How Hydroxytyrosol Protects Against Heart Disease and Other Ailments

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How Hydroxytyrosol Protects Against Heart Disease and Other Ailments

Perhaps you've never heard of it, but you have experienced hydroxytyrosol, because it's in the fruit and leaf of the olive, and is the main phenolic compounds of olive oil. And that’s a good thing, given that hydroxytyrosol protects against cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

This is the finding of a very thorough 2014 study on hydroxytyrosol led by Cristina Vilaplana-Pérez PhD. The study also examined hydroxytyrosol’s potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and the ability of hydroxytyrosol to protect against low-density lipoproteins (LDL, the so-called bad" cholesterol) [1] .

Let's take a look at how hydroxytyrosol protects you from some of the most common and feared chronic diseases, and what food and supplements contain it.

Two particular compounds in virgin olive oil, oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol, are protective against heart disease, because they help reduce chronic inflammation and the formation of fatty plaques in the arteries (anti-atherogenic). This is seen in the inhibition of LDL oxidation, platelet aggregation and other factors involved in the development of atherosclerosis                   [4]

Hydroxytyrosol protects against Heart Disease in 4 Major Ways

More people die of heart disease than any other. In America, it's the number one killer, responsible for just over 23% of all deaths in 2014 [2] . Making sure you will not ever be included in that statistic is a worthy objective.

Numerous studies have clearly established the importance of naturally occurring dietary polyphenols in promoting cardiovascular health [2] . In diets rich in polyphenols, such as the Mediterranean Diet, virgin olive oil is typically the main contributor of active phenolic compounds responsible for the reduced mortality (death) and morbidity (disease) observed in people on such diets [3] .

Two particular compounds in virgin olive oil, oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol, are protective against heart disease, because they help reduce chronic inflammation and the formation of fatty plaques in the arteries (anti-atherogenic). This is seen in the inhibition of LDL oxidation, platelet aggregation and other factors involved in the development of atherosclerosis [4] .

(1) Hydroxytyrosol helps prevent endothelial dysfunction

Endothelium refers to cells that line the interior surface of blood vessels and lymphatic vessels. They form an interface between circulating blood or lymph in the lumen and the rest of the vessel wall. This thin layer of simple, or single-layered cells are called endothelial cells.

Aging is the primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD), and the development of vascular endothelial dysfunction is a key mechanism linking older age to increased risk of clinical cardiovascular disease [5] .

Reactive oxygen species (ROS, or free radicals) are critically involved in the endothelial dysfunction that contributes to the development of atherosclerosis (the disease in which plaque builds up inside your arteries). Oxidative stress-induced endothelial dysfunction probably represents one of the first stages in the development of atherosclerotic lesions [6] .

Typically, as we get older, the atherosclerotic vessel wall contains increased levels of ROS, resulting in a markedly altered cellular composition of the tissue, ultimately resulting in chronic inflammation [7] . Thus, direct reduction of levels of ROS and/or stimulation of antioxidant defenses at these levels could avoid atherosclerosis development.

So, can hydroxytyrosol protect against atherosclerosis?  Two studies say, "yes":

  1. A 2003 study observed that levels of several antioxidant enzymes decline during atherogenesis, but that hydroxytyrosol helped prevent the increase in intracellular ROS levels; and

  2. Another 2003 study found that at nutritionally relevant concentrations, oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol reduced endothelium cell and vascular cell adhesions.

(2) Hydroxytyrosol helps protect LDL particles from oxidative damage

Do you know your LDL number? It’s important that you do.

Harvard Health says that "... the standard for what low LDL means keeps on getting lower. While an LDL level under 70 [mg/dL] is still the usual goal for people at the highest risk for cardiovascular disease perhaps that is still too high."  This is sobering. Most people's LDL far exceeds 70 mg/dL. And, although important, the mg/dL number isn't a sufficient indicator for how damaging your LDL might be, because the particle size also matters; in fact, it's more important.

Figure 1 shows how the risk for heart disease increases relative to LDL as measured by mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). As you can see, the recommended number of 70 (or less) corresponds to about half the risk as the average among Americans, 111 mg/dL, reported to have occurred between 2013 and 2014.

