Nectar of the Gods: Olive Oil and its Countless Health Benefits

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Nectar of the Gods: Olive Oil and its Countless Health Benefits

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Cardiologist, Steven Gundry, says with levity “The only purpose of food is to get olive oil into your mouth.” Dr. Greene and Agatha don’t go that far in their praise of EVOO, but they do share their unbridled adoration of this “healthy fat” with its unparalleled polyphenol content, antioxidant function, anti-inflammatory properties, and its link to improved HDL levels and cardiovascular health.

With all the amazing benefits EVOO offers, from diet to skin and hair care, it’s no wonder olive trees have been cultivated in the Mediterranean since before the dawn of the written word. They also paint a beautiful picture of the La Furtuna Estate, located in the heart of the Mediterranean, where the organic olives are grown, pressed and bottled for Bambini Furtuna.

Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.

Agatha Luczo: Hi!  I’m Agatha Luczo mother of four. 

[00:00:08] Dr. Greene: And I'm Alan Greene, pediatrician. 

[00:00:10] Agatha Luczo: Welcome to Bambini Fortuna's Podcast. Mom Driven.

[00:00:14]Dr. Greene:  Dr. Aligned. 

[00:00:15] Agatha Luczo: Hello, Dr. Greene. I'm so excited about today's episode because, as you know, I love olive oil. I love it for everything; for food, for skin care, for remedies, everything. 

[00:00:27] Dr. Greene: Oh, me too. I've got that. It's great to see you this week. And this is like a great week to celebrate olive oil and its many benefits for beauty, for health, for nutrition, because it's harvest time. It's harvest time here in California, the olives are being picked and pressed as we speak and harvest time at la Fortuna. 

[00:00:45] Agatha Luczo: Yes, I wish I could be there this year for the harvest. We were planning on it.

[00:00:50] Dr. Greene: Maybe next year. 

[00:00:52] Agatha Luczo: Yeah, hopefully the next harvest we could be there. 

[00:00:55] Dr. Greene: So this is a particularly great week to talk about olive oil, but really any week would be a good week to talk about olive oil. Olive oil has been part of human history since the very, very beginning. In fact, from prehistory all the way up to this week.

[00:01:07] In fact, the latest study that just came out this week, came out from Virginia Commonwealth University. It was a small study and they were looking at people with mild heart failure, a kind called heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, or HFPEF. And what they did is I took these folks and typically this gets worse over time, your cardiovascular function gets worse.

[00:01:29] So they took people who were having zero olive oil in their diet at the baseline, and they added three tablespoons a day to their diet. Pretty hefty amount, but not a crazy hefty amount. And then they track them at four weeks, eight weeks and 12 weeks. And what they found is that by 12 weeks in that they had all improved their cardiovascular function.

[00:01:51] Not only did it not get worse, it didn't even just stay the same, which would have been a win. It was improved by about 6%. And this is a big deal because there is no other medicines shown to really work in this condition. There have been a bunch of trials. All of them have been failures except for one that's got, it's a pretty big guns medicine that has some mixed results. So yeah, this was a small study, but it's pretty exciting and it's biologically plausible because we know that heart failure, this kind of heart failure, comes from inflammation in the blood vessels and oxidative stress. And we know that olive oil is anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. So it should work and it appears to work. It's great stuff.

[00:02:39] Agatha Luczo: It is so great. I love taking a dose of olive oil first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. I think it's incredible for your whole entire health.

[00:02:49]Dr. Greene:  But before we get more into the health end of this, I think that's a great idea, actually. Tell our listeners a little bit about la Furtuna. 

[00:02:55] Agatha Luczo: So la Furtuna Estate is in the heart of Sicily. It's right outside of Corleone. And how it all started was my husband made a promise to his grandmother, that he will find this land that she grew up on.

[00:03:11] And so we went on this journey to find this amazing land that she grew up on. So it was a half acre, large, and then we ended up buying about 700 acres all around it and transforming it into this magical farm. It hasn't been cultivated for over 400 years and it has natural spring water. So the natural spring water feeds everything on the farm from all the medicinal plants to a variety of different flora and herbs on the farm, over 500 different varieties.

[00:03:44] And we have14,000 olive trees planted. So the spring water feeds everything on the farm, and we have our own cultivar of olive oil blend. We have Mimmo Pasquali Marino, who is our resident botanist on the farm. He has a double PhD in botany and biology. He takes care of the farm and he also helped us find the land and he's like family.

[00:04:06] So he found these two cultures of an olive tree that was about to be extinct and brought them back from extinction. So it's exciting what's happening on the farm. And so as soon as the olives are picked, we have our own olive mill on the farm. So they're brought down to the olive mill and pressed and bottled right there.

