Improved cognitive function—especially among older adults—is a well-known feature of the Mediterranean Diet. As the staple oil in that diet, olive oil has been of special interest for researchers interested in diet and cognitive function. In France, a recent study large-scale study on older adults has shown that visual memory and verbal fluency can be improved with what the researchers called “intensive use” of olive oil. In this case, “intensive use” meant regular use of olive oil not just for cooking, or as an ingredient in sauces and dressings, but in all of these circumstances.
Equally fascinating to us in the area of cognition has been recent research on olive oil intake and brain function. In laboratory animals with brain function that had been compromised by lack of oxygen, consumption of olive oil helped offset many different types of brain-related problems, including unbalanced water content, unbalanced nervous system activity, and too easy passage of molecules across the blood brain barrier. This animal research has given scientists many further clues about the ways in which olive oil might provide us with cognitive benefits. The ability to help protect our brain during times of imbalance may turn out to be one of the special health benefits offered by this unique culinary oil
BONE HEALTH BENEFITS
Support of overall bone health is another promising area of olive oil research. While most of the initial study in this area has been conducted on laboratory animals, better blood levels of calcium have been repeatedly associated with olive oil intake. In addition, at least two polyphenols in olive oil—tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol—have been shown to increase bone formation in rats. A recent group of researchers has also suggested that olive oil may eventually prove to have special bone benefits for post-menopausal women, since they found improved blood markers of overall bone health in female rats who had been fed olive oil after having their ovaries removed. Taken as a group, the above studies suggest that bone health benefits may eventually be viewed as an important aspect of olive oil intake.
DIGESTIVE HEALTH BENEFITS
Benefits of olive oil for the digestive tract were first uncovered in research on diet and cancers of the digestive tract. Numerous studies found lower rates of digestive tract cancers—especially cancers of the upper digestive tract, including the stomach and small intestine—in populations that regularly consumed olive oil. Studies on the Mediterranean Diet were an important part of this initial research on olive oil and the digestive tract. Protection of the lower digestive tract (for example, protection of the colon from colon cancer) is less well-documented in the olive oil research, even though there is some strongly supportive evidence from select laboratory animal studies. Many of these anti-cancer effects in the digestive tract were believed to depend on the polyphenols in olive oil and their antioxidant plus anti-inflammatory properties. One particular category of polyphenols, called secoiridoids, continues to be a focus in research on prevention of digestive tract cancers.
Recent research has provided us with even more information, however, about olive oil, its polyphenols, and protection of the digestive tract. One fascinating area of recent research has involved the polyphenols in olive oil and the balance of bacteria in our digestive tract. Numerous polyphenols in olive oil have been shown to slow the growth of unwanted bacteria, including bacteria commonly responsible for digestive tract infections. These polyphenols include oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, and tyrosol. Some of these same polyphenols—along with other olive oil polyphenols like ligstroside—are specifically able to inhibit the growth of the Helicobacter pylori bacterium. This effect of the olive oil polyphenols may be especially important, since overpopulation of Helicobacter bacteria coupled with over-attachment of Helicobacter to the stomach lining can lead to stomach ulcer and other unwanted digestive problems
Many different cardiovascular problems—including gradual blocking of the arteries and blood vessels (called atherosclerosis)—have their origin in two unwanted circumstances. The first of these circumstances is called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress means too much damage (or risk of damage) from the presence of overly reactive oxygen-containing molecules. One of the best ways to help avoid oxidative stress is to consume a diet that is rich in antioxidant nutrients. The second of these circumstances is ongoing (chronic) and undesirable low-level inflammation. Undesirable and chronic inflammation can result from a variety of factors, including unbalanced metabolism, unbalanced lifestyle, unwanted exposure to environmental contaminants, and other factors. One of the best ways to help avoid chronic and unwanted inflammation is to consume a diet that is rich in anti-inflammatory nutrients. Any food that is rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients is a natural candidate for lowering our risk of heart problems, because it contains the exactly right combination of nutrients to lower our risk of oxidative stress and chronic, unwanted inflammation. Many foods contain valuable amounts of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, but few foods are as rich in these compounds as extra virgin olive oil, and this fact alone accounts for many of the research-based benefits of this culinary oil for health of our cardiovascular system.
