Olive oil is a staple in diets of the Mediterranean region. It’s this tasty oil that’s been credited with the lower rates of heart disease and even obesity of that part of the world. We often hear about these heart-healthy benefits of olive oil, that it can reduce cholesterol and help manage blood pressure. But the liver-health benefits of this oil are remarkable as well. For that reason, and more, olive oil has gained significant popularity in the West over the past decade or so.
One relatively recent study found that olive oil can decrease liver damage. Researchers tested the effectiveness of olive oil on a group of rats that had been exposed to a toxic herbicide. The herbicide 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyactetic acid is known to cause significant liver damage. When compared to a control group who received no oil, the group of rats who were given extra virgin olive oil had “significantly increased antioxidant activity and a decrease in the biomarkers of liver damage.”
It’s believed the oil works by having an antioxidant effect on fat-storing liver cells. Liver damage is caused by inflammation and oxidative stress; olive oil can reduce this stress. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce inflammation throughout the body (a common cause of many chronic diseases).
But, it’s important to note that olive oil may have drawbacks if not stored and used correctly.
Olive oil is the only oil that can be directly squeezed from its fruit and used. Other oils are processed to one degree or another. Extra virgin olive oil is from this first pressing and is considered the most pure. Heat and other methods of processing are used to get the second and subsequent pressings, as in virgin, pure, and extra light olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil breaks down when exposed to air, heat, and light. Every time you open the bottle of oil, you are encouraging it to go bad. Similarly, cooking with olive oil can result in oxidation—something people with existing liver damage want to avoid.
For the best results: buy extra virgin olive oil is small bottles so it is closer to fresh. Store it in a dark and cool place. And finally, use it raw. Don’t heat it in order to ensure it maintains the liver-healthy benefits.