By Maureen Dettre-

An Australian study is being hailed as an important step forward in preventing heart disease – the leading cause of death around the world.

The study led by La Trobe University found consuming extra virgin olive oil every day can significantly reduce blood pressure, a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Researchers say the project is significant because it’s the first Australian study to show a drop in central systolic blood pressure (in central arteries such as the aorta) and peripheral systolic blood pressure (in smaller arteries in the arm) linked to olive oil consumption.

The study, published in Nutrients, involved participants from many cultural backgrounds. The clinical trial investigating the cardioprotective qualities of Australian extra virgin olive oil involved 50 healthy adults with diverse backgrounds and diets. It found consuming four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day can reduce central and peripheral systolic blood pressure by 2.5 and two per cent, respectively.

Lead author and La Trobe PhD candidate Katerina Sarapis said understanding how olive oil consumption impacts multi-ethnic communities was important.

“Extra virgin olive oil is rich in a variety of active compounds such as polyphenols, which have proven health benefits thanks to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties,” Ms Sarapis said.

“This popular oil is widely recognised as a nutritious source of dietary fat when paired with traditional, Mediterranean style diets from Greece and Spain. “Our study confirms the benefits associated with olive oil consumption extends to people without Mediterranean heritage but who have different cultural upbringings, traditions and food preferences.”

The trial compared the effects of extra virgin olive oil with refined low polyphenol olive oil. Participants added four tablespoons of either extra virgin or refined olive oil to their daily diets for three weeks. Following a two-week break, where participants could not eat olive oil or olives, they were then asked to consume the alternative oil.

The researchers measured blood pressure after each three-week period. The refined, low polyphenol olive oil had no significant impacts on blood pressure, but the extra virgin olive oil caused a reduction in central and peripheral systolic blood pressure.

“This is of clinical importance, as this result was achieved without the use of any blood pressure medications,” Ms Sarapis said.

Primary supervisor of the collaborative PhD project, La Trobe Associate Professor George Moschonis, said the study was an important step forward in heart disease prevention. “Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally. “Our findings provide evidence for a potentially widely accessible dietary intervention that can reduce cardiovascular risk in populations not accustomed to a high consumption of extra virgin olive oil,” Associate Professor Moschonis said.

The study was led by La Trobe with collaborating academics at Swinburne University of Technology, Bond University, Deakin University and Murdoch University.