Health Benefits of Olive Oil, “the Great Therapeutic”

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, dubbed olive oil “the great therapeutic.” The ancient Greek physician identified more than 60 medicinal uses for olive oil.

Fortunately, after two and a half millennia, modern science is beginning to catch up. Many clinical studies, including the large-scale PREDIMED trials to evaluate the effects of the Mediterranean diet, have demonstrated olive oil’s role in chronic disease prevention and other areas.

A delicious component of a nutritious diet, olive oil and its consumption may also be considered preventive healthcare—with topical therapeutic uses, too.

Important note: In order to reap the health benefits of olive oil, it is crucial that you procure extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), the only form of olive oil that retains its natural phenols (antioxidants) and other active compounds. (EVOO is minimally processed, whereas other oil grades, such as virgin, “pure,” or “light,” have been industrially refined and the healthful phenols destroyed.)

The Science of Olive Oil

Learn the many benefits and uses of olive oil.

EVOO contains more than 30 phenols, which have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antioxidant properties. The best-known of these phenolic compounds is oleocanthal, which acts in a manner similar to the pain reliever ibuprofen. (The name oleocanthal has very direct roots: oleo is the Greek term for “olive”; canth means “sting”; and al signifies the aldehyde chemical group.) The “sting” refers to a prickly sensation in the back of the throat, a signifier of high phenolic levels in EVOO.

The bioactive power of these precious phenols begins to degrade within six months after olive oil is pressed. The fresher the oil, the greater its therapeutic potential.

The other main bioactive components of EVOO are monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs. MUFAs exert beneficial effects on metabolism, namely cholesterol and glucose (blood sugar) levels, and can also help reduce inflammation.

Medical professionals recommend selecting EVOO from the most recent olive harvest as a strategy for obtaining the highest-quality, highest-phenolic oil. (Here is a source—the only one we know of—that procures independently lab certified EVOO according to the global harvest schedule.)

10 Proven Health Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil:

1. Can reduce the risk of heart disease

Two tablespoons of EVOO per day can reduce your risk of heart disease by improving blood cholesterol levels: lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

Heart disease can affect people of all ages, although the risk increases as you get older. Rising obesity levels in the US and around the world have lowered the average age of onset of heart disease risk factors such as atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”), which can start as early as childhood.

2. Can help prevent type 2 diabetes

Several studies have shown that EVOO as part of the Mediterranean diet can help prevent type 2 diabetes. In a PREDIMED study, the group of people who ate an olive oil–rich Mediterranean diet reported 40% fewer cases of diabetes than the control group (who did not consume olive oil). In another study, which evaluated people at risk for diabetes, two tablespoons per day of EVOO, along with fiber, reduced fasting and 2-hour glucose (blood sugar) to normal, non-diabetic levels.

3. May protect against breast cancer

A recently published, long-term PREDIMED study suggests that a Mediterranean diet enriched with EVOO (1 liter a week for participants and their families) helps protect against breast cancer. Olive oil consumption is also inversely related to breast density: women who consume greater amounts of olive oil are less likely to have high breast density, a risk factor for breast cancer.

4. Aided weight loss in breast cancer survivors

In a study of breast cancer survivors, women who ate a plant-based, olive oil enriched diet (including 3 tablespoons of EVOO per day) lost more weight than women on a low-fat diet. In addition, women in the study overwhelmingly chose to continue with the olive oil diet for 6 months of follow-up after the initial 8-week study.

5. Can reduce high blood pressure and the need for antihypertensive medication

In a year-long study of people with high blood pressure, people who consumed olive oil lowered their blood pressure significantly compared to those who consumed sunflower oil (which contains polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs). What’s more, a third of the people in the olive oil group experienced enough of a reduction in blood pressure that they were able to discontinue antihypertensive medication.

6. Can reduce the risk of blood clots

The monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) in EVOO have been shown to reduce blood vessel inflammation and other factors that can lead to blood clots.

7. Reduces inflammation

Multiple compounds in EVOO have anti-inflammatory properties—MUFAs as well as phenols. Many medical conditions can be traced to chronic inflammation, in particular autoimmune diseases, in which the immune system attacks and damages the body’s own tissues.

8. Helps relieve rheumatoid arthritis pain

The anti-inflammatory properties of EVOO have been shown to alleviate the pain of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease affecting the joints. A diet high in EVOO may even lower the risk for developing RA.

9. Can help protect cognitive abilities

A recent PREDIMED study found that older people who ate a Mediterranean diet supplemented with EVOO experienced better brain power compared to participants on a low-fat diet. Participants in the study were given about 1 liter of olive oil a week.

10. Benefits maternal and infant health

EVOO in a breastfeeding mother’s diet helps maintain high levels in breast milk of vitamin E, which is vital to an infant’s brain and nerve development. To help nursing mothers relieve nipple soreness, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and others recommend applying EVOO to the affected area. In contrast to ointments such as lanolin, EVOO does not need to be wiped off before nursing.

Close Up Portrait Of Beautiful Woman With Strong Healthy Bright Hair, Spa Beauty Concept

Bonus cosmetic benefits: Olive oil is also celebrated for making hair soft and shiny, whether as a leave-in conditioner or shampooed out after a warm oil wrap. Generations of women (and men too!) also swear by olive oil as a moisturizer, especially for hands, feet, and rough, dry elbows.

To experience these and other therapeutic effects of olive oil, remember to seek out certified extra virgin olive oil from the latest harvest. The freshest EVOO has a higher phenolic content—and can offer greater health benefits.

Steve Sisskind, M.D.

Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.

