It’s been almost 50 years since researchers first started studying the Greek diet and studying Greeks living on the island of Crete. Low rates of heart disease and other conditions arising from inflammatory changes with age, led epidemiological researchers to the island. ‘Olive oil is the foremost source of fat in the Mediterranean Diet and this is what sets this diet apart from other dietary regimes’, states the 2018 report exploring the role of this remarkable oil in the context of the prevention of chronic diseases caused by inflammation. [Visioli, Franco, Toledo, et al., 2018].
As the world turned to chaos over the past year, I’ve missed my trip to Switzerland, where my son was competing in skiing. It’s not just the location I will miss, but also the chance to catch up with Stomasia, the Greek waitress working in a little cafe in the village where I stayed. It was whilst talking to her about Olive Oil and it’s amazing properties for our health as we aged, that she told me about her father’s olive oil from Crete. There it was on the table in front of me. “It’s my father’s olive oil” she enthused. “He makes it from trees that my grandfather and great-grandfather owned. It is very healthy and you mustn’t have any other oil. My mother doesn’t have any aches and pains but I see women here in the cafe who are skiers and complain about their joints.”
I nodded in agreement, thinking of my own aching joints when I arrived in menopause and the exercise that I stuggled to do – including skiing and hiking – activities that I had enjoyed for years. But that was before I did my doctoral research and as part of that, I had attended a lifestyle medicine conference and heard the powerful research from the Olive Wellness Institute in Australia.
All fats, from butter, margarine to coconut oil and olive oil, contain almost the same number of calories. But they behave quite differently inside the body.
For example, saturated fats (animal and dairy sources of fats) make it difficult for the body to rid itself of harmful LDL cholesterol. This is the type of cholesterol that may contribute to inflammation in the body.
Olive oil however, is a mono-unsaturated fat, which helps to clear LDL cholesterol whilst leaving the beneficial high-density lipoprotein cholesterol alone. Not only is it an elixir for your heart, but for post-menopausal women, studies have shown that it reduces the risk of breast cancer and heart disease. (Visioli, Franco, Toledo et al, 2018).
Whenever I receive health screening forms in my in-box from women who sign up to the MyMT™ programmes, I look carefully to see if they have ticked the box indicating they are experiencing joint pain which has come on since they reached menopause. The majority of women tick that box. When I ask what their doctor or physio has said about their joint pain, invariably their response is ‘they can’t find anything wrong.’ I now know why. Evidence from randomised controlled trials shows olive oil exerts beneficial effects on markers of inflammation and endothelial function.[Schwingshackl et al., 2015].
Through my women’s healthy ageing studies, I discovered the incredible role that olive oil has in reducing inflammation in the body as we age. It has compounds that take over the role of oestrogen in a body that is becoming deficient in oestrogen for the simple reason that we don’t need it anymore for reproductive purposes. That’s why, I encourage the use of omega 3-rich olive oil and discourage the popular dietary emphasis on coconut fats and various cooking oils, which have not been researched specifically against our need to improve joint health or cardiac health as we get older. I talk about this in my online Masterclass on Menopause, which is now available to you. You can read about it HERE.
Nutrients for reducing inflammation in your joints come from olive oil – especially the nutrients oleocanthal and vitamin E. According to Australia’s Olive Wellness Institute, adding olives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil to the diet is crucial in reducing joint pain and improving cardiac health as we age.
Olive oil contains tocopherol (vitamin E); coconut oil doesn’t. Tocopherol or vitamin E is a powerful anti-oxidant necessary for hormonal and joint health during our menopause transition. Vitamin E is unique among vitamins because the biological activity of it varies considerably and for its adequate absorption, it requires fat digestion to be functioning normally. The recommended daily intake from the FDA in America is 15mg daily but in New Zealand the recommended daily intake is 7-10mg. I recommend olive oil on the MyMT™ programmes as this has around 1.5 mg of vitamin E per tablespoon. Avocadoes, almonds, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts are high in vitamin E, as is kumara (sweet potato).
There is so much information about how to look after our health these days, but as I discovered too, very little of it is supported by research specific to our menopause transition. However, with menopause heralding the gateway to your biological ageing, it’s time to look after yourself and ensure that your joints stay working for you, because we all need to remain as active as we can as we get older.
Our joint health is so important to turn around in mid-life – simply, because lack of activity can lead to other health problems, including weight gain with age. My online webinar called ‘Restore your Joyful Joints’ online is now available separately from my 12 week programmes and has all the strategies you need to help you to focus on your joint health during menopause. If you don’t want to join me on the longer 12 week programme where this and my Gut Health programme are included, then please explore this stand-alone module – I also have a bonus module called ‘Fitness Foundations’ available with this module, so you receive two modules for the price of one. You can read about it HERE.
I hope you can join me sometime.
NB: If you do have joint pain that is causing you increasing pain or discomfort, I encourage you to get it checked out with your physio or medical provider as well.
- Frizziero, A., Vittadini, F., Gasparre, G., & Masiero, S. (2014). Impact of oestrogen deficiency and aging on tendon: concise review. Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal, 4(3), 324–328.
- Kendall B, Eston R. (2002). Exercise-induced muscle damage and the potential protective role of estrogen. Sports Med. 32(2):103-23.
- Millman JF, Okamoto S, Teruya T, Uema T, Ikematsu S, Shimabukuro M, Masuzaki H. (2021). Extra-virgin olive oil and the gut-brain axis: influence on gut microbiota, mucosal immunity, and cardiometabolic and cognitive health. Nutr Rev. Feb 12:nuaa148. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuaa148. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33576418.
- Schwingshackl, L., M. Christoph, and G. Hoffmann (2015). Effects of Olive Oil on Markers of Inflammation and Endothelial Function-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients, 7(9): p. 7651-75.
- Visioli F., Franco M., Toledo E., Luchsinger J., Willett W., Hu F., Martinez-Gonzalez M. (2018). Olive oil and prevention of chronic diseases: Summary of an International conference. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 28(7):649-656.