Can olive oil make you “forget to die”? It’s true that people live longer in some regions where they follow the Mediterranean diet, and scientists have studied the benefits of olive oil—specifically extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)—with respect to this phenomenon. “Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, rich in polyphenols,” says Neal Shipley, MD, medical director at Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care in New York. “Polyphenols are known to be a valuable component of a healthful diet, fighting age-related diseases such as high blood pressure and heart disease.”
One of the ways to reduce your risk of stroke is to add more olive oil to your diet. “There are many studies to support that regular consumption of extra-virgin olive oil can lower risk of stroke,” Dr. Shipley says. Research from France found that study participants who used olive oil regularly had a 41 percent reduced risk of stroke compare to those who never used it.
Among the other cardiovascular benefits of olive oil are the effect of their monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which can help keep your ticker working well, according to the American Heart Association. “Another recent study was able to demonstrate that olive oil consumption, specifically the extra-virgin variety, is associated with reduced risks of cardiovascular disease and mortality in individuals at high cardiovascular risk,” Dr. Shipley says. However, you only receive EVOO’s benefits when you replace unhealthy oils or butter with it—not when you add it to what you’re already eating. In case you’re wondering, this is what makes olive oil “extra virgin.”
The benefits of olive oil also extend to beauty hacks. As a natural conditioner, olive oil is nature’s cure for dry hair. Try massaging it directly into parched tips. “Another way you can take advantage of the hydrating nature of olive oil is by adding a few tablespoons of it to your shampoo,” says Larissa Iracheta, director of quality at Deoleo, the parent company of Bertolli and Carapelli olive oils. “This technique will help soften and strengthen your hair.” Olive oil works particularly well for thick, processed, or split hair.
One of the reasons EVOO is so good for cardiovascular health is because it reduces the cholesterol that clogs arteries. “In a study from the medical journal Circulation, researchers found that participants who consumed a Mediterranean diet enriched with olive oil had better working levels of HDL cholesterol, or ‘the good cholesterol,’ which aids in removing LDL, the ‘bad cholesterol,’ from one’s blood stream,” Dr. Shipley says. But first, you’ll need these tasty recipes that follow a Mediterranean diet plan.
One of the daily habits of people who never get acne is following a Mediterranean diet that includes olive oil. Actress Chloe Grace Moretz credits olive oil with getting rid of her acne. “I wash my face with olive oil,” she told Allure. “I swear my skin is so much clearer because of it.” In the same way olive oil can remove oil-based makeup (more on that later), it can help remove the oil from your skin. Plus, some studies have shown olive oil has antibacterial properties, which can help clear up skin infections that can lead to breakouts.
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Warding off cancer
Add EVOO to the list of proven foods to help prevent cancer. Olive oil’s antioxidants may keep abnormal cells from growing—and one study even showed a compound in olive oil to actually kill cancer cells. “Oleic acid, the main monounsaturated fatty acid in olive oil, has been shown to stop cancer-causing protein activity in brain cells,” Dr. Shipley says. “Researchers are still determining whether the dietary intake of olive oil can provide this benefit.” Still, it’s worth it even for a potential life-saving benefit. These are the signs you’re not eating enough healthy fats.
Treating dry scalp
If your scalp is dry in the winter, try another natural olive oil for hair treatment. Apply olive oil to your scalp and let it sit for an hour, or overnight (cover with a shower cap), then shampoo it out. But be sure that your condition isn’t actually dandruff, which is caused by an overactive fungus. If that’s the case, see your doctor or dermatologist for professional help, although eating more monounsaturated fats like those found in olive oil may actually help dandruff as well.
Another reason for olive oil health benefits may be that it helps lower the inflammation associated with so many medical conditions. “Polyphenols are anti-inflammatory,” Dr. Shipley says. “One specific phenol compound, oleocanthal, has been known to act in a similar way as ibuprofen in the body.” While ibuprofen isn’t recommended to take long-term, olive oil can be part of a life-long approach to healthy living. Look out for these signs that you’re buying fake olive oil.
Studies have shown that EVOO consumption reduces post-meal blood sugar levels in both healthy and diabetic participants. “High levels of sugar in the blood cause oxidative stress—this stress is a main component of diabetes,” Dr. Shipley says. “Extra-virgin olive oil is rich in antioxidants that can help diminish this stress, thus reducing the risk of complications of diabetes.” Also, a component found in olives called oleuropein may help to increase insulin secretion, which may control metabolism and help prevent diabetes, he says.
