Scientists have isolated the unique molecule that provides olive oil with its multitude of health and life-extending benefits.
The olive tree (Olea europaea) produces oleuropein abundantly in its leaves as well as in the olive fruit itself, and special processing techniques now allow for the extraction of a stable, standardized form of oleuropein. That means that consumers can have access to one of the most beneficial components of olive oil without the necessity of consuming excessive amounts of olive oil.
Known as oleuropein, it is the polyphenol that can help lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure, prevent cancer, protect against oxidative damage, and help guard against cognitive decline.(1,2) Oleuropein provides the distinctive tangy, pungent, almost bitter flavor found in high quality extra virgin olive oils.(2) It’s also responsible for most of olive oil’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and disease-fighting characteristics.(2-4) In fact, when oleuropein was given to animals with tumors, the tumors completely regressed and disappeared in 9 to 12 days!(5)
Olive leaf extracts and their oleuropein constituents are best known for their blood pressure-lowering effects, but the latest studies reveal their health benefits extend well beyond that. Additional anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties offer promise in fighting atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and even arthritis.
Blood Pressure Animal studies demonstrate that olive leaf extracts lead to significant drops in elevated blood pressure.(6,7) Remarkably, these effects are evident when supplementation occurs either before or after the animals develop hypertension. This means that the extracts have the ability to both prevent and treat high blood pressure.(8)
The drop in blood pressure is accompanied by reduced pressure in the heart’s left ventricle. This results in improved blood flow to the heart’s own coronary blood vessels. Additional human studies demonstrate the ability of olive leaf extracts to significantly reduce blood pressure measurements.(9)
One particularly fascinating study was conducted among identical twins with borderline hypertension (blood pressure in the range of 120-139 mmHg over 80-89 mmHg).(10) Studies of identical twins virtually eliminate genetic variations which may impact study results. After 8 weeks, placebo recipients showed no change in blood pressure from baseline, but patients supplemented with 1,000 mg/day of olive leaf extract dropped their pressures by a mean of 11 mmHg systolic and 4 mmHg diastolic.(10) The supplemented patients experienced significant reductions in LDL cholesterol.
A human study measured olive leaf extract against captopril, one of the conventional drugs used for treating hypertension.(11) In this study, patients with stage-1 hypertension (140-159 mmHg over 90-99 mmHg) took either 500 mg of olive leaf extract twice daily, or 12.5 mg of captopril twice daily, which was increased as needed to 25 mg twice daily. After 8 weeks of treatment, both groups experienced a drop in mean blood pressure from baseline (11.5 and 13.7 mmHg systolic; 4.8 and 6.4 mmHg diastolic, respectively), with no significant difference between the two groups. In other words, the olive leaf extract performed as well as the prescription drug. A closer look in the laboratory reveals the reason for this equivalence. Although they utilize different mechanisms of action (oleuropein acts as a natural calcium channel blocker and captopril is a well-known ACE-inhibitor), both oleuropein and captopril function inside the vasculature to decrease the tension in the walls of blood vessels and promote widening of the vessels (vasodilation), ultimately lowering blood pressure.(12-15)