Oleuropein gives extra-virgin olive oil its flavor, which at times can be slightly bitter. It’s because oleuropein is the major biological constituent found in various parts of the Olive tree, known botanically as the Olea europaea L.
Today, as I was sauteeing the pupusas in olive oil for lunch, my mind wandered to the medicinal benefits of this incredible oil. We all know olive oil is healthy, but we may not know exactly what for! The focus of today’s article is on the neurological aspects of oleuropein, specifically how it can ameliorate neuroinflammation to some degree.
I bet you never thought that olive oil in your salad dressing could help with diabetic neuropathy or small fiber neuropathy, but it can certainly help. It’s because olive oil and olive leaf extract supplements contain oleuropein. The oleuropein is what’s called a “phenolic compound” and there is another one called hydroxytyrosol as well.
But today’s topic is about oleuropein since olive leaf extract is in many supplements due to its anti-viral effects, and olive oil is in many kitchens due to its wonderful taste and healing virtues.
But what about skin-crawling sensations? We never hear about olive oil for that! And yet, multiple studies prove some benefits when it comes to preventing and/or ameliorating certain mild neuropathic conditions!
Fun Facts About Olive Trees
Did you know 1 olive tree can live for approximately 500 years?
Olive oil is a “fruit juice” it’s squeezed out of the olive fruit
Cold pressed means the olive oil was never heated
Olives are hand-picked, and each tree provides 1 gallon of oil
The first eyeshadow was made using ground-up charcoal and olive oil
Olives are fruits and are related to mangoes, cherries, peaches, almonds, and pistachios
According to this review ARTICLE in the Journal of Food Biochemistry (Dec 2021), “Regular intake of oleuropein seems to be correlated with decreased risks of neural disorders including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, strokes, depression, anxiety, epilepsy, and others.”
The natural compounds found in olive oil and olive leaf extract offer people a safer alternative to pharmaceutical drugs if they cannot tolerate those. Everyone knows the Mediterranean Diet is one of the healthiest in the entire world! Olive Oil Reduces Cancer and Stroke.
I wonder if it’s because people who reside in Greece tend to consume about 5 gallons of olive oil per year from their diet! They are some of the longest-living human beings on planet Earth. Compare that with US citizens who on average eat only 6 cups annually. But back to neuropathy, since that is the point of my article.
Sadly, we’re seeing neuropathic pain and small fiber neuropathy increasing at a faster pace due to the use of certain vaccinations, and the viral infection itself. There is now a known link to neuropathy and we need to consider ways to treat the pain as it may progress to complete disability.
We also know the aging population will spark more neuropathy, as well as the risk, of epidemic levels of diabetes, and pre-diabetes! All of these are risk factors for peripheral neuropathy and small fiber neuropathy, and so again, we need to have as much information about the conditions, and natural treatments as well. I can’t think of anything more healthy and wonderful than olive oil, or olive leaf extract, both rich in oleuropein.
How does Oleuropein Relieve Pain
Several different mechanisms of action for oleuropein allow it to help with neuropathy. Let’s go over those briefly now, and you can look up more details on your own later:
The process our body uses to get rid of abnormal or unneeded cells. You can learn more about the connection between apoptosis and olive leaf extract in this SCIENTIFIC PAPER from 2014.
Removing damaged cell components, and recycling them to form new cells. If you’re interested specifically in the connection between olive leaf extract and autophagy, you can read an article published in the International Journal of Molecular Science.
Antioxidants in the brain – Cerebellar antioxidants prevent free radical damage (oxidative stress) to brain cells and the nervous system. This activity is particularly important because the adult brain stops replacing impaired or dead neurons.
4. Cytokine Management.
Reducing pro-inflammatory (pain-causing) cytokines and chemokines. Nutrients 2020 published an ARTICLE about the mechanism of action by which this takes place. Here’s another important PAPER about post-chemotherapy cytokines (like IL-8) and the benefits of olive leaf extract.
5. Supporting 2 Important Brain Cells
Impacting microglial cells and astrocytes – These cells are in your brain and spinal cord. They are the most studied types of cells in the Central Nervous System (CNS) in the context of neuropathy and neurological disorders are the microglial cells and astrocytes. Olive leaf extract positively impacts these. When these cells are highly stimulated, or “activated” they will produce harmful pro-inflammatory chemicals which then trigger demyelination and neurodegeneration. Olive leaf can slow this process down and bring calm to the CNS.
The cells are not bad, they are important for you in normal healthy amounts. Microglial cells are your brain’s immune cells and sweep up cellular debris from the brain. Astrocyte cells also vacuum the brain, but also regulate blood flow, transfer mitochondria to neurons, and supply components to help you make neurotransmitters. But when millions of them become overactive the neuropathy begins.
6. Reducing neuroinflammation.
The medical term “neuroinflammation” is actually something that many people have without evening realizing it. It describes a condition of brain fog (fuzzy or slow thinking) and pain. The location of the pain depends on what region or areas of the brain are impacted. Chronic fatigue, depression, mood instability, and headaches are common with neuroinflammation. Of course, the hallmark symptom of this nervous system inflammatory process is neuropathy!
Profound Effects of Olive Oil (Aside from Neuropathy)
In addition to those specific actions related to neuropathic pain, we could (and should) consider the other profound effect of olive oil/leaf extract. As they pertain to diabetes (which causes neuropathy), the actions include modulating insulin secretion and peripheral uptake into the cells, activating hepatic AMP-activated protein kinase signaling, and improving retinopathy and cardiovascular markers.
So what’s wrong with using olive oil?
As you can see, the neuroprotective role of oleuropein is undeniable, just in what it can do to positively impact cytokines and oxidative stress in the body. If you underestimate the power, just think about the standard gold treatment for neuropathy (antiepileptic drugs like pregabalin and gabapentin). They do not do all 7 of the above actions and therefore have a limited role. Plus they have side effects which reduce compliance.
Olive oil is one effective, natural strategy to reduce pain for people with neuropathy. And while we wait for more antidiabetes strategies that have negligible unwanted side effects, we have natural options for neuropathy, lots of them! The key is knowing if you have it because sometimes the symptoms are not straightforward. Read my article, Small Fiber Neuropathy, Causes, and Treatments.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.