Hydroxytyrosol and Its Role in Supporting Heart Health

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There are steps you can take to support cardiovascular health and increase your antioxidant profile.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States, killing one in four people every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Key risk factors of developing heart disease most often include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, or excessive alcohol intake. But even those leading a balanced lifestyle could be at risk due to genetics or environmental circumstances. 

What do the majority of these risk factors have in common? They either contribute to or are a result of oxidative stress — an imbalance in the body between free radicals and antioxidants. Free radicals are uncharged molecules missing an electron, typically created from an internal metabolic process or external sources: x-ray, ozone, smoke, pollution, and chemical exposure. When free radicals scavenge the body, they seek stability by pairing with other electrons. As a result, a number of body systems are affected by cellular damage, including the cardiovascular system. Is it possible to prevent this kind of damage? Indeed, there are steps you can take to support cardiovascular health. 

Antioxidants and The Cardiovascular System

For starters, making sure our bodies have an adequate supply of antioxidants is key. Antioxidant molecules mitigate cell damage by donating the needed electrons that free radicals search for. We get a majority of antioxidants from our diets, provided they are rich in antioxidant-abundant foods from bioavailable sources. Compared to other Western countries, Mediterranean countries have reported lower rates of cardiovascular disease, largely due to a diet that includes higher amounts of olives and olive oil. In 1999, the Lyon Diet Heart Study examined 605 patients between the ages of 55-80 with a previous history of cardiovascular disease and found that the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of recurrent heart disease by 50-70%. However, at various points throughout our lives, our diets can have gaps in nutritional support, and supplementing with antioxidants may fill those gaps.

Let’s look at one of the leading antioxidant supplements and how it supports heart health.

What is Hydroxytyrostol?

Hydroxytyrosol is a powerful polyphenol naturally found in oleuropein, the anti-inflammatory compound that enriches olive oil and olive leaves (Olea europaea L.). As a metabolite of oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol is considered one of the most potent antioxidants, suggests an article in the journal Oncotaget. Additionally, research from the European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology found that of the derivatives of oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol was the most active compound among all reviewed. 

Impressively, hydroxytyrosol has an Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) value of 68,576 — 15 times higher than green tea and three times higher than CoQ10. The ORAC value is determined by a lab test quantifying the total antioxidant capacity (TAC).

Aside from its high ORAC value, hydroxytyrosol outshines other antioxidant compounds with its bioavailability. As a fat and water-soluble antioxidant, it rapidly absorbs into the bloodstream, body tissues, and even crosses the blood-brain barrier. These components make hydroxytyrosol an invaluable antioxidant in supporting cardiovascular health. 

Let’s examine the top heart health benefits of hydroxytyrosol.

Cardioprotective Benefits of Hydroxytyrosol

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States, killing one in four people every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

1. May Reduce Oxidative Stress

As mentioned, hydroxytyrosol is one of the leading antioxidants capable of diminishing free radical damage due to its high ORAC value and bioavailability. Reducing oxidation in the body decreases inflammation and may lessen the heart-related complications that accompany it, such as high blood pressure, plaque build-up, and blood clotting — all contributors to heart disease. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), though inflammation may not necessarily be the cause of cardiovascular disease, it is commonly seen in patients with heart conditions. 

2. Has Anti-inflammatory Properties

In short-term stress or illness, inflammation helps ward off infections and facilitate healing. Chronic inflammation, however, can aggravate blood vessels, leading to the potential for blood clots and plaque overgrowth. A study from Planta Medica showed hydroxytyrosol effectively inhibited the production of nitric oxide (NO), an oxygen-derived free radical, and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), a principal mediator of inflammation. When NO and PGE2 are inhibited, inflammation is diminished — decreasing the risk of chronic cardiovascular dysfunction. The study also showed significantly lowered cytokine and chemokine production, suggesting a decreased inflammatory response.

3. May Lower Blood Pressure

Hydroxytyrosol has a vasodilatory effect, opening up the blood vessels in smooth muscle fibers found in arterial walls, which increases blood flow and relieves hypertension. A 2017 clinical trial studied 60 pre-hypertensive males for six weeks on 136 mg oleuropein (6 mg hydroxytyrosol) or placebo. Researchers concluded that those on oleuropein/hydroxytyrosol showed up to a 7% reduction in heart disease and a 15% reduced risk of heart attack. They also suggested that with continued use, an increase of up to a 14% reduction in coronary heart disease, and a 22.5% reduction heart attack risk may be possible. 

4. May Inhibit Plaque Build Up

Hydroxytyrosol also has an antiatherogenic effect, inhibiting the formation of fatty plaques in the arteries. A 2019 review in Molecules examined the antioxidant effect on low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol oxidation, a key contributor to the development of atherosclerosis, narrowed arteries due to plaque build-up. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) found that daily intake of 20 mg of olive oil, which contains at least 5 mg of hydroxytyrosol and other derivatives, is enough to prevent lipid oxidation, diminish arterial plaque build-up, which may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, blood clotting, and heart attack.

5. May Reduce Blood Clots

Lastly, hydroxytyrosol is antithrombotic. Thrombosis is the clumping of blood platelets in the blood vessels, leading to blood flow obstruction that could potentially be fatal. The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a 46% decrease of blood clotting in type I diabetic patients receiving 25 mg of hydroxytyrosol over three days, while determinants like albumin, bilirubin, and uric acid all remained unmodified. This shows the potential anti-aggregating platelet power of hydroxytyrosol, which may prevent blood clot formation in the heart.

The Takeaway

Hydroxytyrosol is a leading antioxidant derived from the olive plant that naturally protects against free radical cellular damage. Oxidative stress caused by smoking, excessive drinking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity, increases the risk of developing heart disease. But antioxidants like hydroxytyrosol may offer cardioprotective effects that counteract oxidation, calm inflammation, lower blood pressure, diminish plaque deposits, and help break up blood clots from arteries. Check with your doctor to see if hydroxytyrosol is a supplement that may support a heart-healthy diet and exercise regimen.

Show references

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Karkovic Markovic A, Toric J, Barbaric M, Jakobušic Brala C. Hydroxytyrosol, Tyrosol and Derivatives and Their Potential Effects on Human Health. Molecules. 2019;24(10):2001. Published 2019 May 24. doi:10.3390/molecules24102001

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Richard, N., Arnold, S., Hoeller, U., Kilpert, C., Wertz, K., & Schwager, J. (2011). Hydroxytyrosol Is the Major Anti-Inflammatory Compound in Aqueous Olive Extracts and Impairs Cytokine and Chemokine Production in Macrophages. Planta Medica, 77(17), 1890-1897. doi:10.1055/s-0031-1280022

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