Olive oil—often known to be a simple compound used for cooking or drizzling over food—has served as a precious remedy in the Mediterranean for over 4,000 years. As recently as 30 years ago, olive oil (labeled “oleum”) was often stocked behind the pharmacy counter, along with morphine, syrup of figs, and kaolin, to assist with a wide range of ailments.
What provides olive oil such unique healing benefits is its high level of polyphenols: the phytonutrients in plants that are scientifically recognized for their potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory capabilities. The multitude of polyphenols present in extra-virgin olive oil sets this unique, age-old food apart from so many other health products on the market today.
why are polyphenols important?
These organic plant compounds are scientifically proven to fight against chronic disease and promote human health by scouring away free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause damage to cells and tissues, leading to a range of health problems and chronic diseases.
Studies show that not only do polyphenols comprise important antioxidant properties but also include promising effects that defend the body against allergens, plaque buildup in the arteries, blood clots, and harmful cell damage and diseases caused by mutagens.
Data from Phenol-Explorer confirms that there are 25 polyphenols found in extra-virgin olive oil, the most prominent of which include hydroxytyrosol, oleuropein, and oleocanthal:
- The leading most powerful antioxidant found in olive oil, this molecule is proven to scavenge free radicals while activating the body’s internal antioxidant systems.
- Unique traits: sharpens brain function and DNA protection, protects the skin, eyes, and joints. Hydroxytyrosol also offers anti-inflammatory, anticancer (specifically colon), and antimicrobial benefits.
- Oleuropein is effective against various strains of bacteria, viruses, fungal molds, and parasites within the body.
- Unique traits: improves hypertension and regulates diabetes, offering cardioprotective and neuroprotective functions as well as the potential to starve harmful, cancerous cells by inhibiting their blood and oxygen supply.
- Fascinating studies reveal that this specific molecule has helped fight against arthritis and cancer—specifically, multiple myeloma and breast cancer.
- Unique traits: shares unique perceptual and anti-inflammatory characteristics with Ibuprofen; known for its cancer-preventive, anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, antimicrobial, and neuroprotective agents.
overall benefits of polyphenols:
Please refer to each study linked below to learn more in depth about their amazing healing benefits!
- Lower cardiovascular risk from heart disease and hypertension.
- Decrease the risk of metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes.
- Promote healthy cholesterol by increasing HDL levels.
- May help cancer patients by slowing the growth of diseased cells while protecting the existing healthy cells.
- Restore healthy gut bacteria.
- Protect against gastrointestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease.
- Decrease chronic pain and inflammation caused by oxidative stress.
- Improve brain health and cognitive function, specifically aiding in the prevention of Alzheimer’s.
tips for selecting high-polyphenol evoo
There’s a wide range of factors that determine how phenol rich an oil may be: harvesting time, the olives’ condition, processing method, and storage conditions.
- Harvest Time: Pay attention to the harvest date on the bottle. In the US, olives picked in late October to early November will have the highest concentration of polyphenols and lend themselves to the tastiest oil, while those picked later in the winter have fewer polyphenols and a mellower flavor.
- Condition of the Olives: Olives begin to lose their antioxidants if not pressed within 24 hours of harvest and, therefore, must be processed immediately.
- Processing Method: The way the olives are processed is crucial in maintaining their natural antioxidants. Often, the simplest and most efficient extraction methods are the best.
- Storage: Polyphenols are easily oxidized and quickly dissipate when exposed to light, so it is important to look for a dark glass bottle when purchasing your EVOO.
While following a strict harvesting protocol is crucial to obtaining a phenolic-rich oil, it is difficult to truly know how rich it is without proper testing. At Zimms, our November 2022 harvest was lab tested at 311 mg/kg for HEAL and 333 mg/ kg for COOK. Most store-bought olive oil contains much less than this, and you likely will not know where it came from or if it was legitimately lab tested. The polyphenol levels vary year to year based on weather variables, but we’re hoping that one of our farms’ EVOO will surpass 500 mg/kg for a special batch in 2023!
Pure EVOO that is processed correctly will be rich in polyphenols. Even better, it doesn’t require huge doses to reap these amazing benefits: 1–2 tablespoons a day will produce significant anti-inflammatory effects.
Alech, Alice, and Le Cécile Galliard. The 7 Wonders of Olive Oil: Stronger Bones, Cancer Prevention, Higher Brain Function, and Other Medical Miracles of the Green Nectar. Familius LLC, 2017.
Gorzynik-Debicka, Monika, et al. “Potential Health Benefits of Olive Oil and Plant Polyphenols.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 28 Feb. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5877547/.
Martínez, Lorena, et al. “Hydroxytyrosol: Health Benefits and Use as Functional Ingredient in Meat.” Medicines (Basel, Switzerland), U.S. National Library of Medicine, 23 Jan. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5874578/.
Parkinson, Lisa, and Russell Keast. “Oleocanthal, a Phenolic Derived from Virgin Olive Oil: A Review of the Beneficial Effects on Inflammatory Disease.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 11 July 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4139846/.
Sun, Wenyan, et al. “Oleuropein, Unexpected Benefits!” Oncotarget, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 14 Mar. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5392257/.