Using Olive Oil to Replace Other Fats Associated with Lower Risk of Mortality According to Recent Study

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Results from a recent study showed that replacing butter, dairy fat, margarine, butter, mayonnaise, and dairy fat with olive oil was linked to lower risk of mortality
New study shows replacing other fats with olive oil may decrease disease mortality (CC BY 2.0 Verch Professional Photographer/flickr

Findings from a recent study published January 10 in the Journal of American College of Cardiology have shown the benefits of using olive oil as a fat as opposed to other fats such as margarine, mayonnaise, dairy fat and butter in decreased rates of total and disease specific mortality.

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The rates of chronic diseases in developed nations have primarily been attributed to longer life expectancies experienced by the populations in these countries. These diseases include cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death worldwide, cancer, the second cause of death worldwide, neurodegenerative diseases and osteoporosis. Finding ways to modify the impact of such diseases on the health of millions of people a year through lifestyle modification interventions is a major area of research globally.

An important and modifiable factor related to the development and impact of chronic illnesses is diet and nutrition. Diet is considered one of the most significant factors involved in the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. One nutritional element shown to have an effect on chronic diseases polyphenolic compounds, is plant-food bioactive derivatives.

Research has shown that olive oil, high in polyphenolic compounds, when used to replace other dietary fats has a protective effect associated with lower cardiovascular disease and lower mortality rates in individuals with high cardiovascular risk. However, until recently the specific causes of mortality have not been investigated as they relate to olive oil consumption.

In the current study, the diets of 60,582 women and 31,801 men without incident of cardiovascular disease or cancer at baseline were evaluated by questionnaire every 4 years for 28 years. Participants reported on the amount of olive oil they consumed when it was used for salad dressings, baking or frying or added to food.

Results indicated that greater olive oil intake was related to a 19 percent decreased risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, a 17 percent decreased risk of cancer mortality, a 29 percent decreased risk of neurodegenerative disease mortality and an 18 percent decreased risk of respiratory disease mortality. In other analyses, it was shown that replacing 10 grams per day of margarine, butter, mayonnaise, and dairy fat with the equivalent amount of olive oil was linked to an 8 percent to 34 percent decreased of total and cause-specific death rates.

Other factors were also associated both with higher olive oil consumption. These included being more physically active, coming from a Southern European or Mediterranean background, being less likely to smoke and consuming more fruits and vegetables when compared to lower olive oil consumption.

According to the lead researcher, Marta Guasch-Ferré, “Our findings support current dietary recommendations to increase the intake of olive oil and other unsaturated vegetable oils. Clinicians should be counseling patients to replace certain fats, such as margarine and butter, with olive oil to improve their health.” Addressing the other factors determined to be associated with olive oil intake, Guasch-Ferre added, “It’s possible that higher olive oil consumption is a marker of an overall healthier diet and higher socioeconomic status. However, even after adjusting for these and other social economic status factors, our results remained largely the same.”

In an editorial response, Swedish epidemiologist and Associate Professor at the Institute of Environmental Medicine at the Karolinska Institute at Stockholm, Susanna C. Larsson, pointed out, “The current study and previous studies have found that consumption of olive oil may have health benefits. However, several questions remain. Are the associations causal or spurious? Is olive oil consumption protective for certain cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke and atrial fibrillation, only or also for other major diseases and causes of death? What is the amount of olive oil required for a protective effect? More research is needed to address these questions.”

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