What is it?
Olive oil is used to prevent heart attack and stroke (cardiovascular disease), breast cancer, colorectal cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and migraine headache.
Some people use olive oil to treat constipation, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, blood vessel problems associated with diabetes, and pain associated ear infections, arthritis, and gallbladder disease. Olive oil is also used to treat jaundice, intestinal gas, and meteorism (swelling of the abdomen due to gas).
Some people also use olive oil to boost bacteria in the gut and as a “cleanser” or “purifier.”
Olive oil is applied to the skin (used topically) for earwax, ringing ears (tinnitus), pain in the ears, lice, wounds, minor burns, psoriasis, stretch marks due to pregnancy, and for protecting the skin from ultraviolet (UV) damage after sun exposure.
In foods, olive oil is used as a cooking and salad oil.
In manufacturing, olive oil is used to make soaps, commercial plasters and liniments; and to delay setting in dental cements.
Olive oil is classified, in part, according to acid content, measured as free oleic acid. Extra virgin olive oil contains a maximum of 1% free oleic acid, virgin olive oil contains 2%, and ordinary olive oil contains 3.3%. Unrefined olive oils with more than 3.3% free oleic acid are considered “unfit for human consumption.”
Olive oil that is mixed with a gas called ozone (ozonated olive oil) is promoted for everything from bee stings and insect bites to bacterial and fungal skin infections to cancer. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows the use of ozone to fight bacteria on food, including meat and poultry, but the food industry has been slow to adopt it. Ozone is extremely unstable and must be produced on site. Topical olive oil products that are claimed to contain ozone are unlikely to remain stable during shipping. There are no clinically proven medical uses of ozone or ozonated olive oil. Antibacterial agents that are applied to the skin are a better choice.
Olive leaf is used for treating viral, bacterial, and other infections including influenza, swine flu, the common cold, meningitis, Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), encephalitis, herpes, shingles, HIV/ARC/AIDS, and hepatitis B. Olive leaf is also used for pneumonia; chronic fatigue: tuberculosis (TB); gonorrhea; fever; malaria; dengue; “blood poisoning” (bacterial infections in the bloodstream); severe diarrhea; and infections in the teeth, ears, and urinary tract, and infections following surgery. Other uses include high blood pressure, diabetes, hay fever, improving kidney and digestive function, and increasing urine flow.
Water extracts of olive fruit pulp are used for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
How effective is it?
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
The effectiveness ratings for OLIVE are as follows:
Likely effective for...
- Constipation. Taking olive oil by mouth is effective for reducing constipation.
Possibly effective for...
- Breast cancer. People who consume more olive oil in their diet seem to have a lower risk of developing breast cancer.
- Heart disease. Replacing saturated fats in the diet with olive oil can reduce risk factors for heart disease and stroke, including reducing blood pressure and cholesterol. Adding olive oil to the diet seems to help prevent a first heart attack. Some research shows a high dietary intake of olive oil (54 grams/day; about 4 tablespoons) can reduced the risk of first heart attack by 82% when compared with a low intake of 7 grams of olive oil or less per day. Including 1 liter per week of extra-virgin olive oil in a Mediterranean diet for around 5 years also seems to help prevent heart attacks and strokes in people over age 55 who have diabetes or a combination of heart disease risk factors (smoking, high blood pressure, high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, overweight, or with a family history of heart disease). A Mediterranean diet has high intakes of fruit, nuts, vegetables and cereals, moderate intake of fish and poultry, and low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets.
The FDA now allows labels on olive oil and on food that contains olive oil to state that limited, but not conclusive evidence, suggests that consuming 23 grams/day (about 2 tablespoons) of olive oil instead of saturated fats may reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Colorectal cancer. Research suggests that people who consume more olive oil in their diet have a lower risk of developing colorectal cancer.
- High cholesterol. Using olive oil in the diet instead of saturated fat can reduce total cholesterol levels in people with high cholesterol. However, some research suggests other dietary oils such as sunflower and rapeseed (canola) might reduce “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and another type of cholesterol called apolipoprotein B better than olive oil.
- High blood pressure. Adding generous amounts of extra virgin olive oil to the diet and continuing with the usual treatments for high blood pressure can improve blood pressure over 6 months in people with high blood pressure. In some cases, people with mild to moderate high blood pressure can actually lower their dose of blood pressure medication or even stop taking medication altogether. However, do not adjust your medications without your healthcare provider’s supervision. Taking olive leaf extract also seems to lower blood pressure in patients with high blood pressure.
Possibly ineffective for...
- Earwax. Applying olive oil to the skin does not appear to soften earwax.
- Ear infections. Applying olive oil to the skin does not appear to reduce pain in children with ear infections.
Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...
- Red, itchy skin (eczema). Early research suggests that applying a mixture of honey, beeswax, and olive oil along with standard care seems to improve eczema.
