Olive Oil Lowers Stroke Risk by 40%

July 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Food & Nutrition, Health

Last week I was encouraging you to eat more strawberries and now continuing the healthy summer diet theme I would like to see you pouring out more of the golden liquid – preferably cold pressed and organic. New research shows that regular olive oil consumption lowers stroke risk and by a highly significant amount, particularly in the elderly.

Critical research released in the journal Neurology from the American Academy of Neurology provides evidence that regular consumption of olive oil can help to do more than keep your heart healthy. The value of the Mediterranean diet is now well proved but this new study study examined individuals over the age of 65 that are most vulnerable to the devastating effects of a stroke. Scientists suggest that olive oil taken as part of a healthy diet can lower the life-altering risks associated with a stroke by 41% in the elderly. Based on this body of work, researchers “suggest that a new set of dietary recommendations should be issued to prevent stroke in people 65 and older.”

The study author was Dr. Cecilia Samieri from the University of Bordeaux in France and she and her researchers examined the medical records of 7,625 aging adults 65 or older from three cities in France. These were in generally good health and had no prior history of stroke. Participants were monitored via a dietary questionnaire to record how much olive oil they used and then that was broken down into three groups: none, moderate and intense which was based on their regular consumption habits. Because this was a home, not a laboratory trial they were assessing not just their consumption but the type of oil they used at home and it is significant to note that virtually all of it was extra virgin and cold pressed. This type of minimally processed oil is what is recommended to combat heart disease and has been previously found to lower the risk of heart disease in prior studies. Extra virgin olive oil is known to be a rich source of natural polyphenols from the olive fruit; it alters the oxidized, sticky nature of LDL cholesterol that is implicated with plaque build-up in the arteries.

This was a long term study as they followed the participants for a period of five years, and 148 strokes occurred during that time span. After considering dietary, lifestyle and medical history, researchers found that those with the highest intake of extra virgin olive oil were 41% less likely to suffer a stroke compared with those with the lowest consumption of the monounsaturated oil. In a secondary arm of this study where plasma fatty acid measurements were available, individuals with the highest oleic acid (olive oil fraction) were found to experience a 73% lower risk of stroke.

Olive oil consumption is associated with lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, lipid abnormalities and obesity and now strokes can be added to the list. Dr. Cecilia Samieri commented, “Stroke is so common in older people and olive oil would be an inexpensive and easy way to help prevent it.” The study did not specify the amount of olive oil used by those in the `intense` group that experienced the highest degree of protection from stroke but nutritionists recommend that most people should add 1 to 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil five days a week to reap the powerful health benefits of this monounsaturated oil. Be generous with the olive oil in your salad dressing, and personally I add my salad dressing to hot vegetables as well, particularly good on carrots!

Preparing Your Body for Christmas the Mediterranean Way

Whatever we tell ourselves there is no doubt that Christmas – and indeed all of December – is a time for over-indulgence and it might be sensible to give your body an MOT in preparation.

Detoxing has long been a favoured naturopathic tool and Vital Detox has taken the principles of the Mediterranean diet and applied them in a very convenient way. The traditional Mediterranean detox is based on three things:

1. Reducing the amount of food consumed in order to give the digestive system a rest and allow energy to be diverted to cleansing rather than digesting.
2. Introducinge extra greens to provide the important additional nutrients needed to help quell the accumulated winter toxins being thrown from the cells
3. Take traditional herbal recipes to ensure the natural, seasonal detoxification process works efficiently.

Developed by a Naturopathic Physician in Italy, vitalDETOX is based on this herboristic tradition to allow a gentler detox approach and ensure the effectiveness of the immune system during the process and so prepare you for the festive season.

Some of the herbs included are well known to us such as Milk Thistle which has a beneficial effect on the liver, and Artichoke which improves digestion. Less common in the UK are ingredients such as Rosemary which stimulates the adrenal cortex and is diuretic, Boldo leaves, traditionally used to produce the bile needed for the breakdown of dietary fats, and Radish roots and Agrimony, used for centuries to support the liver. The plant extracts arethen dissolved in an organic solution of the juice extracted from the Mexican cactus Agave salmiana, which is rich in calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium.

During December, instead of having a glass of sherry as an aperitif, you can add one 5ml spoonful of vitalDETOX to a small glass of water with an added a dash of lemon juice before your meal. You should find it in health stores, but if not then visit the website at www.simplyvital.com.

