Decanter pouring virgin olive oil in a bowl

Just about everyone living with chronic pain has likely heard that their diet may affect their pain levels. The term “anti-inflammatory diet” is thrown around a lot these days. But what does that really mean, and how do we know which foods help decrease inflammation? Fortunately, more researchers and scientists are studying diet and inflammation in recent years. That includes the positive impacts of olive oil on inflammation in the body. 

Get ready. We’re about to talk about some science!

What makes olive oil anti-inflammatory?

When your body breaks down food, molecules called free radicals are produced. Some of these free radicals may contribute to diseases such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. Antioxidants protect the body against free radicals naturally. There is a compound molecule in olive oil called oleocanthal, an antioxidant. This particular compound prevents the production of specific inflammatory enzymes in the body, namely, COX-1 and COX-2. These enzymes increase levels of inflammation in the body as they can contribute to the production of free radicals. So, by eating olive oil and ingesting oleocanthal, one reduces the body’s inflammatory enzymes’ production.

This molecular process is similar to that of NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen. Research suggests that just about three-and-a-half teaspoons of olive oil are equivalent to 200mg of ibuprofen. Even though COX-1 is inflammatory, it is also necessary for certain cellular processes. It exists naturally in the gastrointestinal tract and serves a protective purpose in the stomach and intestines. COX-1 also contributes to the body’s ability to clot blood

It becomes dangerous, then, to take NSAIDs such as ibuprofen in excess or for prolonged periods. It may reduce pain from inflammation while simultaneously causing other problems like kidney damage or stomach bleeding, and more. When ingesting olive oil, individuals are essentially taking nature’s NSAID. The anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil are especially relevant to patients with arthritis, degenerative disc disease, and other inflammatory diseases.

Does it matter what kind of olive oil you use?

Closeup of hands pouring olive oil on to salad

Like so many things in life, quality matters a great deal. High-quality, virgin, and extra-virgin olive oils (such as those from Spain) are best if you want to incorporate olive oil into your diet to stem inflammation. Other tips for getting the most out of olive oil include:

  • Keep it cool. You should store your olive oil in either a cool, dark place such as a pantry or in the refrigerator. 
  • If you’re cooking with olive oil to replace butter or other oils, try to stay around 300 degrees or lower. Sauteeing vegetables in olive oil is an example of an easy way to incorporate it into your diet. However, if you heat the oil above 400 degrees, you begin to strip it of its natural properties and enzymes.
  • 3.5 teaspoons (or just over one tablespoon) of olive oil contains about 400 calories. While some sources warn that you shouldn’t eat olive oil in excess or you’ll risk weight gain, many studies have shown that olive oil does not cause weight gain. For instance, a three-year study of 187 participants found that olive oil increased antioxidants in participants’ blood and contributed to weight loss.

What are some easy ways to incorporate more olive oil into your diet?

As mentioned above, olive oil makes an excellent substitute for butter when cooking, such as roasting or sauteeing vegetables. You may also dip bread in olive oil, use olive oil (and vinegar, if you wish) to dress your salad or toss your pasta and vegetables in olive oil. We even found this fantastic website where you can order high-quality olive oil from Greece!
Here are five excellent recipes using olive oil:

Close-up of a chef pouring oil into a pan

Conclusion

While there may be no magical cure-all for chronic pain, there are many things that we can do in our everyday lives to reduce the severity of our pain and prevent pain flares. Eating naturally good-for-us foods is one of the easiest and most obvious ways to reduce our inflammation levels and reduce things like C-Reactive Proteins

Olive oil splash

Olive oil is excellent anti-inflammatory food. Research continually suggests that it contributes to better health in many ways outside of inflammation. Consider swapping your household cooking butter for olive oil instead, and see what you think!