[00:04:25] And what's great is that we have full control over the whole entire process from the beginning to the end. 

[00:04:31] Dr. Greene: That is so, so cool. 

[00:04:33] Agatha Luczo: Yeah. 

[00:04:34] Dr. Greene: You know, olive oil has been a big part of the Mediterranean diet or the Mediterranean basin for a long time. The olives are found in every country and cultivated every country in the Mediterranean basin, which is the region around the Mediterranean Sea that has a Mediterranean climate, mild rainy winters, hot dry summers.

[00:04:53] And it's in Italy and Portugal and Spain and France and Greece and Cyprus, Croatia, Turkey, Israel, Palestine, and around in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia too. But interestingly, it's not an accident that every country in the Mediterranean basin has olive trees because the original definition of the Mediterranean basin is the countries that support where olive trees grow.

[00:05:15] That's where olive trees grow and the Mediterranean diet sprang up from the beginning, rich in olive oil. 

[00:05:21] Agatha Luczo: Yeah. I mean, the benefits of olive oil are tremendous and you see it in the region. It's pretty incredible, powerful stuff. 

[00:05:29] Dr. Greene: So let me tell you about another study that came out this year. It's April, 2020 a good thing that came out in 2020.

[00:05:36] And this one, unlike the last study we talked about, which was pretty tiny, this is one of the biggest studies ever done. And what they did is, there were two populations that were looked at. There was one group of 61,181 women who were all nurses. And then also there were 31,797 men who were all health professionals.

[00:06:00] And these were all folks at the beginning of the study who were healthy folks like us, not people with heart failure. They were free of cancer, free of heart disease, free of strokes. And then they followed them over time. And before saying what they found, I should say that the reason behind this study is that cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of ill health and death around the world.

[00:06:24] And we know that lifestyle helps prevent that and we know the Mediterranean countries have been particularly good at preventing that. And so the current recommendations are to choose healthy fats like mono unsaturated fats, like olive oil and olive oil is really high in that. It also parenthetically happens to be really high in other things, vitamin E, and antioxidants, polyphenols. It can be anti-inflammatory. And I should say, by the way, that one of the cool things about olive oil is that the extra Virgin olive oil, you get it by pressing the olives. It's basically olive juice, unlike a lot of oils that people use in our diets and in cooking that are made chemically or extracted chemically from other kinds of plants.

[00:07:06] But this is something that's a pressed oil. And that's why you can have high polyphenols in it sometimes. The polyphenols are water soluble that you would destroy them in the extracting process. And even in olive oil, extra Virgin olive oil is really different than a refined olive oil because it's got the polyphenol content.

[00:07:24] Agatha Luczo: Yeah, we've done studies on our polyphenol count in our olive oil and it is higher than other olive oils on the market, which is exciting. And getting back to all the Mediterranean countries and cultures.

[00:07:37]Dr. Greene:  Yeah.

[00:07:37]Agatha Luczo:  I read a study once that people living in the Mediterranean countries have a lower risk of cancer and some of the people speculated it has to do with olive oil.

[00:07:47] Dr. Greene: Yeah, that's absolutely right. It very well may be. There's a lot of clear-cut benefits of that and it's a distinctive part of the diet there. And there have been studies looking at country level consumption of olive oil and overall health. And the higher the olive oil consumption of the country in general, the health tends to be higher. This is just an observational study association and particularly the cardiovascular disease is better. And then there've been clinical studies showing that the more olive oil people consume the lower, their inflammation and blood tests and biomarkers and the better their lipid profile is, and their cholesterol levels are, and they found lower all caused death or better longevity the more olive oil is present in a region. 

[00:08:31] So lots of great things there, but all of these studies have been done primarily in Mediterranean countries and there's a lot of other great things about Mediterranean countries. So the question was in this big study of nearly a hundred thousand people, this was looking at olive oil consumption and cardiovascular risk in the U S. So these were Americans that were in this huge study, more the 61,000 women, more than 31,000 men. And what they did is they looked at their diet and followed them over a couple of decades and looked at the fats that were in their life. How much did they have margarine, butter, mayonnaise, dairy fat and olive oil?

[00:09:10] What they found was pretty dramatic that even a half a tablespoon a day of olive oil, not that much, what showed a 14% decrease in cardiovascular death and 18% lower decrease of coronary heart disease. 

[00:09:30] Agatha Luczo: No, that's incredible.

[00:09:31] Dr. Greene: Really dramatic findings and a huge scale done over decades. And particularly it was great to replace a bit of butter or mayonnaise or dairy fat or margarine with olive oil. 