- Diabetes. Compared to polyunsaturated oils such as sunflower oil, olive oil in a Mediterranean-type diet might reduce the risk of “hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis) in people with diabetes. However, more research is needed.
- Migraine headache. Taking olive oil daily for 2 months seems to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches. However, more research is needed.
- Osteoarthritis. Developing research shows that taking a freeze-dried water extract of olive fruit decreases pain and increases mobility in people with osteoarthritis.
- Ovarian cancer. Research suggests that women who consume more olive oil in their diet have a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer.
- Red, flaky skin (psoriasis). Early research suggests that applying a mixture of honey, beeswax, and olive oil to the skin along with standard care can improve psoriasis.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. Some research suggests that people whose diet includes a high amount of olive oil have a lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. However, early research shows that taking a water extract of olive fruit does not significantly improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Ringworm (Tinea corporis). Early research suggests that applying a mixture of honey, beeswax, and olive oil to the skin is effective for treating ringworm.
- Jock itch (Tinea cruris). Early research suggests that applying a mixture of honey, beeswax, and olive oil to the skin is effective for treating jock itch.
- Yeast infection of the skin (Tinea versicolor). Early research suggests that applying a mixture of honey, beeswax, and olive oil to the skin is effective for treating yeast infection.
How does it work?
Are there safety concerns?
Olive oil taken by mouth is well-tolerated. When applied to the skin, delayed allergic responses and contact dermatitis have been reported.
There is insufficient reliable information available about the safety of olive leaf, although so far olive leaf and fruit pulp have not been associated with significant side effects in clinical studies.
Olive trees produce pollen that can cause seasonal respiratory allergy in some people.
Special precautions & warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking olive products if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Do not use amounts greater than the amount commonly found in foods.
Diabetes: Olive oil might lower blood sugar. People with diabetes should check their blood sugar when using olive oil.
Surgery: Olive oil might affect blood sugar. Using olive oil might affect blood sugar control during and after surgery. Stop taking olive oil 2 weeks before surgery.
Are there interactions with medications?
- Medications for diabetes (Antidiabetes drugs)
- Olive and olive oil might decrease blood sugar. Diabetes medications are also used to lower blood sugar. Taking olive oil along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed.
Some medications used for diabetes include glimepiride (Amaryl), glyburide (DiaBeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase), insulin, pioglitazone (Actos), rosiglitazone (Avandia), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), glipizide (Glucotrol), tolbutamide (Orinase), and others.
- Medications for high blood pressure (Antihypertensive drugs)
- Olive seems to decrease blood pressure. Taking olive along with medications for high blood pressure might cause your blood pressure to go too low.
Some medications for high blood pressure include captopril (Capoten), enalapril (Vasotec), losartan (Cozaar), valsartan (Diovan), diltiazem (Cardizem), Amlodipine (Norvasc), hydrochlorothiazide (HydroDIURIL), furosemide (Lasix), and many others.
- Medications that slow blood clotting (Anticoagulant / Antiplatelet drugs)
- Olive oil might slow blood clotting. Taking olive oil along with medications that also slow clotting might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding.
Some medications that slow blood clotting include aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), diclofenac (Voltaren, Cataflam, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), naproxen (Anaprox, Naprosyn, others), dalteparin (Fragmin), enoxaparin (Lovenox), heparin, warfarin (Coumadin), and others.
Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?
- Herbs and supplements that might lower blood pressure
- Olive seems to decrease blood pressure. Taking olive along with herbs and supplements that also lower blood pressure might cause your blood pressure to go too low. Some of these herbs and supplements include andrographis, casein peptides, cat's claw, coenzyme Q-10, fish oil, L-arginine, lycium, stinging nettle, theanine, and others.
- Herbs and supplements that might lower blood sugar
- Olive leaf might lower blood sugar. Using it along with other herbs that do the same might lower blood sugar too much. These herbs include: devil's claw, fenugreek, garlic, guar gum, horse chestnut, Panax ginseng, psyllium, and Siberian ginseng.
- Herbs and supplements that might slow blood clotting
- Using olive oil with other herbs that can slow blood clotting might increase the risk of bleeding in some people. These other herbs include angelica, clove, danshen, ginger, ginkgo, red clover, turmeric, vitamin E, willow, and others.
Are there interactions with foods?
- There are no known interactions with foods.
What dose is used?
- For constipation: 30 mL of olive oil.
- For high blood pressure: 30-40 grams per day of extra-virgin olive oil as part of the diet. 400 mg of olive leaf extract four times daily has also been used for high blood pressure.
- For high cholesterol: 23 grams of olive oil per day (about 2 tablespoons) providing 17.5 grams of mono unsaturated fatty acids in place of saturated fats in the diet.
- For preventing heart disease and heart attacks: 54 grams per day (about 4 tablespoons) has been used. As a part of a Mediterranean diet, consuming up to 1 liter of extra-virgin olive oil per week has also been used.
To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.
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