The anti-hypertensive effects of olive oil are so powerful that some patients on a diet low in low-saturated fat and enhanced with olive oil actually eliminated their need for blood pressure-lowering medications in just six months, according to a recent study.
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Scientists divided a group of twenty-three patients with mild to moderate high blood pressure into two groups. Both groups followed identical diets low in saturated fat, but one group of patients used extra-virgin olive oil as the fat in their diet, while the other group used sunflower oil. Olive oil is composed of monounsaturated fatty acids, while sunflower oil contains polyunsaturated fatty acids. After six months, patients in each group were switched to the other type of oil, those using olive oil (the monounsaturated fat) switched to sunflower oil (the polyunsaturated fat) and vice-versa for another six months.
Although the patients' body weight and total cholesterol levels did not change significantly over the yearlong study, their blood pressure readings "were significantly lower at the end of the MUFA than after the PUFA diet." In fact, on average, patients on the diet that included olive oil were able to cut their anti-hypertensive drug medication by about 50%, and eight patients were able to completely eliminate their need for medication.
It did, however, take a full four months before patients on the olive oil low-saturated fat diet were able to lower their antihypertensive drug dosage. As their six month trial on the olive oil enhanced diet neared completion, many were able to further decrease, and 8 to eliminate their anti-hypertensive medications.
The polyphenols found in olive oil are potent antioxidants that protect LDL (the potentially harmful form of cholesterol) from oxidation (damage by free radicals). Only after it has been oxidized does LDL cholesterol contribute to the development of atherosclerosis. Thus, olive oil helps prevent high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
Reference: Ferrara LA, Raimondi S, d'Episcopo L, Guida L, Dello Russo A, Marotta T. Olive oil and reduced need for antihypertensivemedications. Arch Int Med 2000;160:837-842.