Dietary fat is easily the most controversial macronutrient of all time. First you’ve got the people who claim that “fat makes you fat” and believe that all fat instantly enters your bloodstream and slowly clogs your arteries (it doesn’t).
Then you have the never-ending wars over specific types of fat, namely saturated and polyunsaturated fats. The USDA, British NHS, World Health Organisation and American Heart Foundation all insist that saturated fats in butter, meat, and chocolate increase cholesterol levels and can and will lead to heart disease. The Paleo/Primal community argue that polyunsaturated fats (soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil) oxidise inside your body and are giving everyone cancer.
This war still continues today but in the midst of it there’s one fat that everybody loves – extra virgin olive oil. The reasoning is simple. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, a fat that neither raises “bad” LDL cholesterol nor is unstable enough to oxidise.
Olive oil is totally uncontroversial. Furthermore, extra virgin olive oil is the most nutritious cooking oil of all time. Eating it is terrific for preventing acne, but olive oil is also fantastic for your wider health and is one of the best-studied heart protecting foods of all time.
Olive oil is cold-pressed and contaminant free
One excellent thing about olive oil is that because its history is so extensive, and we have so much expertise in extracting the oil from the olive fruit through cold-processing, there’s no need to use any acne-causing chemicals and solvents. It’s the opposite of supposedly healthy acne-causing monstrosities like canola oil.
Olive oil was first mentioned in history back in 6000BC. The regular olive oil trade originated in the ancient city of Aleppo (unfortunately now the scene of heavy fighting in the Syrian civil war) back in 2500BC. So that’s 4500 years where we mastered cold-processing without chemicals.
They didn’t just use it for food; ancient Egyptians used it for medicines, fuel for oil lamps, religious ceremonies and soap making. Remains of olive oil have been found in jugs over 4000 years old. The first recorded olive oil extraction took place in Ancient Egypt back in 1500BC. Ancient Egyptians simply squeezed the olive berry by hand and stored it in special containers. They had their own mills with a large output; many ancient olive oil mills from the Roman era are still standing in the Mediterranean era and incredibly, some are still in use today.
Nowadays, extra virgin olive oil is still extracted simply by pressing the whole olive fruit from the olive tree. Basic machinery is used, but no heavy solvents or chemicals are required. The olive oil is sometimes run through a basic non-chemical filter to remove some of the bitter compounds like oleuropein.
Then there’s canola oil. Also known as rapeseed oil, it’s touted as being a heart healthy choice for salads since it mostly contains monounsaturated fats. But it has to undergo heavy heating and chemical processing, because the rapeseed plant contains a natural toxin called erucic acid which is poisonous to humans. Canola oil in its natural state would actually be deep red, not clear. Canola oil has only been available to humans in the last 100 years because only now do we have the required industrial technology.
So what you end up with is two oils that are very different for acne:
Extra virgin olive oil – cold pressed, with basic machinery. Sometimes lightly filtered to remove bitter remnants of the olive fruit. Unheated and hence retains all the acne friendly vitamin E, tannins, phenolic compounds, and other acne antioxidants.
Canola oil – commonly contains traces of a neurotoxic solvent hexane, used to separate the canola protein cakes from the oil. Is swimming with free radicals thanks to high heat in the factory oxidising the fat molecules. The same industrial heating may mutate the fats into acne-causing trans-fats. The canola oil has no antioxidants since they’re delicate and stand no chance against the heat. Its vitamin E is useless since the oil is so rancid.
Assuming your olive oil is organic, extra virgin and from a reputable seller, it’s by far the cleanest cooking oil an acne patient could use (alongside coconut oil).
Packed with the greatest acne vitamin
Olive oil is also very nutritious compared to other oils. In fact, it’s one of the best sources of acne-clearing vitamin E available. 50 grams of olive oil contains 36% (6mg) of the recommended daily allowance for vitamin E.
If, for example, you add plenty of olive oil to your salad each day, cook potatoes in it another day, and drizzle it onto meat to enhance the flavour as well, that’s a ton of vitamin E right there. It’s especially useful news considering that vitamin E isn’t the most common nutrient. Broccoli is claimed to be a great source, but a 100 gram serving of steamed broccoli contains only 4% of the RDA for vitamin E. Spinach contains 10% per 100 gram serving.
