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NMU – 191 Olive Oil and Omega-3 Fats Show Promise in Prevention and Complementary Management of Multiple Sclerosis

Nutrition/Natural Medicine Update No 191 (February 10, 2021)

with Dr. James Meschino


Topic: Olive Oil and Omega-3 Fats Show Promise in Prevention and Complementary Management of Multiple Sclerosis

Source: Journal of Clinical Investigation (November 2020)

In a previous Lifestyle Medicine Update I cited the scientific studies showing that extra virgin olive oil contains an abundance of phenolic compounds, which have been shown in human studies to lower the bad cholesterol (LDL), and reduce the rise in blood sugar (glucose) after a meal (compared to a meal containing corn oil), and they exhibit anti-cancer properties, which we think helps to explain the study showing a 68% lower risk of breast cancer in women following a Mediterranean diet that included extra virgin olive oil, compared to women following a Mediterranean diet that included olive oil, but not extra virgin olive oil. It’s extra virgin olive oil that contains the polyphenols shown to have anti-cancer properties.

A 2019 meta-analysis evaluation of all studies looking at extra virgin olive oil also showed that it raises the good cholesterol (HDL), which helps to remove cholesterol from the artery wall, opening-up blood vessels by reversing the build-up of plaque in the artery wall to some degree. As such, a growing number of studies, published in peer-reviewed journals, continue to suggest that using 2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive per day is a better choice than using most other vegetable or seed oils when it comes to preparing salad dressings, sautéing vegetables, onions, garlic, or chicken, or when making pasta and possibly other sauces.

A study published in November 2020 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation has shown that insufficient olive oil intake may be a culprit in the development and progression of Multiple Sclerosis. Studies suggest that environmental factors play a role in the development of M.S. One consistent factor that seems to stand out is that M.S. patients are known to have low levels of oleic acid – the main type of fat found in olive oil, which many researchers feel can lead to the development of M.S.  Why do they think that?  Well, many studies show that the monounsaturated fat, oleic acid, found in olive oil, plays a key role in the function of immune cells called T-regulatory Cells or Treg cells as they are commonly known. In M.S. patients Treg cells become dysfunctional allowing other immune cells to attack and destroy the body’s normal tissue and promote inflammation. This is the basis of all autoimmune diseases – our own immune cells attack normal body tissues. In the case of M.S, this involves immune cells attacking and destroying the myelin sheath that insulates our nerve cables leading to muscle weakness and paralysis. So, in the 2020 study researchers took Treg cells from the fat tissue of M.S. patients and exposed them either to arachidonic acid (a polyunsaturated fat found in high concentrations in high-fat meat products) or to oleic acid from olive oil. Within 72 hours the Treg cells exposed to arachidonic acid displayed increased activity of genes that promote inflammation. On the other hand, exposure to oleic acid (from olive oil) induced changes in Treg cells genes that restored normal function in a way that would suppress the action of other immune cells involved in the promotion and progression of M.S. Previous case-control studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes olive oil, is associated with a decreased risk of developing M.S. As well, studies with M.S. patients have shown that a low-fat diet, supplemented with omega-3 fats and the inclusion of olive oil provides moderate benefits to those suffering from M.S.

It’s interesting to note that in the Nurses’ Health Study, which has followed over 80,000 registered female nurses in the U.S since 1984, nurses who regularly have the highest consumption of alpha-linolenic acid, the main omega-3 fat found in flaxseed oil, show an approximately 40% reduction in risk of developing M.S., compared to nurses who had the lowest consumption of this omega-3 fat. Fish and fish oil consumption were not associated with a decreased risk of M.S. in this study. Thus, the ingestion of flaxseed oil may also be a modifiable lifestyle factor in the prevention of M.S. Taken together, these studies further highlight the importance of avoiding foods high in inflammation-promoting and Treg cell suppressing arachidonic acid (from consumption of high fat meat products), while focusing rather on the regular intake of extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, and seeds to acquire oleic acid, as well as possibly supplementation with omega-3 fat-rich flaxseed oil – high in alpha-linolenic acid (and possibly fish and fish oil). Paying attention to consuming foods and supplements containing healthy fats and polyphenols, and avoiding unhealthy fats, is one more strategy that can help optimize health and prevent the development of various degenerative diseases, and possibly some autoimmune diseases as well.

I’ve included the references for all of this information in the text below


1. Nutrition &Diabetes (2015)

F Violi, L Loffredo, P Pignatelli, F Angelico, S Bartimoccia, C Nocella, R Cangemi, A Petruccioli, R Monticolo, D Pastori, R Carnevale. “Extra virgin olive oil use is associated with improved post-prandial blood glucose and LDL cholesterol in healthy subjects.”  Nutrition & Diabetes (2015) 5, e172; 20 July 2015.


2. Molecular Cell Oncology (2015):

Oleocanthol phenolic compound kill cancer cells:


3. JAMA (2015)

Extra virgin olive oil shown to reduce breast cancer risk in over older, weight women


4. The FASEB Journal (2010)

Extra virgin olive oil outperforms regular olive oil in studies looking at atherosclerosis and inflammation in human and laboratory studies.


5. Frontiers of Nutrition Journal (2019)

Extra virgin olive oil increases blood HDL levels (meta-analysis)


6. Pompura SL, et al. Oleic acid restores suppressive defects in tissue-resident FOXP3 Tregs from patients with multiple sclerosis The Journal of Clinical Investigation.  Nov. 2019.


7. Sedaghat F et al. Mediterranean diet adherence and risk of multiple sclerosis: a case-control study. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr, 2016, 25; 2 : 377-384.


8. Wernstock-Guttman et al. Low fat dietary intervention with omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in multiple sclerosis patients. 2005, 73;3: 397-404.


9. Alpha-linolenic acid (Flaxseed oil) in M.S. Prevention:

Bjornevik K et al. Polyunsaturated fatty acids and the risk of multiple sclerosis. Mult Scler Journal. 2017, 23;14 : 1830-1838.


Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great,’

Dr. Meschino

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