Olive Oil’s Role in Interventional Cardiology


By Antonis Pothoulakis, MD What does an interventional cardiologist have to do with olive oil? The usual day of an interventional cardiologist in the cath lab is most  likely to include cases of coronary artery disease, either in its acute  form (“acute coronary syndromes” that is, heart attacks or unstable  angina) or in its chronic form (chronic stable angina). The  interventional cardiologist uses percutaneous procedures, like balloon  angioplasties and stents, along with a host of medications to open  clogged coronary  arteries.  In no heart procedures is olive oil used! Then  what is the olive oil connection? The story of diseased heart arteries  starts a few decades before the interventional cardiologist is called  upon to perform any procedures. What starts the artery disease is  usually either smoking or an abnormal metabolism. It is the abnormal  metabolism that leads to heart disease than can be significantly  affected by olive oil.

Olive oil can reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
Antonis Pothoulaki

In  our thirties and forties many of us, exposed to the western lifestyle  (limited physical activity, processed and fast food loaded with salt and  saturated and trans fats, and high-glycemic index snacks such as  cookies, desserts, candies) harbor shallow cholesterol plaques in our  coronary arteries. The slow time line of “atherosclerosis” (cholesterol  plaque buildup in the wall of the arteries) can be suddenly and  unpredictably punctuated by a “crisis” caused by an instability of the  plaque.  Either a “crack” or “fissure” forms on its surface or a small  “bleed” takes place inside the plaque.  The unstable plaque then prompts  the flowing blood to form a clot at the plaque site because the blood  interprets the unstable plaque situation as “bleeding” and it responds  the way it is programmed to: by forming a clot.

thrombosis | Olive Oil TimesWhat is truly dramatic is the time line of clot formation (“thrombosis”): it takes between one and four minutes  for a clot to form inside the artery and transform a previously stable  plaque that was causing little or no narrowing of the artery lumen to  now become 100% occlusive. This stops the flow of blood and the  nourishment of the heart or brain cells that depend on that artery  abruptly ceases. The cells, then, start dying fast, resulting in a heart  attack, a stroke, or sudden death. Prime risk factors for both  plaque development (atherosclerosis) and plaque instability with clot  formation (atherothrombosis) are: •  Smoking •  Metabolic Syndrome •  Genetic profile •  Aging process

unhealthy diet | Olive Oil Times While  we can do nothing to counteract our heredity or our age we can do a lot  to stop the other two “killers”: smoking and metabolic syndrome.  Whereas olive oil (and the other features of the so called “Mediterranean diet”  or “Mediterranean lifestyle”) is strongly connected with the health of  our metabolism it has no smoking cessation properties, to my knowledge. The  Metabolic Syndrome is a combination of abdominal obesity (also called  “visceral obesity”, “central obesity”, “apple-shape” body, or “beer  belly”) along with abnormal cholesterol, abnormal sugar metabolism  (pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes), and high blood pressure  (“hypertension”). It is sedentary lifestyle and an unhealthy diet that  lead to metabolic syndrome. A diet is unhealthy if it contains: •  Too many calories •  Too much salt •  Unhealthy fats (saturated and trans-fats) •  High-glycemic index carbohydrates

A healthy diet | Olive Oil TimesA  healthy diet, on the other hand, along with regular and adequate  exercise, helps prevent or, at least, attenuate, the metabolic syndrome  and atherothrombosis (heart attacks and strokes). A healthy diet  is not only about what not to contain (the four categories listed  above) but also about what should be included every day: •  At least five portions of fruits and vegetables •  Whole grains •  Omega-three PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids found in oily fish salmon, sardines, mackerel) •  MUFAs (mono-unsaturated fatty acids found in olive oil, olives,avocado,nuts, dark chocolate) Three  quarters of olive oil consists of MUFAs (mainly oleic acid) with the  rest almost equally divided between PUFAs and saturated fats. MUFAs are very beneficial for our health because they: •  reduce LDL-the “bad”-cholesterol levels in the blood •  “displace” saturated fats from the diet •  contribute to satiety (make us feel full with less amount of food) •  delay the absorption of the rest of our food, preventing fast  absorption of high-glycemic index carbohydrates and, thus, prevents  insulin spikes and premature hunger •  increase adiponectin, a hormone that promotes the “burning” of body fat for energy production •  contain additional beneficial substances (antioxidants and phytochemicals) In particular, olive oil has: •  the highest content of MUFAs, as compared to other vegetable oils or nuts •  the higher oxidation threshold, so when used in deep-frying is less  likely than any other vegetable oil to become partially hydrogenated  (transformed to the “poisonous” trans-fats), and it •  contains a host of antioxidant phytochemicals like polyphenols (tyrosol), squalene, carotenoids, and vitamin E Olive oil contains almost no sodium (salt) and carries about 9 calories per gram. Metabolic  syndrome and atherothrombosis (heart attacks, strokes, or sudden death)  are more likely to occur when our body balance is shifted towards  inflammation (proinflammatory) and clot formation (prothrombotic). Olive  oil helps counteract both morbid states by virtue of its MUFAs and  antioxidant content. Furthermore, antioxidants and oleocanthal  counteract the neurotoxic effect of the ADDL proteins involved in  Alzheimer’s disease. Olive oil also appears to have an anti-aging effect  and reduce the risk of certain cancers including breast, pancreatic,  stomach, laryngeal, and urinary tract cancer.