If you haven’t read this article yet, then vitamin E helps acne by preventing the oil on your face, sebum, from reacting with free radicals. If the squalene in your sebum reacts with air pollution, cigarette smoke, factory fumes, or other pollutants, it turns into a substance called squalene peroxide which both increases sebum production and creates pore-blocking clumps of dead skin cells. Vitamin E is the main antioxidant your body uses to prevent this from happening.
It’s critical for all acne patients to get more vitamin E and adding olive oil to your diet in a variety of imaginative ways is an effective way to do that. Additionally, this study found that phenolic antioxidant compounds in olive oil protect existing vitamin E levels in the blood from being depleted. The best source of vitamin E in the world is almonds (131% per 100 grams) so if you start dipping your almonds in a bowl of olive oil, it’ll basically be game over for your acne.
Olive oil is also a great source of other antioxidants. Its ORAC score of 372 is merely decent, but scientific studies generally find it to be far stronger than that suggests. This study found that olive oil contains numerous compounds with antioxidant activity, which can prevent cancer and inflammation. This review found that olive oil contains many antioxidants with strong impacts on diseases.
This study found that olive oil increased production of the all-important antioxidant glutathione, through an unknown mechanism. The bitter flavour of unfiltered olive oil is partly the result of antioxidants like oleuropein, and most likely other undiscovered compounds.
Olive oil is an overlooked prebiotic
Olive oil is also a little known prebiotic powerhouse. It’s estimated that the skin of a Gordal variety olive fruit contains 100 billion lactobacilli bacteria, and tests have shown that this good bacteria ends up in the oil after it’s extracted. Then it ends up in your gut when you drink it.
It’s a little known fact that your gut flora diversity is critical for the acne on your face. Proper balance of bacteria in your gut is important for acne nutrient digestion, lowering inflammation and also lowering stress since many good strains of bacteria manufacture the happiness hormone serotonin. Bad strains of bacteria can pump out stress hormones like cortisol, regardless of whether you’re actually stressed or not.
Many traditional Spanish and French olive oils are fermented with bacteria to add extra flavour, and that allows the healthy lactobacilli bacteria to multiply further. Some olive oil antioxidant compounds, namely oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, and tyrosol, can provide food to the bacteria already in your gut…
…and as well as replenishing your health colonies of bacteria, this study on Portuguese olives found that olive oil could kill an unhealthy strain called h.pylori. 30 grams of olive oil killed h.pylori infestations in 10-40% of patients in as little as two weeks.
H.pylori overgrowth is a very common cause of inflammation and digestive infections. It also damages the semipermeable membrane of your gut lining and impairs absorption of important nutrients for acne, especially minerals like zinc and magnesium. This study found that h.pylori overgrowths in the stomach were much more common among people with rosacea, a skin condition with similar inflammatory roots to acne.
H-pylori also directly fights against acne-friendly lactobacilli gut bacteria and is linked to stomach ulcers. Therefore it’s great news that olive oil can kill it. In fact olive oil’s prebiotic powers are now being investigated by the Spanish authorities, namely the CSIC.
Olive oil lowers inflammation
There’s one compound in olive oil that has been investigated by scientists more than any other – oleocanthal.
For good reason too, because oleocanthal is an anti-inflammatory powerhouse. This study found that oleocanthal has similar anti-inflammatory properties to the pharmaceutical drug ibuprofen. This study found similar results; just 50ml (3.4 tablespoons) of extra virgin olive oil contained enough oleocanthal to match the anti-inflammatory properties of 10% concentration ibuprofen. Oleocanthal inhibits an inflammatory molecule called cyclogenase-2 (COX-2), which is an especially useful molecule to downregulate since it activates a large amount of other pro-inflammatory chemicals.
If you’re unaware, then chronic inflammation is the biggest disease any acne patient needs to tackle. All humans have necessary inflammatory processes, but when they’re overactive they lead to red, swollen pores, and hence acne. This study found that eating olive oil can inhibit inflammation at the genetic level.
Furthermore, olive oil is 100% fat, and 72% of that fat comes in the form of oleic acid, which itself has been demonstrated to lower inflammation.
Scientists in this Japanese study on 1,556 men and 1,461 women aged 35-60 found that higher levels of oleic acid in the diet led to a big drop in blood levels of C – reactive protein (CRP), which is the most commonly used biomarker by scientists when assessing inflammation levels. This study found that oleic acid decreases both CRP and the acne-causing inflammatory chemical interleukin-6.
