Arteries at Peace
The olive branch, long a symbol of reconciliation, can promote circulatory calm.
by Lisa James
In Greco-Roman society centuries ago, offering your enemies an olive branch was a sign you wanted to live in harmony. It was a fitting symbol. These trees were a vital resource in the ancient world, valued for their fruit (and the fruit’s oil) as well as their leaves, which could reduce fevers.
The traditional healers knew what they were doing: Olive leaf has shown the power to fight microbes that can cause fever-inducing infections. But extracts taken from olive leaves and fruit also contain a substance called hydroxytyrosol that has been found to help soothe inflammation, a key component in cardiovascular disease.
Acute inflammation, the kind that occurs when you stub a toe, is a tool the body uses to heal itself. But the low-level ongoing variety—also called “silent” inflammation because it produces no symptoms—is an abnormal immune system response. Triggered by lifestyle factors such as excessive sugar consumption, this insidious condition has been found to fuel chronic disease throughout the body.
Inflammation affects the cardiovascular system by promoting atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty plaque within artery walls. This process begins when white blood cells, or leukocytes, stick to the inside of the arteries. These cells then attract oxidized LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, forming a fatty mass. This narrows the artery; if the plaque ruptures, it can block blood from reaching the heart muscle (in a heart attack) or brain tissue (in most cases of stroke).
A potent antioxidant, olive hydroxytyrosol not only helps fight the inflammation that spurs atherosclerosis development but also inhibits the overgrowth of smooth muscle cells within the artery wall, which helps retard plaque formation (Planta Medica 11/11, International Journal of Angiology 6/12). Olive leaf extract has shown an ability to boost antioxidant levels in the bloodstream, another factor that helps keep inflammation under control (European Journal of Nutrition 10/13). In addition, olive extract may reduce the formation of dangerous blood clots (Libyan Journal of Medicine 15/22/13).
A number of disorders increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. One of the most problematic is metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that includes high blood sugar and cholesterol, hypertension and excessive abdominal fat. In one study, olive extract was able to increase insulin sensitivity among overweight men, an important step in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels (PLoS One 2013). And olive was able to reverse metabolic dysfunction in rats fed a high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet (Journal of Nutrition 5/10).
Olive extract’s healing powers go beyond fighting cardiovascular disease. In laboratory studies olive has shown an ability to prevent bone loss. It has also demonstrated anti-cancer effects by protecting cells against DNA damage and inhibiting tumor growth.
Ancient healers only had crudely processed olive remedies at hand. However, modern leaf and fruit preparations are available as standardized extracts that provide a consistent amount of hydroxytyrosol. Olive extract works most effectively with other natural anti-inflammatory agents such as green tea, açai, grape and oregano extracts, resveratrol, and plant-based enzymes and antioxidant blends. When used in cardiovascular support, olive extract is often combined with bioflavonoids and proanthocyanidins, such as those found in bilberry and lemon.
Inflammation is enemy of your well-being. Olive hydroxytyrosol can promote metabolic peace.