Certain dietary fats cause more of an inflammatory response than others. Trans fat and the saturated fat in animal foods stimulate inflammation. To a smaller extent, polyunsaturated fat in foods such as safflower oil, sunflower oil, and corn oil trigger inflammation, as well.
Again, this is where olive oil helps. Olive oil's phytonutrients -- in this case phenolic compounds called squalene, beta-sitosterol, and tyrosol -- don't cause the inflammation that other fats do.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is the immune system's first line of defense against injury and infection. When an injury occurs, such as a simple cut on the finger, a set of events takes place within your body that forms a blood clot, fights infection, and begins the healing process.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Chronic inflammation can damage internal organs.
In some individuals, the immune system gets confused and begins to view some of the body's own healthy cells as "foreign invaders." It therefore directs an immune response -- complete with inflammation -- at healthy tissues, harming or even destroying them.
This misdirected attack results in what's called an autoimmune disorder ("auto" meaning self). Rheumatoid arthritis and certain types of thyroid disease are autoimmune disorders. Asthma, too, is the result of inflammation gone awry.
When inflammation continues unabated for long periods of time, damage can occur in organs, such as the colon, or in blood vessels. Indeed, chronic inflammation within the body is looking more and more like a serious contributor to cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease. Inflammation may damage the inner lining of blood vessels, which encourages plaque deposits to form.
Inflammation may also cause plaque in arteries to break off and travel downstream, where it can become lodged and stop blood flow to a crucial artery that provides oxygen to important body parts, such as your heart or brain. When this happens, a heart attack or stroke (respectively) can occur.
Chronic inflammation within the body can wreak havoc on other body parts besides arteries. A team led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions found that chronic inflammation of the colon might increase the risk of colon cancer.
A ten-year study of more than 20,000 patients suggested a link between chronic inflammation and this disease, although a direct cause-and-effect relationship has not yet been established. These preliminary findings were discussed in the February 2004 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Scientists have discovered that inflammation can be reduced with low daily doses of aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which in turn appear to reduce the risk of diseases caused by inflammation.
Fortunately, not only does olive oil not prompt the kind of inflammation other types of fat can, it actually has some ability to reduce inflammation, thanks to those helpful phytochemicals (squalene, beta-sitosterol, and tyrosol). So consuming olive oil on a regular basis may help decrease the risk of conditions linked to inflammation.
Yet another condition that appears to be linked to inflammation is type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes that affects an estimated 20 million Americans. Having excess body fat seems to increase inflammation. As inflammation increases, so does insulin resistance. As insulin resistance increases, blood glucose levels rise and the risk of type 2 diabetes skyrockets.
What Is Oleocanthal and How Can It Help You?
An article published by Philadelphia researchers in the September 2005 issue of Nature identified a compound in olive oil called oleocanthal that has anti-inflammatory action. Their studies revealed that this compound can act like ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory medications.
Olive oils differ widely in the amount of oleocanthal they possess. To get an idea of how oleocanthal-rich your olive oil of choice is, researchers suggest taking a sip of the oil to "see how strongly it stings the back of the throat." The stronger the sting, the more oleocanthal the oil contains. Fifty grams (nearly a quarter of a cup of olive oil) provides the same amount of anti-inflammatory action as 10 percent of the standard adult dose of ibuprofen.
Obviously, eating enough olive oil to equal a whole dose of ibuprofen is not a practical way to decrease your inflammation and pain. But consuming a moderate amount of olive oil daily -- in place of most of the other fat you typically consume -- over the long term may lessen chronic inflammation throughout the body and bloodstream. It might even somewhat diminish asthma and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
Future research will probably tell us more about olive oil's function in battling oxidation, inflammation, and all the multiple diseases and health conditions associated with them.
Olive oil combats many diseases associated with inflammation, but an unrelated one is one of the biggest. The next page explains why some believe olive oil can help prevent cancer.
To learn more about the topics covered on this article, check out the links below:
- If you wanted to know more about olive oil and its ability to help you lose weight, try Natural Weight-Loss Food: Olive Oil.
- For more information on heart disease and how it is treated, read How Heart Disease Works.
- How Diabetes Works, can tell you everything you need to know about this disease and how it affects the body.
- For a complete discussion of cancer in all of its form, try How Cancer Works.