Readers of this column know that there are many health benefits that come from the mediterranean diet, and one source of those benefits has been a reliance on olive oil in the foods of the region. In new research, scientists from Portugal have pinned down the constituent of olive oil that gives the greatest protection from heart attack and stroke.
Specifically, in a study of the major antioxidants in olive oil, Portuguese researchers showed that one of these ingredients, DHPEA-EDA, protects red blood cells from damage more than any other part of the oil. The Portuguese findings appear to provide the scientific basis for the health benefits that have been seen in people of these countries who have significant amounts of olive oil in their diet.
Lead researcher Dr. Fatima Paiva-Martins, University of Porto (Portugal) and colleagues compared the effects of four related polyphenolic compounds on red blood cells subjected to oxidative stress by a chemical that is known to damage such cells. Red blood cells are the body's oxygen carriers.
DHPEA-EDA was the most effective and protected red blood cells even at low concentrations. The researchers say the study provides the first evidence that this compound is the major source of the health benefit associated with virgin olive oils, which contain increased levels of DHPEA-EDA compared to other oils. In virgin olive oils, DHPEA-EDA may make up as much as half the total antioxidant component of the oil. What a tremendous, and delicious, healthy punch it is that high quality olive oils bring a meal!
"Now that we have identified the importance of these compounds, producers can start to care more about the polyphenolic composition of their oils," she says. It is certainly possible to see functional olive oils on the market in the not-too-distant future, speaking on their label of heart protective claims and the percentages of DHPEA-EDA inside the bottle.
This study was published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research.