Extra virgin olive oil is of main importance as a nutrient condiment in the Mediterranean diet. Many ancient civilizations considered the olive tree as divine as well as a symbol of peace and alliance between God and Man. The importance of the extra virgin olive oil in the diet, cosmetics and medicine, whether popular or not, for its high digestibility and soothing properties, is so great that it has gained the title of “green gold”.

Extra virgin olive oil is the only vegetal oil obtained from the mechanical pressing of fruits. The other vegetal oils, in fact, are obtained from seeds which undergo the chemical treatment of refining. That is why it has excellent sensory and organolpetical characteristics, as well as it is rich in polyphenols, vitamin E, well known for its antioxidant activity, vitamin A and D, including mono-and poly-unsaturated fatty acids.

Recent studies of molecular biology have highlighted the role of free radicals in the aging process of cells and oncogenic mutations causing tumor growth in relation to age.

Free radicals are compounds which form in the organism during metabolic processes such as the oxygen reduction to water; others have exogenous origin coming from the smoke, polluted air, specific drugs and food. They start peroxidation reactions of poly-unsaturated fatty acids of cell membranes leading to the formation of final products which are toxic for the cell DNA and the cell itself.

At the same time epidemiological studies have shown that specific antioxidants can protect people at risk of coronaropathies and some kind of cancer. 

Antioxidants are chemical compounds that can delay or inhibit the reactions between free radicals and cells, avoiding original components of the organism to decay. They are widely and naturally spread especially within the vegetable world.

In such a context and in view of these considerations the “Mediterranean diet” is gaining on since it favors consumption of complex carbohydrates, fish and vegetables against other diets base on a high consumption of animal fats and products, rich in cholesterol and saturated fatty acids.

For its very content of fatty acids the extra virgin olive oil is arousing interest more and more especially at international level. In fact, if on one side poly-unsaturated fatty acids are considered as proper vitamins (Vitamin F), on the other side there is more and more evidence about the importance of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, such as the very oleic acid of which extra virgin olive oil has a content of 70-80%. Mono-unsaturated fatty acids can play an important role in the prevention of arteriosclerotic processes since they positively affect the percentage composition of the different protein subunits transporting cholesterol in the blood, that is, LDL and HDL. In practice, the reduction of LDL cholesterol towards an increase of HDL cholesterol, supported by adding extra virgin olive oil to the diet, eases the metabolism and keeps fats away from the blood, avoiding their deposit in the arteries.

From a medical point of view it is clear, then, that this nutrient can be of great importance not only in the prevention of the aging process and neoplastic development, but also in improving the metabolism which has been altered by diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and certain unnecessary habits such as smoking.

                                    Edited by Dr. Domenico Mazzaglia, Specialist in Internal Diseases and owner of Antares


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