Olive oil may reverse heart failure, a new report suggests.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine found that oleate –a common fat found in olive oil – helped failing hearts to use body fat as a fuel to keep pumping. The findings are reported in the journal Circulation.
“This gives more proof to the idea that consuming healthy fats like oleate can have a significantly positive effect on cardiac health,” E. Douglas Lewandowski, study author and director of the UIC Center for Cardiovascular Research, said.
Heart failure affects nearly 5 million Americans. More than half a million new cases are diagnosed each year. Heart failure is not the same as a heart attack. Rather, it’s a chronic disease state where the heart becomes enlarged in response to chronic high blood pressure, requiring it to work harder to pump blood. As the heart walls grow thick, the volume of blood pumped out diminishes and can no longer supply the body with enough nutrients.
Failing hearts also are unable to properly process or store the fats they use for fuel. That inability to use fats, the heart’s primary fuel source, causes the muscle to become starved for energy.
Lewandowski and his colleagues studied how healthy and failing hearts beating in rats reacted after being given either oleate or palmitate, a fat found in dairy products, animal fats and palm oil. When the researchers supplied failing rat hearts with oleate, “we saw an immediate improvement in how the hearts contracted and pumped blood,” Lewandowski said.
By contrast, when the researchers gave the failing hears palmitate, “they basically looked like failing hearts,” Lewandowski told Time.com. Their fat metabolism was “imbalanced” and the hearts weren’t making enzymes that would help metabolize fat. There also was a rise in toxic fatty by-products that aggravate heart disease.
In addition to balancing fat metabolism and reducing toxic fat metabolites in enlarged, or hypertrophic, hearts, Lewandowski said, oleate also boosted the activation of several genes for enzymes that metabolize fat. “These genes are often suppressed in hypertrophic hearts,” he said. “So the fact that we can restore beneficial gene expression, as well as more balanced fat metabolism, plus reduce toxic fat metabolites, just by supplying hearts with oleate – a common dietary fat — is a very exciting finding.”
The research might help explain why a Mediterranean-style diet, which is rich in olive oil, is good for your heart. A major study published last year suggested a Mediterranean diet – particularly one rich with extra virgin olive oil and nuts – lowers the risk of stroke and other heart problems by 30 percent among high-risk individuals.