What Links Obesity, Inflammation and Risk From COVID? New Report Suggests Mediterranean Diet Can Help Break The Link
From the earliest days of the COVID pandemic, evidence emerged to suggest a link between obesity and increased risk from COVID-19. Researchers were united at an early stage in the understanding that obesity (and advanced age) appeared to reduce the body’s ability to fight infection such as COVID-19. This has prompted many of us to take a long hard look at our dietary choices and consider adjusting our eating patterns to follow diets such as the Mediterranean Diet, which focus on a combination of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish and healthy fats, such as the best olive oil – known to help followers maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI).
But what do we know about inflammation, how it is linked to our immune system and what nutritional choices we can make to help us fight off infection?
According to a report this month in Scientific American, the Mediterranean Diet ‘provides people with a host of protective compounds, including omega- 3s and polyphenols, plant-based compounds with antioxidant properties.’
What Is Inflammation And How Can Polyphenols Help?
Inflammation is a critical response to potential danger signals and damage in organs in our body. In diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and others, the immune system turns against the bodies’ organs. These painful and, in some cases, progressively debilitating conditions can take a toll on people’s quality of life and create both societal and economic burdens.
But there are choices we can make regarding our diet and lifestyle that can help prevent and manage these associated diseases. A lot of these involve increasing our intake of antioxidant compounds called polyphenols – which are present in abundance in foods such as high quality extra virgin olive oil.
The inflammatory process in the body serves an important function in the control and repair of injury. Commonly referred to as the inflammatory cascade, or simply inflammation, it can take two basic forms, acute and chronic. Acute inflammation, part of the immune response, is the body’s immediate response to injury or assault due to physical trauma, infection, stress, or a combination of all three. Acute inflammation helps to prevent further injury and facilitates the healing and recovery process.
When inflammation becomes self-perpetuating however, it can result in chronic or long-term inflammation. This is known as chronic inflammation, and lasts beyond the actual injury, sometimes for months or even years. It can become a problem itself and require medical intervention to control or stop further inflammation-mediated damage.
Inflammation And Diet: Where Does Extra Virgin Olive Oil Fit In?
A healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet, including extra virgin olive oil like Morocco Gold can help combat inflammatory diseases.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Part Of An Anti-Inflammatory Diet
To reduce levels of inflammation, aim for an overall healthy diet. If you’re looking for an eating plan that closely follows the tenets of anti-inflammatory eating, consider the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy oils like extra virgin olive oil.
In addition to lowering inflammation, a more natural, less processed diet can have noticeable effects on your physical and emotional health. “A healthy diet is beneficial not only for reducing the risk of chronic diseases, but also for improving mood and overall quality of life,” Dr. Hu says.
Anti-Inflammatory Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Phenols and polyphenols serve as the core substances that give Extra Virgin Olive Oil its unique anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers have determined that small amounts of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, as low as one tablespoon per day, can lower inflammatory signalling in our body, including levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha).
Interestingly, in Mediterranean-type diets that include daily intake of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, not only is there less production of signalling molecules like TNF-alpha, but there is also less activity by the cell receptors for these pro-inflammatory molecules. (This decreased receptor activity has been shown for tumour necrosis factor receptor 60 (TNFR 60) and tumour necrosis factor receptor 80 (TNFR 80). Levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) have also been show to decrease with daily intake of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
In addition, scientists have shown that individuals who regularly consume Olive Oil have reduced activity of their pro-inflammatory cyclo-oxygenase 1 (COX-1) and cyclo-oxygenase 2 (COX-2) enzymes, as well as reduced levels of related molecules including thromboxane B2 and leukotriene B4. Two molecules that are known to increase during inflammatory disease processes, vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) and intercellular adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1), have also been shown to decrease in amount following intake of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
In this anti-inflammatory context, it is also worth noting that oxidative stress, a process that often parallels the process of chronic inflammation, is reduced by regular consumption of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. One common blood marker used to monitor oxidative stress is the formation of substances called F2-isoprostanes, and studies have shown 10-15% lower levels of this blood marker following Extra Virgin Olive Oil intake.
Importantly, the anti-inflammatory benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil do not depend on large levels of intake. In most studies, these benefits become statistically significant with as little as one tablespoon of Extra Virgin Olive Oil per day.
The anti-inflammatory benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil also appear to increase with daily intake above this level. An average daily Extra Virgin Olive Oil amount of 2 tablespoons per day is enough to provide strong anti-inflammatory benefits.