Editors' ChoiceCardiovascular Disease

An Olive Branch for Lipid Disorders

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Science Translational Medicine  06 Aug 2014:
Vol. 6, Issue 248, pp. 248ec136
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3010115

People who consume a Mediterranean diet have lower rates of cardiac disease and metabolic disorders. The key to this association is olive oil, the main source of dietary fat in the Mediterranean diet—specifically, polyphenols in the oil, which are correlated with beneficial increases in high-density lipoprotein (HDL; healthy cholesterol) levels. However, blood HDL levels are not the whole story, and other properties of HDL contribute to its valuable effects. Therefore, Hernáez et al. wondered whether the polyphenols in olive oil might also alter HDL functional characteristics. Their new results establish a connection between olive oil polyphenols and beneficial properties of HDL beyond blood levels.

Hernáez et al. recruited young healthy males for a clinical trial and treated the subjects with a small supplement of olive oils with high and low polyphenol content daily for 3 weeks in a crossover trial design. Indeed, polyphenol consumption caused dose-dependent effects on the biological properties of HDL. The high-polyphenol-content olive oil increased the HDL efflux capacity, a property that allows HDL to recycle excess cholesterol, limiting cholesterol accumulation in the vasculature. The percentage of large HDL particles was also higher, which is consistent with the fact that HDL particles with higher efflux capacity tend to be larger. Both HDL efflux capacity and larger HDL particles are associated with lower cardiovascular risks. The investigators concluded that the polyphenol content from olive oils favorably influences the main anti-atherogenic properties of HDL.

The study has limitations, including a small sample size, but is strengthened by a robust crossover design with washout periods between treatments. These results should prompt an examination of the olive’s natural contents in search of the ever-elusive “blockbuster HDL drug.”

A. Hernáez et al., Olive oil polyphenols enhance high-density lipoprotein function in humans: A randomized controlled trial. Arterioscler. Thromb. Vasc. Biol. 10.1161/ATVBAHA.114.303374 (2014). [PubMed]

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