Olive oil protects the heart as well as the skin
In summary, adding olive oil to your diet is a great way to prevent some of the indirect diseases behind acne. What’s better is that extra virgin olive oil has been shown to prevent almost every single major disease plaguing Western civilisation today.
Conventional wisdom states that dietary fat is a nightmare for your heart since it will clog your arteries up. But olive oil is probably one of the best foods for your cardiovascular health of all time.
- In this study, olive oil was demonstrated to protect LDL cholesterol from oxidative damage. Oxidised LDL rather than intact cholesterol is what gets attracted to arterial walls and hence accumulates there, causing a clogged artery.
- In this study, a Mediterranean diet extremely high in olive oil was demonstrated to decrease the rate of heart attacks, strokes and deaths by 30%.
- In this study, scientists observed that consuming olive oil decreases both systolic and diastolic blood pressure among hypertensive people. Furthermore, it nearly halved the need for blood pressure drugs among the participants.
- In this study and this study, olive oil was demonstrated to improve the function of the endolethium, one of the linings of your blood vessels. Poor endolethiel health is one of the measured risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
- The substantial anti-inflammatory powers of olive oil outlined above will also protect your heart. Chronic inflammation is being heavily investigated for its effects on the heart these days.
- This study and this study demonstrated that olive oil prevents blood clotting, which is clearly beneficial for cardiovascular health as it encourages proper blood flow.
- Finally, this study and this study both found that people who eat large amounts of olive oil are far less likely to die from both heart attacks and strokes.
There’s probably well over two hundred scientific studies showing that olive oil protects the heart. Olive oil also prevents strokes very effectively, which are the second biggest killer in developed nations behind cardiovascular disease.
A large review study that analysed over 841,000 people found that olive oil reduced the risk of stroke (and heart disease) and was the only monounsaturated fat that did so. This review on 140,000 people reached similar conclusions. Those who ate olive oil had a far lower risk of dying from a stroke. Olive oil achieves this partly thanks to the anti-blood clotting mechanisms and improving endolethiel health.
Endless other health benefits
The benefits of this delicious oil don’t end there. Eating olive oil regularly seems to prevent virtually every major disease:
Alzheimer’s – one of the biggest changes observed in the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients compared with healthy people is a build-up in so-called beta amyloid plaques. This study found that the anti-inflammatory compound oleocanthal can effectively remove beta amyloid plaques from the brains of mice. This study found that a Mediterranean style diet high in olive oil had an overall beneficial effect on brain function.
Type 2 diabetes – while you might have been told otherwise, the Mediterranean diet isn’t that healthy or safe for acne because it’s far too high in grains like wheat. But this study found that a Mediterranean diet with high amounts of olive oil reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 40%. Both this study and this study found that olive oil consumption lowered blood sugar and improved insulin sensitivity. This power also helps to clear acne because less insulin means less stimulation of your oil-pumping sebaceous glands.
Arthritis – at its root, rheumatoid arthritis is a disease of inflammation. That’s why olive oil, with its anti-inflammatory molecule oleocanthal, is an excellent solution to the problem. This study and this study found that olive oil reduced oxidative stress and inflammation in the joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Cancer – tentative results, but very promising. One study concluded that olive oil has a protective effect: “both olives and olive oil contain substantial amounts of other compounds deemed to be anticancer agents (e.g. squalene and terpenoids) as well as the peroxidation-resistant lipid oleic acid”. Early studies also suggest that the oleuropein in olive oil has tumour destroying properties. The antioxidants in olive oil can also prevent cancer by hoovering up cell mutating free radicals.
Lowering estrogen dominance – oleuropein is the phenolic antioxidant most notable for giving olive oil its bitter flavour. But this study found that it inhibits the aromatase enzyme, the enzyme that creates much of your estrogen converts testosterone to estrogen. Hence olive oil can lower estrogen levels if you suffer from estrogen dominance, and increase your testosterone if you’re an athlete or interested in male health.
So even if you don’t need olive oil for clearing acne or find that it’s useless for that purpose, olive oil is still a fantastic food to eat.
Olive oil also has virtually no effect on weight gain. There’s a lot of people who fear every type of fat because fat has 9 calories while carbohydrates and protein have 3.75 and 4 respectively. But good news – this 2.5 year study on 7000 Spanish college students concluded that consuming tons of olive oil was not linked to increased weight. Later, a 3 year study found that a diet heavy in olive oil increased antioxidants in the blood and accelerated weight loss.
