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Olive Oil Pills can Protect Heart from Air Pollution

Update Date: May 19, 2014 11:17 AM EDT

Exposure to air pollutants can potentially lead to several health complications. Even though studies have tied pollution to several negative effects on health, it can be difficult to limit one's exposure. In a new study, researchers examined a potential new way people can try to protect their heart health from pollutants. The team found that taking olive oil supplements can counteract some of the harmful effects that air pollution has on the heart.

"Exposure to airborne particulate matter can lead to endothelial dysfunction, a condition in which the endothelium [inner lining] of blood vessels does not function normally, which is a risk factor for clinical cardiovascular events and progression of atherosclerosis," explained the lead study author Dr. Haiyan Tong, MD, PhD, a research biologist with the United States Environmental Protection Agency. "As olive oil and fish oil are known to have beneficial effects on endothelial dysfunction, we examined whether use of these supplements would counteract the adverse cardiovascular effects of exposure to concentrated ambient particulate matter in a controlled setting."

For this study, Tong and fellow researchers recruited 42 health adults. The adults were randomly assigned into three different groups for four weeks, which were three grams of olive oil per day, three grams of fish oil per day or no supplements at all. After the fourth week, all of the participants were exposed to filtered air for two hours. During the following day, they were exposed to fine/ultrafine concentrated ambient particulate matter (CAP). The team monitored the patients' endothelial function before, immediately after and then 20 hours after exposure.

The researchers reported that levels of a particular protein tied to breaking blood clots known as tissue plasminogen activator increased in olive oil supplement patients exposed to CAP. Fish oil supplements did not yield any heart health benefits when the body was exposed to CAP.

"Our study suggests that use of olive oil supplements may protect against the adverse vascular effects of exposure to air pollution particles," said Dr. Tong. "If these results are replicated in further studies, use of these supplements might offer a safe, low cost, and effective means of counteracting some of the health consequences of exposure to air pollution."

The study was presented at the 2014 American Thoracic Society International Conference.

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