How olive oil protects against breast cancer

July 13, 2010 by  
Filed under Health

One of the main reasons for the benefits ascribed to the Mediterranean diet is the key ingredient of olive oil.  As well is helping protect against heart disease, and add flavour to food, it now seems that it also plays a key role in protecting against breast cancer.

It is no surprise in that the majority of research into the benefits of olive oil have come from those countries that produce it, and this is no exception.  Researchers at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain have spent over twenty years working to determine the effects fats have on breast cancer, and in particular the effects of virgin olive oil.   Now they have discovered a key mechanism by which virgin olive oil, in contrast to other vegetable oils, protects the body.  They have managed to decode a complete cascade of signals within breast tumour cells activated by virgin olive oil, and came to the conclusion that the benefits includes a decrease in the activity of the oncogene p21Ras – which spurs uncontrolled cell proliferation and stimulates the growth of tumours.  Other benefits include changes in protein signalling pathways, stimulation of tumour cell death and prevention of DNA damage

Any research into this area is important, as breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in Western countries.   The link between a diet rich in fats and the incidence of cancer has already been established, but some types of fats can play a protective role against the development of these tumours.

In addition, olive oil suppresses the activity of some proteins, such as the AKT, essential for the survival of cells since they prevent apoptosis, the cell’s “suicide” programme. Between proliferation and apoptosis in tumour cells, these effects tip the balance towards cell death, thereby slowing the growth of tumours.

If you want to increase your protection against breast cancer, then your diet needs to include virgin olive oil – used cold, not in cooking – as this is associated with low incidences of specific types of cancer, including breast cancer.  It also has a protective role against coronary diseases and other health problems.

How to substantially lower your risk of AMD

June 19, 2009 by  
Filed under Healthy Ageing


Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in the over 60′s. You lose that sharpness of vision you need for everyday tasks like driving and reading and it can result in total blindness.

Two new studies now offer hope that this decline is not inevitable and there is an easy preventive measure anyone can take. The University of Sydney’s Westmead Hospital’s researchers undertook a ten year study and found that eating more fish, nuts, olive oil and foods containing omega-three fatty acids may significantly lower the risk for AMD, particularly if you also avoid trans-fats in your diet.

The researchers found that eating just one serving of fish each week was associated with a 31 percent lower risk of developing early AMD and if you include just one to two servings of nuts a week then there was an increase to a 35 percent lower risk of early AMD. Olive oil is the real key here though as it provides even better protection than the fish. The optimum amount for benefit is over 100 ml a week.

I have long extolled the virtues of the Mediterranean diet, and this is pretty much what this is advocating. In this case the benefits come from the fact that these ‘healthy’ fatty acids may protect the eyes by preventing the buildup of plaque in the arteries and by reducing inflammation, blood vessel formation and oxygen-related cell damage in the retina.

The research also highlighted who was most likely to have late-stage AMD and that turned out to be those who ate the most trans-fats. These are usually found in processed foods and bakery items. They can lower their risk by cutting out those items and increasing the amount of omega-three fatty acids as that showed they were far less likely to have even early AMD.

Nutrients are known to help with AMD and research by the US National Eye Institute’s Age-Related Eye Disease Study found that taking high-doses of antioxidants and zinc significantly reduced the risk of advanced AMD and its associated vision loss. The study involved the daily intake of 500 milligrams of vitamin C, 400 International Units of vitamin E, 15 milligrams of beta-carotene, 80 milligrams of zinc as zinc oxide, and two milligrams of copper as cupric oxide.

Mediteranean diet reduces kids asthma risk by 78%

November 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Childrens Health, Diets, Food & Nutrition

With 1 in 11 children currently receiving treatment for asthma it is now a very common condition – but that doesn’t make it any the less worrying. We have dealt with asthma before, but some news in this week might help make life easier for some of those children, and their parents. For those who are unsure about asthma in young children, the symptoms to look out for are:

* A cough at night
* A cold that doesn’t go away
* A whistling sound when breathing out

That last symptom is particularly relevant in the UK as we apparently have the highest prevalence of severe wheeze in children aged 13-14 years than anywhere else in the world.

Now the medical journal Allergy is suggesting a way parents can be more in control of the condition through some simple dietary changes. I have talked about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet for heart health in adults, but now it seems it could also relieve asthma symptoms in children. In Crete, where the Mediterranean diet is the norm, an estimated 80% of the children there eat fresh fruit at least twice a day and almost that same number also have fresh vegetables twice daily as well. (Sadly the research doesn’t tell us how they get them to eat so much without a fistfight) So why is it important? Well very few children in Crete have asthma or hay fever and the researchers from the University of Porto in Portugal concluded that their best asthma-fighting foods were oranges, apples, tomatoes and grapes.