As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.

Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?

I have dedicated my life to answering these questions... And I share this knowledge with you every day here at RealDose Nutrition.

I invite you to connect with me by joining my free private community. I've helped thousands of people and I know I can help you too!

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Baiano A, Gambacorta G, Terracone C, Previtali MA, Lamacchia C, La Notte E. Changes in phenolic content and antioxidant activity of Italian extra-virgin olive oils during storage. J Food Sci. 2007;74(2):177–183.

Barros CR, Cezaretto A, Curti MLR, et al. Realistic changes in monounsaturated fatty acids and soluble fibers are able to improve glucose metabolism. Diab Metab Syndr. 2014;6(136):1–8.

Covas MI, Nyyssönen K, Poulsen HE, at al. The effect of polyphenols in olive oil on heart disease risk factors: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2006;145:333–341.

Ferrara LA, Raimondi AS, d’Episcopo L, Guida L, Dello Russo A, Marotta, T. Olive oil and reduced need for antihypertensive medications. Arch Intern Med. 2000;160:837–842.

Flynn M, Reinert SE. Comparing an olive oil–enriched diet to a standard lower-fat diet in breast cancer survivors: a pilot study. J Womens Health. 2010. 19(6):1155–1161.

Flynn M, Wang S. Olive oil as medicine: the effect on blood lipids and lipoproteins. UC Davis Olive Center Report. March 2015.

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  1. If you are saying take 2 Tablespoons a day how do you take it?

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Linda,

      Thank you for writing in! Olive oil is a versatile ingredient and can be used in a number of ways. You can use it as a base for your salads or as marinade for cooking. To get the best benefits, I recommend using them for salads as there is no heat. Make it a healthy day!

  2. Dear Steve,
    Thanks for a lovely post. As a food chemist I usually find all the bad about every food product. The only exception so far is indeed EVOO. We use more and more EVOO in the kitchen and it is doing wonders to our dishes and our health. Would you consider coming to Tel-Aviv in a few months to hear more about EVOO and making the best from genes.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Zohar,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your thoughts with us! I thank you for the invitation but may need to check my schedule. I would love to hear more about others views on EVOO and what you have lined up seems interesting. Again, I thank you and make it a healthy day!

    • read up on evoo. 70% is fake. you are using corn/soy oil and they are bad bad bad

  3. But keep in mind that there is a lot of fraud going on in the olive oil market and it is essential to buy from a reputable seller. Even oil that is labelled as extra virgin may have been adulterated with cheaper oils.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Annaprach,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your thoughts with us! I do agree with you and know that there are a lot out there who always jump at the chance to take advantage. It is for this reason that we thoroughly do our research on our products and those that we recommend, to ensure quality. That said, I do encourage you to do the same and never hesitate to read up on certain brands which you are interested in trying out. Also, some Olive Oil Brands do have a “contact us” page should you have any questions about their process or product. Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

  4. What about the claim that all olive oil in the United States is “cut” with vegetable oil?

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Pat,

      Thank you for writing in and for posting your concern! I cannot say for certain if Olive Oil in the United States is cut with vegetable oil. But, I do know that quality olive oil will always give off a fragrant bouquet and the color is a true “olive” green. Hope this helps! Have a healthy day!

  5. I have a Hypo Thyroid Condition – I constantly struggle with my weight …. I work and work at it and then with no results, I find my self eating the wrong foods. I do take Weight Loss formula #1 …. I do not find that it helps with my hunger or cravings. I am constantly hungry …. I take the WLF#1 as the bottle says. I drink a ton of liquid in a days time – not soda, or Juice. Unsweetened Tea and water. Currently I am off of the wagon, I worked very hard for months – working out – eating healthy homemade meals, and when I jumped on the scale, I actually gained more weight. I have read that a side effect of my Thyroid medicated is hunger. Feeling doomed

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Karen,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your thoughts with us! I am deeply sorry to learn of your difficulties and wanted to let you know that we are here to help. A sick thyroid can make losing weight seem difficult but I want to reassure you that it will happen. It is important to focus on fixing your sick thyroid to help ease not just the symptoms but the hormonal fluctuations. RealDose works to help with weight loss, however if you have an underactive thyroid, it’s important to work with your doctor. With treatment, your thyroid will work with you instead of against you as you pursue a healthy weight.

      With all that said, I do hope you do not give up and continue with your healthy changes. The formula will need time to affect the intended effects but your condition will make the journey a little longer than normal. If you would like more direct guidance and support, I do encourage you to get signed up to our Healthy Life Program and meet our Coaches. You can visit the Healthy Life Program page at the link below:

      Again, I hope you do not give up on your journey to better health, Karen! Always make it a healthy day!

  6. i have been the same weight since june i glad i don’t put back on weight but frustrated i have 30 more i lose 70 but now on a stand still

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Ann,

      Thank you for writing in and for posting your concerns! I am deeply sorry for the delay in my replies but do thank you for sending them. It is normal for one to rapidly lose weight during the first few weeks on a new diet and see the momentum slow down after. This is because your body has adjusted to your new regimen. The best way to get back on track would be to change either your diet or exercise. Add a new resistance to your training or try adding a little weight training. As for your diet, concentrate more on quality than quantity. Some foods actually BOOST our metabolism and aid in losing weight (berries, beans, leafy greens, etc.), which is why it’s important to not just be focused on the amount of calories you’re taking in, but also making sure that those calories are coming from whole, unprocessed sources. Hope this helps! Have a healthy day!

  7. I use EVOO in everything and even put it on top of my popcorn!
    (with a little shake of parmesan cheese).

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