A vital component of olive oil that gives greatest protection from heart attack and stroke say Portuguese researchers.
Lead researcher Fatima Paiva-Martins from University of Porto has discovered an antioxidant called DHPEA-EDA that protects red blood cells from damage more than any other part of olive oil.
"These findings provide the scientific basis for the clear health benefits that have been seen in people who have olive oil in their diet," said Paiva-Martins.
During the study, research team led by Paiva-Martins compared the effects of four related polyphenolic compounds on red blood cells subjected to oxidative stress by a known free radical generating chemical.
Heart disease is caused partly by reactive oxygen, including free radicals, acting on LDL or "bad" cholesterol and resulting in hardening of the arteries. Red blood cells are particularly susceptible to oxidative damage because they are the body's oxygen carriers.
They found that DHPEA-EDA was the most effective and protected red blood cells even at low concentrations.
The new discovery, Paiva-Martins believes, can lead to the production of "functional" olive oils specifically designed to reduce the risk of heart disease.
he study is published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.