[00:09:42] Agatha Luczo: And cooking with olive oil is great. I mean, I know that a lot of people say that you cannot heat olive oil, but there was a study done where researchers heated olive oil to 350 degrees for 36 hours. And the oil was highly resistant to damage. And there was another study that they did with deep frying and it took about 24 to 27 hours for it to reach the damage levels that were deemed harmful.

[00:10:07] So I think olive oil is very safe for cooking and they did another test with olive oil, where they sauteed vegetables with olive oil versus boiling the vegetables and the vegetables that were sauteed with olive oil had higher phenol levels than the boiled vegetables. So you get higher antioxidants through your food which is great. 

[00:10:28] Dr. Greene: That's really cool and delicious. Right?

[00:10:30] Agatha Luczo: Olive oil is great!  Great for cooking, for eating. I use it to moisturize my hair, my skin, and through Bambini Furtuna healing, you know, earaches. Olive oil is one of the best things. I use it for all four of our kids when they had earaches to help heal the earaches or for pain relief. And diaper rashes. It's amazing because it's antibacterial and anti -inflammatory. I mean, I just love olive oil! I can talk about it for like days about all the benefits of it. 

[00:10:58] Dr. Greene: I'm with you on that. And we're not the first. And I said earlier, that has been from pre-history all the way up till now. And I actually really mean that. Humans domesticated the olive tree and were able to start cultivating olive trees. And this was like high tech stuff. You don't grow the olive from the seed. You have to do grafting and humans figured out about grafting olive cultivars on some old trucks to be able to domesticate the olive, way before any recorded history.

[00:11:29] At the time of the very earliest writings, like when the Bible was just the first scrolls, were being scrawled upon, humans were already doing olive oil. And when people read those early scrolls, it was done by the gleam of an olive oil lamp. So long before it was even a food, it was used to beautify the body. It was used as a medicine. It's been a part of human history for the longest time. And it's been in every Mediterranean culture. It wasn't just the early Hebrews, but Aristotle used olives, as an example, in his philosophy. Leonardo invented a modern way to press them. They're found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs. It's been a deep part of what we've done. Hanukkah, when it celebrated, that's a miracle of renewing olive oil in the lamps that kept burning.

[00:12:17]Agatha Luczo:  Pretty incredible. 

[00:12:18] Dr. Greene: So one of the things that we talk about is that when it comes to food, one of the best things we can do is choose foods that our grandmothers would have recognized. And olive oil hits that as well as pretty much anything. That's just our grandmothers, our great grandmothers. But there are fossils in Italy that, or what is now Italy, that date back 20 to 40 million years, where olive pits are found with the human fossils. So this is as early as we know about foods that were around for humans. In fact, the Latin word for oil is the same word for olive. I mean, it's that fundamental for us.

[00:12:55] Agatha Luczo: And the olive leaves have a lot of benefits as well. 

[00:12:59] Dr. Greene: Every part of the tree is really cool. Thomas Jefferson said once that the olive tree is surely the richest gift of heaven.

[00:13:08]Agatha Luczo:  I agree. 

[00:13:09] Dr. Greene: Yeah. From the wood to the leaves. Of the Garden of Gethsemane was an olive grove. And in fact, the trees are there currently are dated back 900 years, the 1,100’s. And the legend is, and it may be true, because they can't go underneath to see what it was grafted into for fear of hurting them or harming them. But it may be that these are grafted onto the original trees that were there back in biblical times.

[00:13:35] Agatha Luczo: Wow. That's neat. 

[00:13:37] Dr. Greene: And the trees that are on la Furtuna Estate are really old as well. Some of them. 

[00:13:41] Agatha Luczo: Yeah, we have trees that date back thousands of years old. La Furtuna Skin, our Byphasse oils, are named after those two trees because they sit right next to each other on the farm and they're like twin trees and they're thousands of years old. So it's amazing the history that an olive tree can share with you. 

[00:14:00] Dr. Greene: It's so cool. Another sort of famous old tree is the founding of the city of Athens, the Greek legend about that is that Zeus asked people to bring gifts and whoever gave the best gift would get the city named after them. And so Poseidon brought this powerful horse and it was rapid and powerful instrument of war. But the thing that Athena, the goddess of wisdom, was to plant an olive tree on the Rocky Hill that we call the Acropolis now. And that was considered such a powerful thing. A single olive tree that Zeus named it Athens after Athena. And the tree that's there now on the Acropolis is said to come from the roots of that original tree thousands of years ago.

[00:14:43] Agatha Luczo: That's such a neat story .Thank you for that. 

[00:14:45] Dr. Greene: Yeah. 

[00:14:46] Agatha Luczo: Let's get back to the Mediterranean diet. 

