Does Olive Oil & Mediterranean Diet Reduce Inflammation? (2021)

Most people have a goal of living a long and healthy life, free from illness and disease. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case, as our bodies can get sick, especially as we age. Though we can’t stop the aging process, we do have a natural defense mechanism to combat injuries and illnesses – acute inflammation! It helps our body heal itself. Though necessary and helpful at times, acute inflammation can also increase the risk of developing chronic inflammation, which isn’t entirely beneficial. But, have no fear; a healthy diet and lifestyle can help keep chronic inflammation at bay.

The Mediterranean diet and lifestyle are a great place to start. The health-promoting attributes from adhering to a Mediterranean Diet Include Many Health Benefits, mostly due to the powerful components found in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). The polyphenol content found in EVOO provides anti-inflammatory benefits to fight off unwanted infections and injuries in your body. But before we get into one of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, let’s quickly break down inflammation.

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is a natural process that allows your body to protect itself from injuries, infections, and illnesses. There are two types of inflammation – acute and chronic inflammation. You may be more familiar with acute inflammation, which is short-term. For example, when you fall off your bike and you may experience redness, swelling, heat, and pain in your knee. These factors trigger the immune response for the white blood cells to protect and surround the injury area. As a result, the white blood cells cause redness, swelling, heat, and pain from injuries, infections, and illnesses. Meanwhile, chronic inflammation due to diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, psoriasis, and cancer can last years or even a lifetime. “The chronic inflammatory response is characterized by abnormal cytokine production and the activations of inflammatory signaling pathways” (1). Some factors that increase the risk for chronic inflammation are obesity, smoking, age, and stress.

Inflammation causes various cells in the immune system to respond to the injury by releasing inflammatory mediators (2). The main biomarkers for inflammation are C-reactive protein (CRP), cytokines, and reactive oxygen species.

2 Factors that cause acute inflammation:

1. Injury
2. Infection

4 Factors that increase the risk for Chronic Inflammation:

1. Obesity
2. Smoking
3. Older Age
4. Chronic Stress

The risk in the development of chronic inflammation can be reduced with a healthy lifestyle and dietary changes. In fact, three of the four risk factors for chronic inflammation can be attributed to diet and lifestyle. Typically chronic inflammation is treated by over-the-counter non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Properties or drugs (NSAID) such as ibuprofen or aspirin, which may have side effects. Some people may want to look for alternative home remedies to ease their inflammation, such as following the Mediterranean diet and using EVOO.

How can the Mediterranean diet help reduce inflammation?

The Mediterranean diet has been around for decades, and individuals who adhere to it have seen protective benefits for various diseases. The Mediterranean population has reduced the incidence of chronic diseases because virgin olive oil is incorporated into their daily dietary intake (3). The lower content of free fatty acid and higher content of omega-3 fatty acids in olive oil is a significant contributor to their lowered risk of inflammation as “fatty acids lead to increased cell apoptosis, which is one of the factors related to inflammation” (4). In addition, oleocanthal is a major phenolic compound found in extra virgin olive that “shares unique perceptual and anti-inflammatory characteristics with Ibuprofen” (3). Perhaps, the high content of oleocanthal may provide benefits against chronic inflammatory diseases by reducing inflammation in joint-degenerative disease, neurodegenerative disease, and specific cancers. In recent years, the anti-inflammatory benefits from oleocanthal content in olive oil have garnered attention as a Naturally Occurring NSAID To Reduce Ibuprofen Intake. Still, they cannot be used as a replacement for medications.

A study was conducted on 219 males and 379 female participants to analyze the inflammatory marker’s correlation to adherence to the Mediterranean diet in both adults and adolescents. The researchers determined that with increasing age in both sexes, that there is a correlation with lower adherence to the Mediterranean diet and increasing prevalence of metabolic syndrome — increase in weight, body mass index, waist and hip circumference, blood pressure, total body fat, and metabolic syndrome (MetS) (1). “Biomarkers (leptin, TNF-α, PAI-1, and hs-CRP) values were statistically significant in adult male subjects, reporting plasma lower levels among subjects with higher adherence to the Mediterranean Dietary Plan” (1). These biomarkers are typically used to determine if patients have developed chronic inflammation. Specifically, the hs-CRP value was a biomarker used to link metabolic syndrome and inflammation because lower adherence to the Mediterranean diet resulted in higher plasma concentration, increased risk for developing type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The results of the study demonstrated that low adherence to the Mediterranean dietary pattern is correlated with higher levels of inflammation biomarkers. This means making dietary changes to incorporate the Mediterranean diet or EVOO may be useful in reducing inflammation and metabolic syndrome.

Methods to include olive oil in your diet

1. Switch out your kitchen oil with extra virgin olive oil.
2. Reduce ibuprofen intake with olive oil capsule supplements. (always check with your MD before adjusting or altering your medication routine)
3. Drizzle some EVOO as a salad dressing.
4. Read this post to learn 6 Dietary Ways To Incorporate The Mediterranean Diet.

The Bottom Line

Inflammation is a natural mechanism of the body to protect itself from injuries, illnesses, and infections. Acute inflammation is short-term, where you can recover relatively quickly compared to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can cause severe diseases that can last years or a lifetime.

Studies have shown that olive oil has anti-inflammatory benefits for your body by reducing the biomarkers of inflammation. Low adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with higher inflammation biomarkers. Thus, increasing your consumption of EVOO can decrease your risk of inflammation. Dietary changes can easily be implemented, and Olivaio is here to help you.

Written by Joanna Chen

Reviewed by Kelly Powers, MA, RDN, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who takes a holistic approach to nutrition and health. Kelly is a recipe developer with a food blog highlighting whole foods, simple recipes, and her life in San Francisco. She’s the creator of 52 Weeks, a weekly meal plan program that helps users get back in the kitchen and feed themselves well. Kelly is also a co-founder of Olivaio.

Image Credit: pixabay/@josealbafotos; unsplash.com/@Murillo de Paula; unsplash.com/@Brooke Lark; pixabay.com/@Mareefe; 

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Can you replace your ibuprofen medication with olive oil?
A: No, Olive Oil can reduce pain similar to ibuprofen but it is only recommended to be used as a supplement to NSAIDs. Daily intake of olive oil can help alleviate joint pains.

Q: What foods are included in the Mediterranean diet?
A: The Mediterranean Diet includes daily consumption of extra virgin olive oil, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Meanwhile, seafood, poultry, and meat consumption are limited. Seafood such as tuna, salmon, and shrimp are limited to 2-3 times a week. Poultry can be consumed 2-3 times a week and meat such as pork or lean beef can be consumed 3-4 times per month.

Q: What are the benefits of inflammation?
A: Inflammation is a vital part of your immune system to fight off foreign invaders such as bacteria, toxins, and pathogens. A natural response to inflammation, there is an increased activity of white blood cells and immune cells to fight viruses, infections, and bacteria. Without this physiological response, your body cannot heal wounds and infections.