olive oil and mediterranean2 | Olive Oil TimesHealth benefits of olive oil in specific diseases Hypertension A diet high in unsaturated fatty acids reduces blood pressure as  compared to a diet rich in saturated fat. Among unsaturated fats it  appears that both monounsaturated fatty acids (like those contained in  olive oil) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in fish and other  vegetable oils) lower blood pressure. An Italian research in patients  with known hypertension has shown that consumptions of 40 gm of olive  oil a day reduces blood pressure by about 50% (almost half of the  patients were able to reduce the dose or stop taking altogether their  blood pressure medications). The beneficial effect of olive oil  (especially the extra virgin olive oil) is attributed mainly to its polyphenols. Cardiovascular disease (atherosclerosis and atherothrombosis) High  LDL cholesterol contributes to atherosclerosis and atherothrombosis,  depositing cholesterol in the artery wall and clogging the arteries of  vital organs (like the heart, brain, and kidneys). HDL cholesterol is  the “good” cholesterol and acts as a scavenger, removing cholesterol  from plaques in the artery wall. Reducing LDL cholesterol and raising  HDL cholesterol has significant health benefits and protects against  heart attacks, strokes, and sudden death. Consumption of about two table  spoons of olive oil reduced LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and mildly  raise HDL (the “good” cholesterol). Beyond a favorite effect on LDL and HDL levels, olive oil has two more benefits that reduce heart attacks and stroke: •   It prevents oxidization of LDL which renders it more atherogenic than  its non-oxidized form. This beneficial effect of olive oil on lipids is  mediated through its antioxidant components, especially polyphenols and vitamin E. •   It reduces the chance of “thrombosis” (clot formation) in arteries by  reducing factors that either cause clotting (plasma factor VII) or  inhibit break-down of clots already formed (plasminogen activating  inhibitor) Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome Olive oil reduces the metabolic complications of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. With its polyphenols  and squalene components it reduces the high level of inflammatory  activity present in both diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Thus, olive  oil helps reduce LDL-the “bad”-cholesterol, lipid oxidation and high  blood pressure. A diet rich in olive oil also facilitates glycemic  control by leaving “less room” for carbohydrates (particularly “simple  sugars” that cause insulin spikes and premature hunger attacks). Alzheimer’s disease Inflammation  and free radicals damage brain cells and impair synaptic function,  contributing to the neurodegenaration and brain cell loss that  characterizes Alzheimer’s disease. The squalene content of olive oils  (along with its other antioxidants) has neuroprotective effects and does  not allow oxidation of its monounsaturated fatty acids (which  unfortunately occurs with polyunsaturated fats that may, thus,  contribute to nerve damage). Oleocanthal, another olive oil component  has been shown in scientific research to slow down the progression of  Alzheimer’s. Aging and longevity Free  radicals attack and damage cells and its constituents, especially DNA  found not only in the cell nucleus but also in the mitochondria.  It is  hypothesized that olive oil with its antioxidant effects inhibit  peroxidation and reduces mitochondrial DNA damage, preserving vitality  and youthfulness. It appears that the oleocanthal component of olive oil  significantly contributes to olive oil’s anti-aging effects. There is a  report of a 120-year-old Israeli woman who used to drink a glass of  olive oil every day!