Previous studies have shown that eating a 'Mediterranean diet' reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Now, a new study has offered explanation for the diet's benefits.
The new research has shown that eating a diet rich in the phenolic components of virgin olive oil represses several pro-inflammatory genes.
Francisco Perez-Jimenez from the University of Cordoba, Spain, led a team of researchers who studied the effects of eating a breakfast rich in phenol compounds on gene expression in 20 patients with metabolic syndrome, a common condition associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
The study participants ate controlled breakfasts, and for six weeks before the study they had to avoid all drugs, vitamin tablets and other supplements.
"We identified 98 differentially expressed genes when comparing the intake of phenol-rich olive oil with low-phenol olive oil. Several of the repressed genes are known to be involved in pro-inflammatory processes, suggesting that the diet can switch the activity of immune system cells to a less deleterious inflammatory profile, as seen in metabolic syndrome," Perez-Jimenez said.
Phenols are micronutrients of olive oil; the extra-virgin varieties have a particularly large phenol fraction.
"These findings strengthen the relationship between inflammation, obesity and diet and provide evidence at the most basic level of healthy effects derived from virgin olive oil consumption in humans. It will be interesting to evaluate whether particular phenolic compounds carry these effects, or if they are the consequence of a synergic effect of the total phenolic fraction," Perez-Jimenez said.
The study appears in the open access journal BMC Genomics.