Figure 1

 (Credit: Life Extension Foundation)

In Figure 2, however, you can see that the LDL mg/dL is an insufficient measure to determine your risk for cardiovascular disease.

Figure 2

 (Credit: Nutrition Rendition)

The red curve shows a relatively more substantial impact on cardiovascular events from high LDL-P (the number of LDP particules) even if the LDL-C (LDL count measured in mg/dL) is low. The lowest curve, colored blue, shows the lowest relative risk obtained from low LDL-P even with higher LDL-C.

The bottom line: When it comes to LDL, the number of particles matters a lot, as does the size of the particles. The most damaging heart disease LDL scenario is the combination of high LDL particle count and small LDL particle size [8] .

This is another situation where hydroxytyrosol can help. In a published “scientific opinion”, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) addressed hydroxytyrosol protective effects against LDL particles promoted via oxidative damage. The Authority recommended consumption of 20 grams of olive oil in order to obtain approximately five milligrams of hydroxytyrosol, the minimum effective dose [9] .

(3) hydroxytyrosol protects against platelet aggregation

Another process involved in the development of atherosclerotic lesions is platelet aggregation, the clumping together of platelets in the blood (tiny blood cells that help your body form clots to stop bleeding). Thrombosis (from Ancient Greek for "clotting”) is the formation of a blood clot inside a blood vessel, obstructing the flow of blood through the circulatory system.

At this point, it’s unsurprising to learn that hydroxytyrosol significantly reduces platelet aggregation. This has been studied and shown to be true in the blood of people with Type 1 diabetes [10] , and those with dyslipidemia (elevation of lipids, fats, in the blood) [11] .

(4) hydroxytyrosol helps reduce chronic inflammation

In vitro (in test tubes) and in vivo (in living organisms) studies show that hydroxytyrosol inhibits an inflammatory response purposely induced by pro-inflammatory lipopolysaccharides to the same level as widely used drugs such as ibuprofen and celecoxib [12] .

Beneficial effects were also found in patients with stable coronary disease. The intake of virgin olive oil, rich in polyphenols, was shown to be more effective than refined olive oil in decreasing inflammatory markers in cardiovascular disease, such as  interleukin-6 (IL-6) and C-reactive protein (CRP) [13] , [14] .

Another study published in 2013 describes hydroxytyrosol as the most powerful anti-inflammatory compound among polyphenols of olive oil. It showed that hydroxytyrosol inhibited the production of various proinflammatory secretions (cytokines and chemokines), and reduced gene expression of various active lipid compounds called eicosanoids that have diverse and typically unwanted hormone-like effects.

(Check out our articles about achieving cardiovascular health.)

Studies have shown that hydroxytyrosol is able to inhibit both initiation and promotion/progression phase of cancer by preventing DNA damage induced by different tumors cell lines

Hydroxytyrosol Protects Against Cancer

Cancer is among the most deadly diseases today. It’s the number two cause of death after heart disease, responsible for 22.5% of deaths in 2014 [2] .

You probably know someone who has suffered from cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, about 38% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes based on 2013–2015 data. For this reason, scientists have sought alternatives to prevent these diseases or to improve the quality of life of patients.

The good news is that more than two thirds of human cancers could be prevented through appropriate lifestyle, which includes proper nutrition [15] . Over the past 20 years, many studies in human beings have indicated an inverse correlation between regular fruit and vegetable consumption and development of various types of cancer [16] , [17] . Meaning, the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the lower your risk of getting cancer.

Throughout history, high concentrations of polyphenols from olive and olive products have been heavily used for risk reduction of several chronic diseases, including cancer. The consumption of extra virgin olive oil is associated with a risk reduction of certain cancers supported by several epidemiological studies in human beings [18] . Hydroxytyrosol is one of the main phenolic components that has shown potent antioxidant, anti-atherogenic, anti-thrombotic, and anti-inflammatory activity [19] .

