Following the tenets of the Mediterranean diet, especially regular consumption of olive oil, may help increase concentrations of a bone protective protein known as osteocalcin. This style of eating may provide other substances associated with healthy bone formation as well. Europeans who live in the lower Mediterranean basin have lower rates of osteoporosis than those of other European populations. Now, a study from Spain scheduled to be published in the October 2012 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism reveals why the Mediterranean diet accounts for that difference. The investigators recruited 127 men, age 55 to 80, who were at high risk for cardiovascular disease. The participants were all part of a larger study of the Mediterranean diet, and were assigned one of three versions of the traditional fare. One included mixed nuts; another was enriched with olive oil, and the third was low in fat. After the participants had followed their assigned version of the diet for two years, results showed that the men receiving enriched olive oil had higher concentrations of osteocalcin and other positive markers of bone formation. Blood tests showed no changes in calcium levels in the olive oil group, but measured a significant decline in these levels in the men on the other two versions of the diet.
My take? This study details another example of the health benefits of olive oil. It has the highest percentage of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat of any edible oil. Quality olive oil also contains several antioxidants that provide cardiovascular and anti-cancer effects. And, of course, it adds a vibrant “green” taste to many dishes, which has undoubtedly helped Americans realize that there is no need to sacrifice sensory pleasure in pursuit of healthy eating. Prior to this study, a connection between olive oil and osteoporosis prevention had been demonstrated in the lab and in animal studies.