to the numerous health benefits of EVOO.
Overall, extra virgin olive oil and the Mediterranean diet can provide multiple benefits to the health of women across the lifespan. The antioxidant rich nature and healthy fat profile of both EVOO and the overall Mediterranean diet eating pattern can assist in fighting inflammation, leading to benefits for heart health, fertility, mental health and many other conditions.
View article references
- Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020. Causes of Death, Australia 2019. Vol. 3303.0.
- Pant A, Gribbin S, McIntyre D, et al. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in women with a Mediterranean diet: systematic review and meta-analysis. Published Online First: 14 March 2023. doi:10.1136/heartjnl-2022-321930
- Aparicio-Soto M, et al. Extra virgin olive oil: a key functional food for prevention of immune-inflammatory diseases. Food Funct. 2016 Nov 9;7(11):4492-4505.
- Alesi S, Villani A, Mantzioris E, Takele WW, Cowan S, Moran LJ, Mousa A. Anti-Inflammatory Diets in Fertility: An Evidence Review. Nutrients. 2022 Sep 21;14(19):3914. doi: 10.3390/nu14193914.
- Karayiannis et al. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet and IVF success rate among non-obese women attempting fertility, Human Reproduction, Volume 33, Issue 3, March 2018, Pages 494–502
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome [Internet]. World Health Organization. 28 June 2023 [cited 24 Oct 2023]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/polycystic-ovary-syndrome#:~:text=Polycystic%20ovary%20syndrome%20(PCOS)%20affects,affected%20women%20remain%20undiagnosed%20worldwide.
- Endometriosis [Internet]. World Health Organization. 24 March 2023 [cited 24 Oct 2023]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/endometriosis
- Barnard ND et al. Nutrition in the prevention and treatment of endometriosis: A review. Front Nutr. 2023 Feb 17;10:1089891. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2023.1089891
- Barrea L et al. Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet, Dietary Patterns and Body Composition in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Nutrients. 2019 Sep 23;11(10):2278. doi: 10.3390/nu11102278.
- Li Y, Lv MR, Wei YJ, Sun L, Zhang JX, Zhang HG, Li B. Dietary patterns and depression risk: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res. 2017 Jul;253:373-382. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2017.04.020
- Jacka, F.N., O’Neil, A., Opie, R. et al.A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Med 15, 23 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-017-0791-y
- Marx W et al (2023) Clinical guidelines for the use of lifestyle-based mental health care in major depressive disorder: World Federation of Societies for Biological Psychiatry (WFSBP) and Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine (ASLM) taskforce, The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, 24:5, 333-386, DOI: 10.1080/15622975.2022.2112074
- García-Martínez, O et al. Phenolic Compounds in Extra Virgin Olive Oil Stimulate Human Osteoblastic Cell Proliferation. PLoS ONE 2016, 11, e0150045
- García-Martínez O, Rivas A, Ramos-Torrecillas J, De Luna-Bertos E, Ruiz C. The effect of olive oil on osteoporosis prevention. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2014 Nov;65(7):834-40. doi: 10.3109/09637486.2014.931361
- Santiago-Mora R, Casado-Díaz A, De Castro MD, Quesada-Gómez JM. Oleuropein enhances osteoblastogenesis and inhibits adipogenesis: the effect on differentiation in stem cells derived from bone marrow. Osteoporos Int. 2011 Feb;22(2):675-84. doi: 10.1007/s00198-010-1270-x