Since the coining of the term “French Paradox” in 1992, researchers have been examining various aspects of the so-called “Mediterranean diet” to discover why the people of southern Europe live longer, with fewer cases of heart disease, than most of us Irish and others . A new study from Yale University School of Medicine has identified oleuropein, a component in olive oil, as a possible factor.

Heres the sciencey bit,

During the study, Yale researchers tested the effects of oleuropein, a polyphenol (these are in wine too) in olive oil, on smooth muscle cells (SMC), which make up the muscles in blood vessels that regulate blood pressure. The scientists harvested SMC from cows and allowed the cells to grow in the lab, regulating their development and adding doses of oleuropein.Normally, vascular SMC controls blood flow by increasing blood pressure as the muscle contracts and decreasing it as the muscle relaxes. When SMC is damaged by high LDL cholesterols (the “bad” kind of cholesterol) the body sends a team of white blood cells to fight off the inflammation. But white blood cells end up causing even more damage by mixing with oxidized LDL and forming “foam cells.” SMC proliferates to try to heal itself. The new SMC cells combine with the foam cells to form plaques on artery walls. Over time, that process leads to atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and heart disease. The scientists found that the more oleuropein they added, the less SMC developed.  The team concluded that oleuropein in olive oil restricts SMC from proliferating and therefore could be protective against heart failure.

Research on the benefits of olive oil is gathering steam. Earlier studies also found that extra-virgin olive oil limited LDL oxidization in rabbits, decreasing plaque formation.Rhe oleuropein study was not on human cells, and one would need to drink an extraordinary amount of extra-virgin oil to reach the high levels used in the study—oil containing 2 kilograms of oleuropein as opposed to the standard .50 milligrams currently ingested daily by most Mediterraneans.

Despite the study’s limitations, the Yale scientists hypothesize that olive oil consumption could have cumulative effects throughout one’s lifetime.  Could this eventually mean olive oil polyphenols in a pill? Perhaps, but for now, just consider replacing that butter dish with a dipping bowl for your bread.