One of the super-calming face mask ingredients that soothe winter’s dry skin is olive oil. “EVOO is so great for skin because of its high levels of polyphenols, vitamin E, and phytosterols, which function as both antioxidants and anti-inflammatories,” says Jessa Blades, a natural beauty expert and makeup artist. “The oil helps to protect against sun damaged skin and increase the moisture retention capacity of the skin. To use as a moisturizer for the face, I like to spray a toner or hydosol to the skin first, and then massage the oil into that.” Olive oil can be used as an all-over body moisturizer, too.
Improved brain function
Science just proved olive oil can stave off Alzheimer’s. “A recent study of mice found that regular consumption of extra-virgin olive oil can aid in learning ability and memory by protecting brain tissue from toxic substances, called amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, that are believed to cause Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Shipley says. Although this study was in rodents, it’s hopeful that more research will verify the findings in humans.
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Maintaining a healthy weight
Although olive oil should be consumed in moderation, it can help you keep the scale at a healthy number by replacing other, unhealthier oils, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Not only does fat not make you fat, but it is essential in maintaining a healthy weight, and is even a necessary part of a weight loss protocol,” says Dr. Frank Lipman, bestselling author and founder of Be Well and the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City. Studies have shown a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil doesn’t lead to weight gain—and can even lead to weight loss. Plus, “healthy fats allow you to feel satiated from a meal, which prevents overeating and binging that we often see on low fat diets,” he says. Don’t miss these other tips for losing weight on a Mediterranean diet.
DIY lip scrub
Looking for homemade remedies for dry and chapped lips when lip balm just won’t cut it? Try a scrub of natural ingredients. “Olive oil is very hydrating,” Iracheta says. “You can make an easy lip scrub by mixing olive oil, sugar, honey, and brown sugar.” This combo gets rid of dead skin while it smoothes and brightens your lip. Gently apply to rough lips to restore softness—just don’t rub too hard.
Helping rheumatoid arthritis
Millennials may need to start worrying about rheumatoid arthritis (RA), because it doesn’t just affect older people. But no matter what age you are, the anti-inflammatory effects of olive oil may help stave off the condition. A study from Spain found that injecting a polyphenol extract from EVOO into mice affected with RA reduced effects from the disease. Although we don’t know for sure that consuming it will have the same result, the compounds in olive oil are proven to be beneficial, and its use is supported by the Arthritis Foundation.
Getting rid of lice
Olive oil has been used in hair care for thousands of years, and one reason why could be because it helps keep lice away. This technique hasn’t exactly been scientifically proven, but studies have shown that chemical treatments have created “super lice” that are now resistant to them. So, try out this home remedy: Saturate the entire head, cover, and leave on overnight. Then, use a nit comb thoroughly and wash out.
Skin that’s irritated may also benefit from the soothing properties of olive oil. Because of its anti-inflammatory action, olive oil could work to calm the hyperactive sensitivity of eczema-prone skin. Check with your doctor before starting this regimen, and stop if it makes your skin more inflamed.
Anti-aging skin treatment
One of the everyday habits that can make you look way younger is an olive oil skin regimen. The antioxidants in olive oil work as an anti-aging treatment to revitalize older skin when topically applied. “These antioxidants include vitamin E and polyphenols, which help to gather and neutralize free radicals that can otherwise damage the skin and advance the appearance of aging,” Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care in Maryland, told Women’s Health.
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A growing body of research is showing a link between food and mental health, according to the American Psychological Association. One recent study from Australia showed that participants with depression who were counseled on eating a Mediterranean diet containing olive oil were five times as likely to improve than those who received social counseling. Though small, it was the first randomized trial that showed foods could treat depression, likely through the anti-inflammatory properties they contain. “It supports the previous extensive research from human population studies and animal research suggesting that diet is a key determinant of mental and brain health,” study author Felice Jacka said in a press release. Check out these simple tricks to make your current diet more Mediterranean.
Natural makeup remover
You might think that olive oil would make a dirty, greasy face even greasier, but it turns out the opposite is true. Olive oil grabs onto other oils, taking them with it as you wipe. “Olive oil works similarly to makeup removers, and it is non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores,” Iracheta says. Blades notes that it’s great for removing waterproof mascara without irritating eyes.
Olive oil helps your body absorb the nutrients it needs from foods, according to research from Purdue University. “Good quality olive oil helps with digestion by lubricating the digestive tract, and as a fat, it allows for the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins that exist in the real, wholesome foods that should be eaten at every meal,” Dr. Lipman says. “It’s a healthy fat that I often recommend to patients and use in my own life.”
More beauty uses
Stock olive oil in your medicine cabinet, as well as in your pantry, because there are myriad other beauty uses for it. “I love to add it to my hands at night for a hand massage while watching a movie. It softens my cuticles and makes the massage really easy to do,” Blades says. Olive oil can also be used as shaving cream or to heal cracked heels. Check out even more extraordinary uses for olive oil.