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Health Benefits of Olive Oil -  "Hold out an olive branch" 

Dr Sampurna Roy MD                                 June  2016      

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Interesting facts about Olive:

Grey-green olive trees are a familiar sight in the countries of the Mediterranean. 

They are evergreen trees with small white flower and egg-shaped fruits which are purplish black when ripe.

The hard, light-coloured wood of the olive tree makes beautiful furniture.

Olive trees have been cultivated for thousands of years. The Egyptians grew them in very early times, and they are often mentioned in the Bible. Noah, when the floods were retreating, sent out a dove from the ark and she returned with an olive leaf in her beak.



The builders of the Temple of Jerusalem used olive wood for images, doors and posts, and olive orchards covered the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem.

Most of all, however, the olive tree is associated with Greece.

It was sacred to Athena, the goddess of peace and victory, and so olive wreaths were worn as a sign of victory.

Men seeking peace carried olive branches, and today the phrase "hold out the olive branch" means "show a wish to make peace".

Olive-growing spread rapidly through Greece, and olives were taken to southern Italy by the Greeks who settled there.

Today the chief olive-growing countries are Spain and southern Italy and, to a lesser extent Turkey, Greece, Syria, the Lebanon, Jordon and north Africa. Olive trees need deep, fertile soils and a mild climate free from frost.

Young olive trees are usually grown from the cuttings of old ones. They begin to bear fruit when they are five years old and are at their best for fruit bearing at 15 to 20 years old.

Most of the worlds olive crop is grown for the valuable oil in the fruit.

Olives are crushed between steel or stone rollers and the oil from the pulp is squeezed out by a press.

It is the finest kind of oil and is used in cooking and medicine.

Oil from the kernels is made into soap and toilet cream, or used for oiling machinery.

Olives for eating are carefully picked by hand.

Green olives are the ones picked before they are ripe and then pickled in brine. Black olives are ripe fruit that have been preserved in oil with salt and pepper.

Health benefits of Olive Oil:

 "You gotta have good olive oil. You should have a cooking olive oil and you should have a finishing olive oil, like an extra-virgin olive oil" - Emeril Lagasse

Olive and olive oil, a traditional food product with thousands of years of history, are the essential components of the Mediterranean diet and are largely consumed in the world.

The active components of olive oil are oleic acid, phenolic constituents, and squalene. The main phenolics include hydroxytyrosol, tyrosol, and oleuropein, which is present in highest levels in virgin olive oil and have demonstrated antioxidant activity.

It is now well-established that not only the major fatty acid constituents, but also the minor phenolic components, in olives and olive oil have important health benefits.

Emerging research over the past decade has highlighted the beneficial effects of a range of phenolic compounds from olives and olive oil, particularly for cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome and inflammatory conditions.

Mechanisms of action include strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects which is responsible for a number of olive  oil's biological activities.

1) Cardiovascular disease:

Olive oil prevents atherosclerosis and reduce incidence of coronary heart disease. There were reports of reduced incidence of hypertension. Patient taking olive oil rich food were able to reduce the dosage of antihypertensive drugs.

2) Cancer :

Olive oil has beneficial effect in colonic cancer and breast cancer.

3) Infection:


A recent study found virgin olive oil has bactericidal action against Helicobacter pylori which is the main cause of gastric ulcers and linked to gastric cancers. Antimicrobial activity of hydroxytyrosol, tyrosol, and oleuropein in olive oil was reported against several strains of bacteria implicated in intestinal and respiratory infections.

4) Rheumatoid arthritis:

The antioxidant effect of olive oil has been found to reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis.


Further reading:

Biological effects of the olive polyphenol, hydroxytyrosol: An extra view from genome-wide transcriptome analysis.

Mediterranean diet and longevity: an example of nutraceuticals?

Active components and clinical applications of olive oil.


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Dr  Sampurna Roy  MD

Consultant  Histopathologist (Kolkata - India)








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