Watch out for olive oil fraudsters!
You probably know already that extra virgin olive oil is the ideal, since it’s cold-pressed and retains the healthy antioxidants. But you need to be streetwise, because many of the extra virgin olive oils on the market are nothing of the sort. Big manufacturers and small time merchants alike are known to splice or “enrich” their olive oils with cheap rapeseed oil and soybean oil (which causes acne by increasing inflammation).
Primarily they do this to save money. The extra virgin olive oil trade is worth $1.5 billion a year in the US but it’s estimated that 70% of extra virgin olive oil on the market is fake. The Sicilian Mafia makes tons of money each year by selling fraudulent olive oil, money which then gets funnelled into buying armaments.
Often the olive oil portion is not cold-pressed; instead it’s extracted like any other vegetable oil with solvents called hexyls. In Italy they often create imitation olive oil by adding chlorophyll to cheap soybean oil to give it a similar flavour.
So firstly, you should never buy regular “olive oil” from the shops, because this is nearly guaranteed to be spliced with cheap acne-causing oils. Secondly, get your extra virgin olive oil from a reputable source. For some interesting reason, extra virgin olive oils in a dark glass bottle are more likely to be legitimate. This also improves the nutritional quality of the oil, since it blocks sunlight from entering and oxidising the fats into free radicals (a big cause of oily skin and acne).
Avoiding cheap plastic packed extra virgin olive oil is another critical strategy. A manufacturer that doesn’t care about chemicals in plastic leaching into the olive oil will have no qualms about mixing in cheap soy.
The neverending cooking oil myth
On the other hand, there’s one negative myth about olive oil that’s completely false. Olive oil is an excellent cooking oil. It’s believed by many paleo enthusiasts that when you fry olive oil it oxidises some of the fats, which are monounsaturated and less stable than saturated fats. However, monounsaturated fats are still more stable than the polyunsaturated fats found in soybean and corn oil. Hence, studies show that frying olive oil does not lead to increased levels of free radicals in the resulting meal.
- Scientists in this study heated extra virgin olive oil to 180 degrees Celsius (356F) for 36 hours, and the oil was highly resistant to oxidation.
- Scientists used olive oil for deep frying, and the damage to the olive oil only reached dangerous levels after 24-27 hours (study).
Another common claim is that heating olive oil to moderate temperatures during cooking will degrade all the acne nutrients, but this is mostly false. Some studies seem negative at first glance. This study found that heating olive oil at 464°F/240°C for 90 minutes reduced the levels of oleocanthal by 19% according to a chemical test, and by 31% according to a taste test. This study found that heating olive oil at 356°F/180°C for 36 hours led to a decrease in the acne antioxidants and Vitamin E.
Many people in the paleo movement are using the information above to discredit olive oil, and bring its reputation down a notch. For reasons I cannot understand a lot of people in the primal community hate olive oil.
However, if you kept your eyes open you’ll have noticed that the conditions in which olive oil’s acne antioxidants were depleted were extreme and totally unlikely to be replicated. In the real world, nobody would ever cook with olive oil for 36 hours. In the majority of cases, you would never approach 90 minutes either.
Almost any acne-friendly food would suffer nutritional damage if cooked for that long. The vitamin C in broccoli gets depleted by 50% after just 10 minutes of boiling. Olive oil is far more stable than that. So don’t worry – frying a steak in olive oil will not be enough to lower the acne nutrition significantly.
Olive oil is fantastic for acne and furthermore it’s one of the healthiest foods ever for your heart. It’s easily the most acne-friendly oil to dress a salad with. It beats the supposedly healthy but actually deadly canola oil with ease.
Olive oil is an even better oil than coconut oil for acne. Coconut oil’s main power is to accelerate weight loss by improving your metabolism with its medium chain triglycerides (MTCs). That’s great but it only helps acne very indirectly. With olive oil you get a double whammy of massively lowered acne and inflammation, and also a healthier heart, reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, and stroke prevention.
A good way to eat olive oil and a strategy I use every two days is to cut some potatoes into wedges, coat them in extra virgin olive oil, and cook them in the oven for 35-40 minutes. This recipe tastes fantastic and is very simple. I also recommend drizzling olive oil over wild caught salmon as this enriches the flavour superbly.
To conclude, olive oil is a powerful food and I strongly recommend it for health or acne.
Thanks for reading!