Researchers at the Universities of Glasgow and Lisbon and Mosaiques Diagnostics in Germany teamed-up to study the effect of olive oil, a Mediterranean diet staple, on heart health in a group of non-consumers.
The study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was set up to examine the effect of phenolics, natural compounds found in plants, including olives, on heart health.
Phenolics, along with monounsaturated fatty acids, are thought by the Federal Drug Administration in US and European Food Safety Authority to be responsible for the protective effect of olive oil.
The researchers recruited 69 healthy volunteers who were split into two groups and asked to consume 20ml of olive oil either low or high in phenolics every day over a six-week period.
A particular feature of the study was the target group studied: healthy individuals who did not regularly consume olive oil.
The research team applied a new diagnostic technology to study the impact of the oil supplements on health: urine samples were examined for a range of peptides (produced by the breakdown of proteins) already identified as indicators or bio markers of diseases such as coronary artery disease (CAD), chronic kidney disease (CKD) and diabetes.
The results showed that both groups saw a big improvement in scores for CAD – the most common form of heart disease.
Dr Emilie Combet of the School of Medicine at the University of Glasgow, said "What we found was that regardless of the phenolic content of the oil, there was a positive effect on CAD scores."
"In the population studied, any olive oil, low or high in phenolics, seems to be beneficial. The fatty acids are probably the main contributors to the observed effect," she said.
"Our study was a supplementation study. If people in UK replaced part of their fat intake with olive oil, it could have an ever greater effect on reducing the risk of heart disease," Combet said.
"The proteomic strategy is very powerful in detecting changes in health before symptoms appear. It is the first time this technique has been applied from a nutritional perspective to try to get to the bottom of which food or what ingredient is truly responsible for health benefits," Combet added.

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