Understanding the Heart-Health Benefits of Olive Oil

Research shows that powerful plant chemicals called polyphenols make this Mediterranean staple so good for you.

A glass bottle of olive oil and a wooden spoon with  olives on a table

Updated on December 6, 2023.

You probably know that olive oil is chock-full of healthy fats. But here's another reason to cook with it: Olive oil might actually help "turn off" genes that could harm your heart.

In a study, eating a healthy-heart diet with lots of olive oil helped suppress genes related to heart-damaging inflammation and oxidation. Researchers suspect it may have to do with the polyphenols—powerful antioxidant plant chemicals—in the oil.

Mediterranean magic

Olive oil has been a dietary staple in Mediterranean regions for thousands of years—and these cultures have long enjoyed significant health benefits. In a study where people ate either olive-oil-infused Mediterranean meals or a non-Mediterranean diet for three months, the olive oil group's blood tests suggested better heart health. Specifically, their tests showed fewer markers of inflammation and oxidative damage, thanks in part to a reduced expression of genes that influence these harmful processes.

Olive oil to the rescue

In addition to being part of a healthy-heart diet, olive oil slowed DNA damage and atherosclerosis in the group. But most of these good-for-your-heart changes were more pronounced in a select group of participants who were given an version of olive oil that was especially rich in polyphenols. This led researchers to suspect that it's the polyphenols that make olive oil so good for your heart. And the study results help confirm that olive oil is one of the key reasons Mediterranean diets are so good for overall health.

More On

How diet affects your cholesterol (3 min)

video

How diet affects your cholesterol (3 min)
Dr. Jen Caudle explains why and how what you put in your body affects your cholesterol.
What To Do If You Suspect a Heart Attack

article

What To Do If You Suspect a Heart Attack
Acting fast makes survival more likely. Here's what you need to know.
7 Lifestyle Changes to Make After Heart Failure

slideshow

7 Lifestyle Changes to Make After Heart Failure
Heart failure can’t be cured, but these healthy habits can help protect your ticker. 
How does mitral valve repair compare with mitral valve replacement?

video

How does mitral valve repair compare with mitral valve replacement?
To repair or replace? Often, that is the question with a damaged mitral valve. Cardiothoracic surgeon Craig Smith discusses the best candidates for ea...
What happens during an aortic valve replacement surgery?

video

What happens during an aortic valve replacement surgery?
The notion of having your chest opened and your heart exposed is enough to give you pause, even if you need a aortic valve replacement. Cardiothoracic...