Currently, one approach with enormous potential is cancer chemoprevention [20] . Chemoprevention uses natural, synthetic, or biologic chemical agents to reverse, suppress, or prevent carcinogenic progression to invasive cancer [21] . Fortunately, you can activate chemoprevention by dietary phytochemicals, such as polyphenols, because of their ability to modulate many signal transduction pathways in different types of cancer [22] . It has been shown that hydroxytyrosol is able to inhibit both initiation and promotion/progression phase of carcinogenesis by preventing DNA damage induced by different tumors cell lines. [23] .

The role of hydroxytyrosol as a chemopreventive anti-carcinogenic compound in human carcinoma cells has received attention in many in vitro studies, where it was shown to significantly arrest the cell cycle at any of the cancer cell phases. This doesn’t imply that hydroxytyrosol can cure cancer, but that it was helpful in retarding the growth of cancer in a laboratory environment.

The main source of fat in the Mediterranean Diet is olives and olive oil, both of which contain hydroxytyrosol. Olive oil is considered a crucial element directly related to the healthy attribution of this popular diet.

Get Your Hydroxytyrosol Via The Mediterranean Diet

The healthy benefits of the Mediterranean diet have been widely reported and are supported by numerous studies, such as the well-known “Seven Countries Study,” which highlighted the cardiovascular disease related mortality in the Mediterranean region compared with other countries with distinct dietary habits in the 1960s [24] .

The main source of fat in the Mediterranean Diet is olives and olive oil, both of which contain hydroxytyrosol. Olive oil is considered a crucial element directly related to the healthy attribution of this popular diet [25] . In November 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended a daily intake of 1.5 tablespoon (20 grams) of olive oil due to its assessment that its monounsaturated fat is helpful to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease [26] .

Why is olive oil healthy?

Virgin olive oil distinguishes itself from other types of fat due to its antioxidant-rich phenolic compounds. The challenge, however, is to know how much phenolic compounds are in the virgin olive oil you consume, as they vary greatly depending on cultivar, degree of maturation, climate, and manufacturing process.

Although extra virgin olive oil (obtained from the cold pressing or centrifugation of the olives) has a higher content of total phenolic compounds than other forms of olive oil, it’s impossible to know without testing how much hydroxytyrosol is present.

Hydroxytyrosol is a natural phytochemical with the highest antioxidant properties discovered to date.* Hydroxytyrosol has an ORAC value of 68,576 -- which is about 15 times higher than green tea and three times higher than CoQ10. (ORAC refers to Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, which is the ability to absorb cell-damaging free radicals).

Get Your Hydroxytyrosol Via Supplementation

Hydroxytyrosol is a natural phytochemical with the highest antioxidant properties discovered to date.* Hydroxytyrosol has an ORAC value of 68,576 -- which is about 15 times higher than green tea and three times higher than CoQ10. (ORAC refers to Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, which is the ability to absorb cell-damaging free radicals).

One reason hydroxytyrosol is so effective is because of its absorption. A small molecule rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and tissues, hydroxytyrosol is also able to cross the blood-brain barrier, supporting systemic defense against free radical damage.

The most assured way to consume a precise amount of hydroxytyrosol is via supplementation.

Look for hydroxytyrosol supplements that make it highly bioavailable. For instance, the Olea25™ hydroxytyrosol extraction process is a unique patent-pending method that yields an unprecedented 25% hydroxytyrosol content from olive leaf extract.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Show references
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  2. Hanna Nichols. The top 10 leading causes of death in the United States. Medical News Today. February 2017.
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  9. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA). Scientific opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to polyphenols in olive and protection of LDL particles from oxidative damage (ID 1333, 1638, 1639, 1696, 2865), maintenance of normal blood HDL-cholesterol concentrations (ID 1639), maintenance of normal blood pressure (ID 3781), “anti-inflammatory properties” (ID 1882), “contributes to the upper respiratory tract health” (ID 3468), “can help to maintain a normal function of gastrointestinal tract” (3779), and “contributes to body defences against external agents” (ID 3467) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/20061. EFSA J (2011) 9(4):2033.10.2903/j.efsa.2011.2033  See more.
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