In terms of antioxidant protection for our blood vessels, olive oil has been shown to lower risk of lipid peroxidation (oxygen damage to fat) in our bloodstream. Many of the fat-containing molecules in our blood—including molecules like LDL—need to be protected from oxygen damage. Oxygen damage to molecules like LDL significantly increases our risk of numerous cardiovascular diseases, including atherosclerosis. Protection of the LDL molecules in our blood from oxygen damage is a major benefit provided by olive oil and its polyphenols. Equally important is protection against oxygen damage to the cells that line our blood vessels. Once again, it’s the polyphenols in olive oil that have been shown to provide us with that protection.
One process we don’t want to see in our blood vessels is too much clumping together of blood cells called platelets. While we want to see blood platelets clump together under circumstances like an open wound, where their clumping together acts to seal off the wound, we don’t want this process to occur in an ongoing way when there is no acute emergency. Several of the polyphenols found in olive oil—including hydroxytyrosol, oleuropein and luteolin—appear to be especially helpful in keeping our blood platelets in check and avoiding problems of too much clumping (called platelet aggregation). There are also two messaging molecules (called plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 and factor VII) that are capable of triggering too much clumping together of the platelets, and the polyphenols in olive oil can help stop overproduction of these molecules.
Olive oil is one of the few widely used culinary oils that contains about 75% of its fat in the form of oleic acid (a monounsaturated, omega-9 fatty acid). Research has long been clear about the benefits of oleic acid for proper balance of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol in the body. When diets low in monounsaturated are made high in monounsaturated fat (by replacing other oils with olive oil), research study participants tend to experience a significant decrease in their total blood cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and LDL:HDL ratio. Those are exactly the results we want for heart health. In addition to these cholesterol-balancing effects of olive oil and its high oleic acid content, however, comes a new twist: recent research studies have shown that olive oil and its oleic acid may be important factors for lowering blood pressure. Researchers believe that the plentiful amount of oleic acid in olive oil gets absorbed into the body, finds its way into cell membranes, changes signaling patterns at a cell membrane level (specifically, altering G-protein associated cascades) and thereby lowers blood pressure.
Interestingly, a recent laboratory animal study adds one note of caution for anyone wanting to bring the unique cardiovascular benefits of olive oil into their diet. This study found that cardiovascular benefits from olive oil and its polyphenols were not realized when the laboratory animals consumed too many calories and too much total food. This result suggests that olive oil—outstanding as it is in polyphenol protection of our cardiovascular system—needs to be integrated into an overall healthy diet in order to provide its expected benefits.
OLIVE TREE AND FRUIT
The Olive tree is a long shrub or an evergreen tree with dense branches, broad top which may reach a height of 10 meters.
It has a large, distorted and bumpy trunk. As the tree ages, the smooth gray trunk gradually starts to crack. Crown of the tree widens as the height increases every year. It is a perennial tree and may live approximately 2000 years. The crown is open and symmetrical in fertile land, but denser and rounded in infertile land. Shoots are gray in colour and almost triangular.
Olive tree blossoms in the spring. Its stone starts to harden and fruit to ripen in the summer months. Starting to change colour in September through November, olive first turns from green to violet and then to black, thus ripening. This stage is called “variegation”. Harvest of the ripe olives continues from September through February. The quality of the olive oil to be obtained is closely related with how olives are picked. #Olive oil of the best quality is obtained from the olives picked from their branches one by one. Olive is also picked by dropping on the ground or by suctioning machinery. Olive should be processed as soon as possible after harvesting. To do this, olives allocated to olive oil extraction are first subjected to defoliation and washing processes in automated machines. Then the olives are crushed in presses, thus ensuring olive oil to be extracted from the tissues of the fruits. Approximately 10 kilograms of olives are used to extract a kilo of early-harvested olive oil. In other methods, 3-8 kilos of olives are sufficient to extract a kilo of olive oil.
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