The results of the study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, look set to keep consumer interest in olive oil high, following other studies linking the diet to lower incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and certain types of cancer.
Indeed, Mintel's Edible Oils report said that the UK olive oil market has been on fire since 2000, growing by 39 per cent to date in order to break through the £100m mark.
The researchers behind the new study, led by Isabel Bondia-Pons from University of Barcelona, randomly assigned 110 healthy men from non-Mediterranean countries (Germany, Finland and Denmark) and 45 men from Mediterranean regions (Spain and Italy) to include one of three similar olive oils (25 millilitres per day) in their diets.
The cross-over trial consisted of three three-week intervention periods of separated by two two-week wash-out periods.
The researchers report that blood levels of oleic acid increased by two to three per cent in the men from the non-Mediterranean countries, while the men from Mediterranean regions did not exhibit a significant increase in blood oleic acid levels.Moreover, at the end of the total nine-week intervention period, the researchers reported that the systolic blood pressure (SBP) of the non-Mediterranean men decreased significantly by three per cent, compared to baseline measurements.
"The results of this study suggest that a moderate consumption of olive oil may be used as an effective tool to reduce SBP of healthy men who do not typically consume a Mediterranean diet," they wrote.
The researchers called for additional studies, particularly with a longer duration, to verify whether small changes or modifications in diet can be made, which would then become habitual.
The results could have implications for people with elevated blood pressure (hypertension). In the UK alone, there are an estimated 10m people with hypertension, defined as having blood pressure higher than 140/90 mmHg. The condition is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD), which causes almost 50 per cent of deaths in Europe, and is reported to cost the EU economy an estimated €169bn ($202bn) per year.
Source: The Journal of Nutrition January 2007, Volume"Moderate Consumption of Olive Oil by Healthy European Men Reduces Systolic Blood Pressure in Non-Mediterranean Participants" Authors: I. Bondia-Pons, H. Schröder, M-I. Covas, A.I. Castellote, J. Kaikkonen, H.E. Poulsen, A.V. Gaddi, A. Machowetz, H. Kiesewetter and M.C. López-Sabater