Hydroxy-what? What even is it, and why should you care? Hydroxytyrosol is a naturally occurring phytochemical with remarkable antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cancer preventive activities. Found in the fruit and leaves of olive trees, this powerful compound is one of the key active ingredients responsible for the numerous benefits of olive oil. Read on to learn about the health benefits of hydroxytyrosol.

The Structure of Hydroxytyrosol

The many benefits of this natural, plant-based compound are largely due to its unique composition. Hydroxytyrosol is a phenolic compound and is amphipathic, meaning it has a lipophilic (fat soluble) end and a hydrophilic (water soluble) end. This gives it the ability to penetrate cell membranes for easy absorption into the body. This simple structure and bioactive power make this compound very cytoprotective. It readily absorbs into cells and is just as easily eliminated, so there is no risk of accumulation.

Once in the cells, this compound gets to work scavenging free radicals and reducing inflammation. The numerous benefits of hydroxytyrosol are one of the reasons for the many health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet.

Cardiovascular Protection

Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on artery walls, which can restrict blood flow. Let’s review several factors that contribute to atherosclerosis and how hydroxytyrosol works to protect your heart.

Reactive Oxygen Species

Oxidative stress within the arteries is the major cause of atherosclerosis. Hydroxytyrosol works by increasing catalase mRNA, protein, and activity of both cytosolic and nuclear protein levels, which directly increases the expression of anti-oxidant enzymes. In other words, it regulates the body’s antioxidant defense system and reduces reactive oxygen species inside the arteries.

Breakdown of LDL

Oxidized LDL is a harmful type of cholesterol that is produced when normal LDL cholesterol is damaged by free radicals. The breakdown of LDL is also a major contributing factor to the development of high cholesterol and atherosclerosis. Numerous studies demonstrate the potency of hydroxytyrosol as a protector of LDL.

Platelet Aggregation

Platelet aggregation is simply the clumping together of platelets in the blood. Hydroxytyrosol significantly reduces platelet aggregation.

Anti-inflammatory Effects

A study from the human nutrition and health department describes hydroxytyrosol as the most powerful anti-inflammatory compound among polyphenols of olive oil. This is because of its effective inhibition of pro-inflammatory cytokines and enzymes.

Cancer Prevention

Scientists estimate that more than two-thirds of human cancers can be prevented through appropriate lifestyle, which includes proper nutrition. Over the past 20 years, many studies have indicated an inverse correlation between regular fruit and vegetable consumption and development of various types of cancer. This is largely due to polyphenols.

Hydroxytyrosol acts in both the initiation and progression phases of carcinogenesis. First, it prevents DNA damage induced by different genotoxic molecules, and it also inhibits proliferation and inducing apoptosis in tumors cell lines.

Metabolic Benefits

Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions occurring together, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. These conditions include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and excess body fat, as well as abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels. Studies show that a higher intake of hydroxytyrosol improves lipid profile, blood glucose levels, and insulin sensitivity, and also counteracts oxidative and inflammatory processes.

Another study evaluated the benefits of hydroxytyrosol for reducing obesity and insulin resistance and improving overall gut health in mice. This is promising evidence for the prevention of metabolic syndrome and its effects.

The Benefits of Antioxidants

You probably noticed the common thread in all of these benefits is the antioxidant power of hydroxytyrosol. Because we simply cannot avoid free radicals and resulting oxidative stress on our bodies, antioxidants are a necessity. Hydroxytyrosol offers perhaps the most bio-available, potent and effective antioxidant power available. This not only benefits your heart, metabolism, and immune function, but also your eyes, skin, and every body system. To learn more about free radicals and antioxidants, check out this post.

Want to learn more ways to prevent disease and protect your eyes? Check out this post on 6 Important Vitamins for Eye Health.

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