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Oil Your Arteries

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who told me he was cutting all oils out of his diet due to a diagnosis of plaque buildup in his heart arteries, known as coronary artery disease. Indeed, many of the oils Americans consume are detrimental to cardiovascular and whole-body health. However, research demonstrates that extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) benefits the arteries, cardiovascular system, and whole-body health!

Oils Supply Essential Fatty Acids

Oils in the diet supply fatty acids such as omega 3, omega 6, omega 9, and saturated fatty acids. The omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated and essential since humans must consume them in foods since our bodies cannot synthesize them. The body uses omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to make cell membranes, provide an energy source, and influence hormonal and inflammatory cascades.

Balance Your Omega 3 & 6

Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fish and fish oil, ground flaxseeds and flax oil,  chia seeds, and smaller amounts in hempseeds and walnuts. Omega 6 fatty acids are found in high quantities in safflower, sunflower, corn, and medium amounts in soybeans, sesame, and almonds. Due to the increased intake of corn and safflower oils used in cooking and packaged foods, the average person consumes too much omega 6.  Additional sources of omega-6 include meat, poultry, and eggs. When omega 6 levels are too high relative to omega 3, it sets the stage for inflammation in the arteries and body.

 I commonly test patient’s blood levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It is widespread for the results to show suboptimal or deficient omega-3 levels and an imbalanced ratio with omega-6. According to research, about 100 years ago, the American diet had an omega 6 to 3 ratio of about 4:1. Due to the intake of omega 6 fats from processed foods and oils containing soybean, corn, and safflower oil, the ratio for the average American is 20:1.

Olive Oil & Omega 9

EVOO contains a high amount of omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acids, unique phenolic compounds, and other disease-fighting antioxidants. One of the researched phenolic compounds in EVOO is hydroxytyrosol. This compound is a powerful antioxidant and prevents LDL-cholesterol from becoming oxidized. Oxidized LDL, a damaged form of LDL, promotes a cascade of events in the arteries, leading to inflammation and plaque formation. Hydroxytyrosol also reduces platelet aggregation, which decreases the formation of clots involved in strokes and heart attacks. Moreover, EVOO contains the phytonutrient oleuropein, which has anti-inflammatory properties and promotes blood vessel dilation through nitric oxide production. Also, EVOO contains a substance known as oleocanthal, which reduces inflammation and has anti-inflammatory effects similar to ibuprofen (but without the side effects of ibuprofen, such as ulceration of the digestive tract, liver, and kidney damage). And lastly, the polyphenol-rich EVOO reduces insulin resistance, a big contributor to cardiovascular disease. 

Gene Modulation

Recent research has shown that EVOO with high polyphenol content can favorably alter genetic expression to reduce inflammation, a culprit in plaque formation in the arteries. The same research found EVOO modulates cancer pathways as well.

Protect Your Arteries

There have been several studies demonstrating that olive oil protects against cardiovascular disease. A well-known ongoing study, PREDIMED, followed 7216 men and women at high cardiovascular risk. Participants were randomized to follow a Mediterranean Diet supplemented with nuts or extra-virgin olive oil or a control group following a low-fat diet. Those who were consuming the EVOO had a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. For each 10 grams per day of increase in EVOO consumption, cardiovascular disease risk decreased by 10% and mortality by 7%.

A review paper published in Current Cardiology Reports noted that high consumption of olive oil, especially EVOO, has evidence it protects against coronary heart disease, especially when it replaces dairy fat, margarine, butter, or mayonnaise in the diet.

Perhaps the most exciting study was published in the journal Stroke in 2021. In this study, 939 participants followed a Mediterranean Diet rich in EVOO. Plaque formation, as measured in the carotid arteries (main neck arteries) with ultrasound. When compared to a low-fat diet, the Mediterranean Diet rich in EVOO was shown to decrease carotid artery thickness (plaque)while the low diet had no benefit.

Extra Virgin vs. Regular Olive Oil

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is less processed than regular olive oil. Cold-pressed or filtered olive oil has no heating or filtering, typically adding chemicals. EVOO is a typical food present in the well-studied Mediterranean Diet. Numerous studies have demonstrated that EVOO is one of the primary reasons the Mediterranean Diet reduces the risk of various diseases, including cardiovascular disease.

When cooking with olive oil, keeping the heat no higher than 400 degrees F is best. Use EVOO in your fresh salads regularly. Make sure to choose a product shown in testing to be pure and non-adulterated. You can see a list of olive oils that have been tested and certified at 


De Santis, S., Cariello, M., Piccinin, E., Sabbà, C., & Moschetta, A. (2019). Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Lesson from Nutrigenomics. Nutrients11(9), 2085. 

DiNicolantonio, J. J., & O'Keefe, J. (2021). The Importance of Maintaining a Low Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio for Reducing the Risk of Autoimmune Diseases, Asthma, and Allergies. Missouri Medicine118(5), 453–459.   

Guasch-Ferré, M., Hu, F. B., Martínez-González, M. A., Fitó, M., Bulló, M., Estruch, R., Ros, E., Corella, D., Recondo, J., Gómez-Gracia, E., Fiol, M., Lapetra, J., Serra-Majem, L., Muñoz, M. A., Pintó, X., Lamuela-Raventós, R. M., Basora, J., Buil-Cosiales, P., Sorlí, J. V., Ruiz-Gutiérrez, V., … Salas-Salvadó, J. (2014). Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED Study. BMC medicine12, 78. 

Katsiki, N., Pérez-Martínez, P., & Lopez-Miranda, J. (2021). Olive oil intake and cardiovascular disease prevention: “seek and you shall find.” Current Cardiology Reports, 23(6).  

Salas-Salvadó, J. (2014). Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED Study. BMC Medicine12, 78. 

Jimenez-Torres, J., Alcalá-Diaz, J. F., Torres-Peña, J. D., Gutierrez-Mariscal, F. M., Leon-Acuña, A., Gómez-Luna, P., Fernández-Gandara, C., Quintana-Navarro, G. M., Fernandez-Garcia, J. C., Perez-Martinez, P., Ordovas, J. M., Delgado-Lista, J., Yubero-Serrano, E. M., & Lopez-Miranda, J. (2021). Mediterranean diet reduces atherosclerosis progression in coronary heart disease: An analysis of the CORDIOPREV randomized controlled trial. Stroke, 52(11), 3440–3449.