Adults on the same type of diet, who had asthma, were found to have fewer attacks and flare-ups. However, if they also included nuts in their diet at least three times a week then that produced less wheezing. A likely explanation for this is that nuts contain a lot of magnesium which helps boost your lung power.

AVOID THIS: There was however one substance that the researchers found that would double the risk of children getting asthma and allergic rhinitis – margarine. This finding confirms what an Australian study found over 7 years ago when they first warned that the polyunsaturated fats found in many margarines can double a child’s chances of having asthma.

If you want more information, please visit www.asthma.org.uk

Diabetes and memory loss solution

Another story that interested me this week, also came from Canada and the Baycrest Center. This time they were reporting on the link between diabetes, high-fat foods and memory loss.

Apparently, adults with type 2 diabetes who eat unhealthy, high-fat, meals can suffer from some reduction in their ability to remember things immediately after eating such a meal. Possibly because they have fallen asleep while digesting such a heavy meal, but there is hope as the temporary memory loss can be offset by taking antioxidant vitamins C and E with the meal.

It is already known that diabetes is linked to the ability to retain information, but now it seems that adults with type 2 diabetes are especially vulnerable to acute memory loss after eating unhealthy foods. The new findings appeared in a recent issue of Nutrition Research, a professional peer-reviewed journal, and suggests that taking high doses of antioxidant vitamins C and E with the meal may help minimize those memory slumps.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with chronic oxidative stress, a major contributor to cognitive decline and Alzheimer disease. If you have an unhealthy diet, then that raises your level of free radicals and those unstable molecules can damage tissue, including brain tissue. These destructive molecule reactions typically occur over a one-to-three hour period after you have eaten but don’t think that popping a supplement pill will do the trick on its own. It’s a place to start, and the study used vitamin C of 100mg and vitamin E of 800 mg taken with the meal, but do check with your doctor as there are contraindications for taking high doses.

Specifically, tell your doctor if you are taking warfarin as you may not be able to take vitamin E without special monitoring during treatment, and also consult your doctor if you are pregnant or breast-feeding a baby.

Ideally you will change your diet to one that is high in antioxidants to chase down those free radicals – look back at the article on the Mediterranean Diet as it is generally accepted to be one of the most health-giving there is.

Mediterranean magic

It’s not up to date news, just a reminder of something that will substantially improve your health – and is enjoyable as well. I am off on a Mediterranean cruise calling near to Florence in a few weeks, so when a piece of research from that area came in it caught my attention. The British Medical Journal this week published a study from the University of Florence that showed that people who followed an authentic Mediterranean diet lived longer and suffered few serious diseases.

The so-called Mediterranean Diet had great favour a few years ago, but sadly it is no longer followed as strictly or by as many people – even in the Mediterranean itself. So what are the benefits? Well research done on an extremely large scale and across Mediterranean populations and others in the U.S., Northern Europe, and a group of Europeans living in Australia gave impressive results.

Dr Sofi of the University of Florence and colleagues followed the diets of 1,574,299 individuals for intervals of three to 18 years, and showed that those who followed the dietary rules got all this:

** a 9% lower overall death rate

** a 9% lower risk of dying from heart disease

** a 6% lower incidence of contracting, or dying from cancer

** a 13% lower risk of contracting Parkinson’s disease

** a 13% lower risk of contracting Alzheimer’s disease

And what do you have to suffer to achieve these impressive improvements in your health and longevity? The Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, cereals, fish, nuts, olive oil, and a moderate intake of red wine during meals. So that’s no hardship is it? On the downside the diet is also low in red meat, dairy products, and alcohol in large quantities BUT the key word is low. You don’t have to give them up altogether just eat moderately in comparison to the other elements of the diet – we may not have much Mediterranean sunshine at the moment, but we can at least benefit from their dietary habits!

Low fat = low weight loss

August 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Diets

I was delighted to read last week about some research done at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel that shows that if you want to lose weight, forget eating a low-fat diet. I have never been an advocate of low-fat diets as they interfere with some of the body’s most essential functions: we need a certain amount of oils and fats to help us absorb vitamins and nutrients, for energy, as well as keeping our skin moisturised and supple.

Low-fat foods are believed by many to be helpful in lowering cholesterol, but this is simply not the case. Nor will they help you lose weight in a substantial way, compared to other diets.

