Forget the health benefits of olives and olive oil – the latest boost to wellbeing is the humble olive leaf. It was once a folk remedy revered by the Greeks, while ancient Egyptians used it for mummifying royalty. But a drink made from olive leaf extract – taken from freshly picked Italian organic olive leaves – is the first health supplement of its kind to be launched in Britain. A new scientific review in the journal Complete Nutrition shows it contains two antioxidant compounds known to support heart health that are among the most potent yet discovered.
Oleuropein, a polyphenol produced by the olive tree, makes it particularly robust and resistant against insect and bacterial damage. The other compound hydroxytyrosol, is thought to be a major ingredient of virgin olive oil – one of the cornerstones of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. Although it is found in olives and olive oil, the highest concentrations occur in the leaf. The 5mg dose contained in a serving of Ovivo Organic Leaf Infusion with Calendula has been approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as having antioxidant activity. Dr Pamela Mason, chair of the Government’s Advisory Committee on Borderline Substances, suggests the combination of hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein may hold the key to many of the health benefits associated with olives and the Mediterranean diet.
Both have powerful antioxidant activity and have been shown to reduce the oxidation of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol – the process that makes it hazardous to health. A study found a twice-a-day 500mg dose of olive extract was as effective as an ACE inhibitor at reducing both diastolic and systolic blood pressure. Unlike the prescription-only blood pressure pill, the extract also significantly lowered levels of triglycerides, blood fats linked to heart problems. Another trial investigating the impact of olive leaf extract on blood sugar control reported a significant improvement in insulin sensitivity after just 12 weeks. The review also included a study in patients with type 2 diabetes which showed improved insulin levels and lower levels of a marker linked to a greater risk of diabetes-related complications. The review concludes: ‘This extremely promising ingredient, olive leaf, is worthy of considerable further research.’
The EFSA approval says the scientific evidence supports the consumption of olive oil because its ‘polyphenols contributes to the protection of blood lipids from oxidative damage’. EFSA says in order to get the protective effect, 5mg of hydroxytyrosol and its derivatives including oleuropein complex should be consumed daily. Although these amounts can be easily consumed in a balanced diet, EFSA says ‘the concentrations in some olive oils may be too low’ to reach the target. Nutritionist Dr Emma Derbyshire said ‘The mass of evidence demonstrates these olive polyphenols have a powerful antioxidant effect. ‘We’ve known about the health benefits of olive oil for a long time, and there is evidence of traditional use of olive leaf for healing, but this review confirms the importance of hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein.’ ‘I think this is definitely a case of watch this space.’ she added. ‘These antioxidants appear to have a very broad activity so it’s likely that further research will confirm even more health benefits.’ She said the new product could provide twice the daily dose backed by EFSA in a form that was easily digestible. ‘Ovivo Organic Olive Leaf Infusion is virtually fat free, has no added sugar and is created as an infusion of spring water, which means it mixes easily with juices, smoothies and herbal tea and is suitable for those who avoid alcohol’ she said. The drink is available in Boots, Holland & Barrett and other health stores at £13.99 for a bottle containing seven servings, with one serving recommended a day.