Since its discovery between five to seven thousand years ago in what is now Crete or Syria, the olive tree has has been a source of food, fuel, timber, and medicine for many civilizations. Olive oil has been consumed and used to treat various ailments since as early as 3,000 BC. Throughout human history olive oil has been used to ease earaches, soothe burns, soreness, and rashes, reduce inflammation, and help skin to heal after cutting and bruising. The long term health benefits from consuming the oil are also numerous, including helping reduce cholesterol and improve heart health, and potentially staving off Alzheimer’s disease.
The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, in which olive oil is a present in the majority of recipes, were first acknowledged in the 1970 Seven Countries Study. Since then, further research has shown that the olive oil rich diet is associated with lower rates of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, as well as increased life expectancy.
After discovering that residents of a town where olive oil is manufactured had uncharacteristically low levels of gum disease and tooth decay, University of Madrid researchers found that olive oil has anti-bacterial compounds that protect teeth from bacteria that causes gum disease and tooth decay.
For a long time, it was believed that the health benefits of olive oil came from its healthy fatty acids, but in fact many of olive oil’s medicinal properties are derived from its polyphenols. For example, oleocanthal, a phenolic compound found in olive oil, possesses similar anti-inflammatory properties to ibuprofen. Oleocanthal and other polyphenols also help to reduce plaque formation and prevent cavity causing bacteria from sticking to teeth.
The quality of the olive oil you purchase has a direct correlation with its health value. An alarming 70% of the olive oil sold in America and Europe is fake and mislabeled. For the most benefit, avoid yellow tinted olive oil that has been processed chemically and instead look for green tinted unrefined extra virgin olive oil.