Extra virgin olive oil, the essential oil, or the tasty olives – all of these are increasingly becoming a common part of our daily diet and lifestyle. But what about the leaves? Olive leaves have been used in traditional medicines to treat multiple conditions and, in general, for good health as well. And modern medicine has followed suit in utilizing these benefits.
The health benefits that will be elaborated here are mostly due to the phenolic content, specifically oleuropein, which is found in larger quantities in olive leaves than in any other form. Other bioactive compounds that contribute are secoiridoids and flavonoids. So what exactly are these benefits?
Health Benefits Of Olive Leaves
1. Reduce Blood Pressure And Hypertension
Olive leaves can prevent as well as regulate blood pressure. Animal studies have shown that supplementation of an olive leaf extract (OLE) either before or after the incidence of hypertension gave similar positive results. OLEs bring down the elevated blood pressure by reducing the production of LDL cholesterol. This also improves the blood flow to the blood vessels in the heart.
For those at the first stage of hypertension, OLE relieves tension and widens the blood vessels, which lowers both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. However, this effect on hypertension might not be seen in overweight individuals.
2. Strengthen The Heart
Cardiac issues like heart attacks can strike anybody – there’s no age bar! Olive leaves can strengthen your heart, partly by regulating the blood pressure. But its main contribution is preventing atherosclerosis.
The arterial wall is important for maintaining normal blood flow and pressure. In atherosclerosis (or endothelial dysfunction), plaque build-up on the wall hardens the arteries, which result in an obstructed blood flow. This is a common cause of heart attack and stroke. Olive leaves help prevent and cure this in multiple ways:
- The polyphenols in OLE increase the production of nitric oxide and relax the blood vessels.
- The antioxidants reduce oxidation by salvaging the free radicals, which stops atherosclerosis at an early stage.
- It suppresses fatty acid deposits on the arterial wall by preventing inflammation.
3. Regulate Diabetes
Food regulation is one way to keep blood sugar levels in check. And olive leaves can be a very good choice for a diabetes diet. OLEs reduce blood sugar levels and restrict the effects of any increase in sugar levels. This is how:
- The extracts lessen the absorption of sugars from the intestine and increase the glucose intake by tissues.
- Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) can be a major cause of diabetes and other chronic conditions. Olive leaves are a natural source of AGE inhibitors, which protect tissues from AGE-related oxidative damage and prevent diabetes.
- Insulin sensitivity defines how well your body accepts and responds to the effects of insulin. The polyphenols in olive leaves improve insulin sensitivity, especially in overweight individuals, making the body more receptive to foods and medicines for diabetes.
4. Fight Cancer
There are multiple characteristics of olive leaves that fight cancers in different ways:
- Antioxidative effect: Studies on OLEs show that they battle cancer at the early stages. The antioxidants prevent any damage to the DNA, which stops the formation of malignant cells.
- Antiproliferative effect: The polyphenol oleuropein prevents the cancerous cells from replicating, moving and spreading, and taking over other organs; these effects are irreversible.
- Anti-angiogenic and anti-tumor effects: The same polyphenol also prevents the growth of new blood cells and cancerous cells, thus curbing the growth of tumors. This is effective in almost all forms of cancer.
- Anti-inflammatory effect: Olive leaf extracts also suppress inflammation, which is a common promoter of tumor growth.
Apart from preventing the growth of cancerous cells and tumors, the extracts also deal with the aftereffects of chemotherapy. The olive leaf deals with mouth ulcers caused due the therapy in the form of a mouth rinse. Oleuropein also protects the DNA, exhibits a toxic effect on cancerous cells, and causes cell death.
5. Prevent Cognitive Degenerative Disorders
Olive leaves help fight aging in multiple ways. They treat and reduce the severity of age-related neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
- Oleuropein protects the neurons, whose disruptive functioning causes most neurological disorders.
- Tau isoforms are proteins in the neurons of the central nervous system that contribute to the formation of lesions in Alzheimer’s and similar diseases. Oleuropein is a natural inhibitor of Tau and thus prevents such neurodegenerative diseases.
6. Treat Arthritis
Anti-inflammatory medicines and foods decrease the swelling and pain in arthritis. Oleuropein reduces chronic inflammation and also heals damaged tissues. Also, traditional medicines have used olive leaves in treating gout. The reason for this might be olueropein, which curbs the enzyme that promotes the build-up of uric acid that cures the condition.
7. Strengthen The Immune System
Olive leaves and their extracts show natural antifungal, antiviral, and antimicrobial activities, which fight against viruses that cause infections like influenza. Because of its antiviral property, it’s also used in reversing the changes caused by infections related to HIV-1 virus.
8. Invigorate The Skin
Long exposure to UV rays, which is usually unavoidable, is a common cause of skin diseases. OLEs have been used in skincare products as a photoprotector to treat skin damage caused by UV rays. They also prevent carcinogenesis and tumor growth in UV-exposure related cancers by reducing the levels of specific enzymes.
Oleuropein helps by preventing free radicals from damaging the skin and also has an anti-aging effect. Traditionally, different forms of olives have been used as skin cleansers and as a balm for inflammatory wounds, but this isn’t without any basis.. Studies show that olive leaves are effective in healing wounds, especially inflammatory ones.
How To Use Olive Leaves
Olive leaves can be used in the form of a tea, powder, spray, or tincture for multiple purposes.
1. Olive Leaf Tea
Olive leaf tea is said to be useful in fighting conditions like blood pressure, diabetes, and infections. Here’s how you can make it at home:
- Take fresh olive leaves and dry them.
- Boil about 1 tsp or 10–15 dried leaves in a cup of water for about 5 mins.
- Take if off the heat and let it infuse in the water for about 2 mins.
- Strain and add a little bit of honey if the taste is too bitter.
- Serve hot or cold.
Drink this tea instead of your regular dose of caffeine, ideally 2 cups a day.
2. Olive Leaf Extract As A Powder And Tincture
While you can crush fresh leaves and make a powder, buying powders that are made using OLEs might be more effective for treating any health issues. Make sure you go organic to avoid adulterated products. The powder can be taken in multiple ways:
- Experiment by sprinkling on foods.
- Use it to make juices or smoothies.
- Use it to make a herbal tea.
- Have it as is or with a little bit of honey.
The tincture is also easily found in markets. You can take up to 1–2 ml of the tincture up to 3 times a day for general health. Preferably, consult your doctor on the dosage for any of these as it depends on the condition you’re looking to treat.
3. Olive Leaf Spray
Modern medicines use olive leaf spray to relieve respiratory issues like blocked nose, breathing difficulties, and sinus issues. The spray is used depending on the severity of the condition, so consult your doctor for the dosage.
A Word Of Caution
If you naturally have low blood pressure, avoid using olive leaves in high quantities as it may cause dizziness due to further lowering of blood pressure. Extremely high or strong doses of olive leaf extract can cause stomach upset or diarrhea. Start off with small doses and see how it works for you.
If you’re diabetic or pregnant or both, make sure you consult your doctor before trying olive leaves in any form or quantity.