It’s no secret that olive oil —particularly extra-virgin olive oil—has a number of health benefits. Studies suggest the antioxidant compounds and healthy fats found within could fight against cell oxidation and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. But, new research is indicating it may do more than that by actually helping to protect your liver and reverse the negative health impacts of a high-fat diet.
Good vs. Bad High-Fat Diets
A high-fat diet is what America is all about. However, high-fat diets with the right kind of fat (like the type found in olive oil) are actually good for you and can have some positive impacts. A ketogenic diet is a great example.
The problem is that the kinds of fats many Americans are eating every day are dangerous, with the potential to lead to liver disease. Overdoing it on saturated fats found in greasy foods like French fries, chips, pizza, and burgers can not only boost the risk for heart disease and pack on the pounds, but can also put your liver through a beating.
Can Olive Oil Protect Your Liver from a High-Fat Diet?
A team of researchers in Chile decided to look at how the different compounds in olive oil might help lower the risk of heart disease and liver disease. Hydroxytyrosol, the antioxidant compound found in olive oil, is believed to be the secret ingredient that provides the boost to heart health. But according to the researchers’ new study, published in the journal Lipids in Health and Disease, it could possibly protect the liver and reverse the damage of a high-fat diet—even though olive oil is quite fatty itself.
The difference between your olive oil and French fries or potato chips is that olive oil is high in healthy polyunsaturated fats, while French fries and chips can be high in saturated or even dangerous trans fats.
The fats—and carbs—found in items like pizza, chips, and French fries can lead to overall increases in cholesterol. And particularly “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol that can lead to arterial blockages, insulin resistance, and liver damage. These are all symptoms of a high-fat diet.
For the study, researchers fed groups of mice either a high-fat diet or a diet of only 10% fat. When mice were fed a high-fat diet with 60% of their daily calories coming from fat, they had substantial increases in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. When some of those mice were administered five milligrams (per kilogram of bodyweight) of hydroxytyrosol, they experienced reduced negative effects on the liver and in cholesterol levels.
The hydroxytyrosol seemed to help maintain the liver enzymes involved in synthesizing beneficial polyunsaturated acids, which are decreased in a high-fat diet.
Boost Your Healthy Fat Intake with Olive Oil
So, does this mean all you need to do is have a few spoonfuls of extra-virgin olive oil every day to maintain a healthy liver and cardiovascular system? Not quite. The high-fat diet mice with the supplementation still didn’t have the same liver health—or show the same markers of a high-fat diet—as mice on a regular diet. That said, the difference wasn’t substantial.
Don’t get me wrong though: I’m certainly not encouraging a diet high in bad fats. I’m all about the well-balanced diet.
Adding a couple tablespoons of olive oil—either on a salad or to cook with—can increase your intake of healthy fats and help keep your liver and heart healthy, especially as part of a well-balanced diet.
Sandoiu, A., “Olive oil compound found to reverse the damage of high-fat diet,” Medical News Today, April 11, 2017; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/316851.php, last accessed April 17, 2017.