Study: Increased Olive Oil Intake Associated With Lower Cardiovascular Disease Mortality Risk

Olive oil consumption increased from 1.6 grams per day in 1990 to approximately 4 grams per day in 2010.

Patients who consumed more than 7 grams of olive oil per day had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, cancer mortality, neurodegenerative disease mortality, and respiratory disease mortality, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

“Our findings support current dietary recommendations to increase the intake of olive oil and other unsaturated vegetable oils,” said lead author Marta Guasch-Ferre, PhD, a senior research scientist at the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, in a press release. “Clinicians should be counseling patients to replace certain fats, such as margarine and butter, with olive oil to improve their health. Our study helps make more specific recommendations that will be easier for patients to understand and hopefully implement into their diets.”

Researchers analyzed 60,582 women and 31,801 men using participants from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Participants were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer at the study baseline in 1990. Over 28 years of follow-up, participants’ diet was assessed with a questionnaire every 4 years, which asked how often, on average, they consumed specific foods and types of fats and oils, as well as which brand or type of oils they used for cooking.

Olive oil consumption was calculated using the sum of 3 items in the questionnaire: olive oil used for salad dressings, olive oil added to food or bread, and olive oil used for baking and frying at home. One tablespoon was equivalent to 13.5 grams of oil and the consumption of other vegetable oils was calculated based on the participants’ reported oil brand and type of fat used for cooking at home.

Margarine and butter consumption were based on the reported frequency of stick, tub, or soft margarine consumption, and the amount of margarine or butter added from baking and frying at home. Intakes of dairy and other fats and nutrients were also calculated.

According to the study, olive oil consumption increased from 1.6 grams per day in 1990 to approximately 4 grams per day in 2010. The intake of other fats remained stable.

“It’s possible that higher olive oil consumption is a marker of an overall healthier diet and higher socioeconomic status,” Guasch-Ferre said in the press release. “However, even after adjusting for these and other social economic status factors, our results remained largely the same.”

Over the course of 28 years, there were 36,856 participant deaths. According to the study, participants with higher olive oil consumption were often more physically active, had Southern European or Mediterranean ancestry, were less likely to smoke, and had a greater consumption of fruits and vegetables compared to participants with lower olive oil consumption. The average consumption of total olive oil in the highest category was approximately 9 grams per day at baseline and included 5% of the study participants.

When researchers compared those who rarely or never consumed olive oil with those in the highest consumption category, they found that those with greater olive oil consumption had 19% lower risk of cardiovascular mortality, 17% lower risk of cancer mortality, 29% lower risk of neurodegenerative mortality, and 18% lower risk of respiratory mortality. The researchers also found that substituting 10 grams per day of other fats, such as margarine or butter, with olive oil was associated with between 8% and 34% lower risk of total and cause-specific mortality. They found no significant associations when substituting olive oil for other vegetable oils.

“The current study and previous studies have found that consumption of olive oil may have health benefits,” said Susanna C. Larsson, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Karolinska Institutet, in the press release. “However, several questions remain. Are the associations causal or spurious? Is olive oil consumption protective for certain cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke an atrial fibrillation, or only for other major diseases and causes of death? What is the amount of olive oil required for a protective effect? More research is needed to address these questions.”

REFERENCE

Higher olive oil intake associated with lower risk of CVD mortality. News release. EurekAlert; January 10, 2022. Accessed January 12, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/939419