Nutrition and Healing
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  • Visions of olives

    Olives and olive oil may protect against macular degeneration

    I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who’s just indifferent about olives. It seems like you either love ’em or you hate ’em. But some new research published in the Journal of Neurochemistry may be good reason for those of you who aren’t olive aficionados to reconsider. Apparently, hiding inside these tiny fruits may just be a key to preventing age-related macular degeneration.

    For those of you who might be unfamiliar with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), this condition occurs when the area of the retina known as the macula begins to break down, leading to varying degrees of vision loss. In fact, AMD is the No. 1 cause of blindness in people over the age of 55, and experts say it may very well be the next burgeoning epidemic, with cases expected to triple in the next 17 years.

    Which makes this latest discovery that much more exciting.

    Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and DSM Nutritional Products found that the main antioxidant compound in olives, hydroxytyrosol (HTS), offered significant protection to mitochondria inside human retina cells that were exposed to the sort of oxidative damage that causes AMD. They also found that HTS can protect the eyes against some of the harmful effects of smoking, particularly the ones that arise from a chemical in cigarette smoke called acrolein.

    When the researchers exposed the retinal cells to acrolein for 24 hours they found that the cells showed significant levels of oxidative damage. But when they pre-treated another batch of cells with HTS before exposing them to acrolein, the damage decreased depending on the dose of HTS (the higher the dose, the less the damage).

    But before you go tossing out your reading glasses and stocking up on olives, there are a few things to be aware of. First of all, keep in mind that you’d have to eat about 50 olives per day to get the full protective dose of HTS — and I don’t know anyone who likes olives THAT much.

    So while olives (and extra virgin olive oil) may help you ward off AMD, they’re not cure-alls. Combine them with some of the other nutrients — like lutein and astaxanthin — well-known for their vision-protecting abilities, though, and you dramatically up your odds of seeing well into your future.


    “Olive extract may protect against AMD,” NutraIngredients (, 2/13/08

    “Hydroxytyrosol protects retinal pigment epithelial cells from acrolein-induced oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction,” Journal of Neurochemistry 2007; 103(6): 2,690- 2,700

    “Capturing the power of olives,” Asia Food Journal (, accessed 2/14/08

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