According to the report in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers put 322 people who were moderately obese on one of three weight-losing methods, and monitored their progress for two years. The clear winner was the Atkins low-carb diet as being the most effective way to lose weight, and it is followed closely by a balanced Mediterranean diet. A low-fat diet came in a poor third, and people who used it lost around 40 per cent less weight than those who were on the Atkins regime. The Atkins diet was also the most effective for lowering the ‘bad’ HDL cholesterol, which fell by 20 per cent over the two years.

BUT, and it’s a big one, if you are thinking of undertaking the Atkins diet please be aware that although it can generate good weight loss quite quickly, it is not recommended for long term use, and there are very good reasons for this. It is based on a high intake of fat and protein with virtually no carbohydrate intake or dairy. It’s almost impossible to follow the Atkin’s plan if you’re a vegetarian as nuts, seeds, beans and many vegetables are banned in the early stages.

Unpleasant side effects can also occur, as burning fat results in the production of substances called ketones as your body enters a state called ketosis. This can result in bad breath, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, insomnia and nausea. Constipation may also occur as a consequence of avoiding typically high-fibre foods such as fruit, veg, beans, wholewheat pasta, brown rice, wholegrain breakfast cereals and jacket potatoes. When it comes to long-term side effects, many health professionals are concerned that the Atkins diet may have serious dangers. While the high intake of fat, particularly saturates, may increase the risk of heart disease, there are also concerns that the unbalanced nature of the Atkins diet may lead to nutritional deficiencies, which cause health problems in later life. For example, poor intakes of bone-building calcium (found in dairy products) may increase the risk of osteoporosis, while poor intakes of antioxidant nutrients (found in fruit and veg) have been linked with a host of health problems ranging from heart disease and cancer to premature ageing and cataracts. Some experts are also worried that high intakes of protein may cause kidney problems or weaken bones.

WHY DO IT? The main advantage is that people can lose considerable amounts of weight, really quite quickly and this can be very motivating. The diet also encourages people to cut out most processed carbs and alcohol, and thanks to it allowing plenty of red meat and high-fat butter, cream, cheese and mayonnaise, it’s also the one diet that seems to be attractive to men.

The concern over fats and heart disease made Atkins, himself a cardiologist, revise the guidelines for fat intakes to recommending that no more than 20 percent of calories should come from saturates. However, this is still twice as much the recommended amount for a healthy heart.

As ever, read the facts and make up your own mind.

The secrets of longevity – Part 2

July 12, 2008 by  
Filed under Diets, Food & Nutrition, Health, Lifestyle

If you found last week’s item on the longevity of the Okinawans of Japan, then hopefully this week’s contribution will give you even more ideas on how to prolong your life as healthily and actively as possible. To do that we are heading off to Ovodda in Sardinia. In stark contrast to the Okinawans, the residents of Ovodda don’t count calories and meat is very firmly on the menu, while tofu and soya are not. That may seem like a more typical western diet, but this small town of just over 1,700 residents boasts five centenarians and even more remarkably, as many men live to 100 as women and that certainly bucks the statistical norm. The benefits of a Mediterranean diet are well known, and certainly the consumption of olive oil, more fruit, vegetables and fish is well-accepted as being a health basis for longevity, but this still does not account for the number in Ovodda and other parts of Sardinia. It apparently still applies when residents have actually emigrated between the ages of 20-40 as they still regularly get to be 100 years of age, according to the researchers. Chiefly responsible for this information is Professor Luca Deiana who has tested every single Sardinian centenarian and has come up with a surprising theory about why there are so many.

For hundreds of years families in Ovodda have lived in relative isolation from the rest of the living in the town today are descended from only a few original settlers. “Marriage among relatives is not the rule but there are some cases of this taking place,” says Professor Deiana. “From a genetic point of view, when this happens, there’s a higher probability of having genetic diseases, but also of having positive results like centenarians”. In Ovodda, this interbreeding actually seems to have enabled people to live longer. The limited gene pool has provided a unique opportunity to discover specific genes that are associated with long life. Professor Deiana has detected a number of unusual genetic characteristics that seem to link the centenarians of Ovodda. “One particular gene on the X chromosome seems to be faulty, failing to produce an enzyme known as G6PD. This can often have a negative impact on health, but in Ovodda it may well have had a positive effect. The role G6PD may play in living longer is now being researched further, but the professor is convinced the genetic elixir of life lies with the families of Ovodda. I am not suggesting you start thinking of marrying your cousin, but marrying into the Ovodda gene pool might not be a bad idea.