This could be especially important in halting the dangerous effects of metabolic syndrome. Characterized by excess abdominal fat, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood glucose levels, metabolic syndrome is linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and early death.
Research published in the journal BMC Genomics investigated changes in genes mediated by olive oil phenols (which are most abundant in the extra-virgin varieties of olive oil). The double-blind, randomized study, headed by Francisco Perez-Jimenez from the University of Cordoba, involved 20 research subjects, all with metabolic syndrome. For six weeks, the patients did not take any supplements or drugs and they were all placed on similar low-fat, carbohydrate-rich diets. Then, for breakfast, they ate either a breakfast containing virgin olive oil with a high content of phenolic compounds or a similar breakfast with low phenol content.
The research team took blood samples after the meals to check for the expression of over 15,000 human genes. The results? The high phenol olive oil clearly impacted the regulation of almost 100 genes -- many of which have been linked to obesity, high blood fat levels, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
"We identified 98 differentially expressed genes when comparing the intake of phenol-rich olive oil with low-phenol olive oil. Several of the repressed genes are known to be involved in pro-inflammatory processes, suggesting that the diet can switch the activity of immune system cells to a less deleterious inflammatory profile, as seen in metabolic syndrome," Dr. Perez-Jimenez said in a statement to the press. "These findings strengthen the relationship between inflammation, obesity and diet and provide evidence at the most basic level of healthy effects derived from virgin olive oil consumption in humans."
The ability of olive oil's phenolic compounds to reduce or prevent inflammation also provides a molecular basis for the reduction of heart disease observed in Mediterranean countries, where virgin olive oil represents a main source of dietary fat.
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