[00:14:48] Dr. Greene: So, yeah, Mediterranean diet, which is a great diet. It's one of the healthiest, if not the healthiest general style of eating in the world, certainly one of them. And it's lots of vegetables and fruits and legumes and nuts, a little bit of seafood and poultry and dairy products, less in the way of meats and some wine, but olive oil unrestricted use of olive oil both in the kitchen and at the table is a central part of the Mediterranean diet. It makes salads more delicious. Dipping when you do have bread or pasta in the olive oil, and you've got the monounsaturated fats and you've got all this great stuff in there, and we know that it is associated with many benefits. The studies has been shown to lower blood pressure, to improve the lipid profile, to reduce inflammation, to make your HDL levels better be cardioprotective. But the thing that I wanted to talk about, even though all of those are really cool is olive oil gets back to one of the reasons I went to pediatrics in the first place.

[00:15:47] I was studying medicine when I was in medical school. And I was assigned an elderly woman with osteoporosis. And because I had time, I took a deep dive to try to figure out what I could do to help. And I was shocked to learn that osteoporosis is a pediatric disease. All of us as adults lose a little bit of bone density every year.

[00:16:10] And we can affect that a little bit by our diet, by our exercise, by lifestyle, sunshine, weightlifting definitely helps with things we can do to affect that level, but we effect it a little bit. The biggest thing we can do is build great bone density to start with. If you're starting at a really high level, you're likely to stay at a high level long term. And that's built usually the big differential time is about 10 to 20 years old and it's getting great vitamin D and calcium and great diet and weight bearing exercise and sunshine during that window. And that's why I went into pediatrics, was to get there when the body's being built so we can build great organs to last a lifetime.

[00:16:51] So this study, I found really, really interesting. It's called olive oil consumption and bone micro architecture in Spanish women. And one of the reasons doing the study in the first place is that you tend to find lower rates of osteoporosis in the Mediterranean countries. And why is that? It's not that they're drinking a lot of dairy. In fact, I drank less dairy there. So the thought was maybe because olive oil is the thing that's consistent, that it might have something to do with it. And there'd been a study earlier in men that actually worked this through because we know that the higher amount of olive oil in the diet, the higher levels of osteocalcin that are there. And procollagens that are there. And they find higher levels of end terminal propeptides or markers of bone function that are there. 

[00:17:39] So in this study, what they did is they took Spanish women and looked at the amount of olive oil in the diet specifically, and looked at these biomarkers of bone formation, and then actually followed their bone density scans and their lumbar vertebrae L3 and L4 and at the neck of the femur, which is involved in hip fractures later on. And they found very clearly that the higher amount of olive oil in the diet, the better the bone density. And these studies were all done in adults, but to me since the key time for bone density is childhood, that makes me even more excited about olive oil and kids. 

[00:18:17] Agatha Luczo: Let's just get back to the bone density in kids. The most important time is between 10 to 20 years old or from birth to 10 for building strong bones?

[00:18:27] Dr. Greene: All of it is actually really important for building strong bones, but the highest amount of difference in the U S is between 10 and 20 year olds. And that's because by that year, between 10 and 20, there's a bigger difference between how much weight bearing exercise kids get. Some are really sedentary. Some are really active. There's a difference in how much calcium that they get, how much vitamin D, how much soda they get, how much sugar they get. 

[00:18:51] Agatha Luczo: I think they're more independent about what they've eat at that point. 

[00:18:54] Dr. Greene: Exactly. The earlier we start something, the more effective it is. And so I really want to be building strong bones early, early on.

[00:19:02] Agatha Luczo: Yeah. It's starting good habits early on with eating well and taking your vitamins. 

[00:19:08] Dr. Greene: Indeed. One other thing I wanted to say lastly about olive oil and that is that, you know, we're doing this podcast in the fall of 2020, which is a tumultuous time, right? To put it mildly. 

[00:19:22] Agatha Luczo: Yes.

[00:19:23] Dr. Greene: And historically one of the moments of hope after a disaster that is sort of iconic was the time after the flood, and the sign that it was over, was the dove finding an olive branch. And an olive branch since then has been a symbol of peace and a symbol of hope and of new beginnings. And I hope for us and for all of our listeners that this is the beginning of hope, the beginning of peace. 

[00:19:57] Agatha Luczo: That's really beautiful. Dr. Greene. I hope so as well.

[00:20:00] Dr. Greene: A new beginning. 

[00:20:01] Agatha Luczo: To a new beginning. Well, thank you so much. That was so informative. I love talking about olive oil. So I would say our takeaways for today is keeping enjoying your olive oil. 

[00:20:13] Dr. Greene: I love it. 

[00:20:13] Agatha Luczo: So, cheers to new beginnings. Thank you so much Dr. Greene. And thank you everyone for joining us today. And please join us next time. And please rate, review and share Mom Driven. Dr. Aligned. 

[00:20:26] Dr. Greene: Until next time. 


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