Bone health is a vital part of overall well being. Our bones support us and allow us to move and also protect out organs. They also store minerals like calcium and phosphorous so that when our body needs them, they can be released and put to use. Unfortunately, without the proper care, our bones can become weakened and break, contributing to various short-term and long-term health issues.
Osteoporosis causes the bones to become weak and brittle, which greatly increases fracture risk. When it advances enough, the bones become so weak that even stresses that are milder than a fall, such as coughing or simply bending over or twisting, can cause a serious fracture. The parts of the body most prone to osteoporosis-related fractures are the wrist, hip, and spine.
The reason osteoporosis occurs is due to a dysfunction in the cells involved in formation and resorption of bone, namely, osteoblasts, which synthesize bone, and osteoclasts, which are responsible for the degradation and absorption of bone. These two types of cells work closely together, so when that relationship is compromised, this can lead to osteoporosis. Some of the factors involved in the regulation of osteoblast and osteoclast function include hormones and growth factors, and when it comes to osteoporosis, oxidative stress and inflammation can contribute to dysfunction that leads to osteoporosis and other bone disorders.
Osteoporosis is especially common in postmenopausal women, as the changes in hormone levels impacts bone mineral density. Some studies, such as this 2015 study from India and this 2013 study from Italy, have demonstrated a relationship between oxidative stress and osteoporosis and bone loss in postmenopausal women.
Olive Oil and Osteoporosis
While drug interventions are available, lifestyle approaches are more popular. In addition to weight bearing exercise, nutrition has been shown to play an important role in bone health. Some of the most important nutrients for supporting healthy bones are calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K, magnesium, and phosphorous. Because of the roles inflammation and oxidative stress play in the development of osteoporosis, foods with antioxidant properties have also been looked at as potential interventions. Studies have linked bioactive compounds (hydroxytyrosol, tyrosol, oleuropein) in olive oil to anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, so does this extend to osteoporosis? Here’s what’s in the literature.
In a study in which mice underwent a sham operation or had their ovaries removed, they were given either refined or virgin olive oil. Two additional groups were given either refined or virgin olive oil that had been fortified with vitamin D to assess whether there were synergistic effects with a fat soluble nutrient. After 30 days, bone mineral density and gene expression in all groups was evaluated. As expected, the mice that had undergone ovariectomy has increased bone turnover leading to impaired bone mass and density. This group also had enhanced expression of oxidative stress biomarkers. The virgin olive oil fortified with vitamin D3 was shown to have a protective effect against these changes in bone remodeling and mineral density in the groups receiving that intervention. Additionally, the mice who received the vitamin D3-fortified virgin olive oil showed comparatively lower expression of inflammation and oxidative stress mRNAm suggesting that the combination of polyphenols found in olive oil and vitamin D3 may benefit metabolism and protect against oxidative stress and inflammation.
In another animal study, rats fed black lucques olives were shown to experience less bone loss, which was believed by researchers to be related to anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of the olives.
In a small study looking at anti-osteoporosis and anti-cancer effects of EVOO that involved an animal arm of the study (120 female Sprague Dawley rats in whom medical menopause was induced) and a human arm (10 women aged 30–50 years who had undergone a hysterectomy and had bilateral ovarian and bilateral fallopian tube removals were given olive oil starting one month after surgery), patients in the experimental groups given extra virgin olive oil had lower tumor biomarkers than those of the control group and average bone mineral density levels decreased more slowly than in the control group, suggesting that that EVOO has anti-osteoporosis and antitumor properties.
A different study of 523 Spanish women showed that drinking 20 ml of olive oil daily was associated with significantly better bone mineral density when compared to those consuming less than that.
As discussed in this 2014 review, studies have suggested that possible mechanisms through which phenolic compounds found in olive oil may benefit bone health are modulating the proliferative capacity and cell maturation of osteoblasts as well as by increasing the activity of alkaline phosphatase and depositing calcium ions in the extracellular matrix to maintain proper function of the relationship between osteoblasts and osteoclasts.
Animal and human research suggests that olive oil may be an additional tool to help support bone health along with other diet and lifestyle interventions. Further research would offer more information on how much olive oil to use and how best to incorporate it into the diet, but given the wide range of established olive oil-related health benefits, enjoy liberally as a cooking oil and dressing.