Could an Obscure Compound in Olives Prevent Diabetes?

by Chris Centeno, MD /

diabetes prevention

Even since the Mediterranean diet came on the scene in the 80s, there’s been a fascination with olive oil. It’s long been suspected that something in olives may be one of the reasons that the diet works to reduce heart attacks. Now new research suggests that an obscure compound may be one of the key factors.

The Power Compound Found in Olives: Oleuropein

Oleuropein is the olive’s most potent polyphenol (powerful antioxidants that fight cell stress and are believed to have many health benefits) and can be found in the leaves, oil, and the olive itself. Polyphenols—also found in other food sources, such green and black teas, red wines, dark chocolate, cloves, blueberries, and nuts—are believed to prevent risk factors that cause certain chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Polyphenols have also been credited with helping to control blood-sugar spikes that can cause diabetes, and a new study now supports this as it suggests that the oleuropein in olives may increase insulin secretion, potentially useful in diabetes prevention.

Oleuropein has been shown in research to have many health benefits, such as antioxidant effects that may prevent heart disease, anti-inflammatory properties that decrease inflammatory agents in the blood and may protect against bone loss, and antitumor effects that may protect against some cancers (e.g., colon and breast) particularly when included in a Mediterranean diet (which includes olives and olive oils). Additional connections to the health benefits of oleuropein include protection against certain bacteria and viruses as well as protective benefits to our neurons, or nerve cells and so much more.

I’ll review the new study on oleuropein in a moment, but, first, let’s look at insulin and its role in the human body.

The Role of Insulin in Diabetes

We may be most familiar with insulin as it relates to blood-sugar control and diabetes. Insulin is a glucose-regulating hormone produced by the beta cells that live in the pancreas. The beta cells, when functioning normally, release insulin when there is an increase in blood sugar as we digest food. In someone with type-2 diabetes, however, the beta cells are unable to release enough insulin to regulate the blood sugar. In addition, insulin resistance also occurs, which is when the same amount of insulin that used to drive down blood sugar no longer has that same effect. In other words, less insulin that functions poorly means out of control blood sugar levels. Why? Scientists continue to research the causes of type-2 diabetes, but some exacerbating components include genetics, diet, physical activity levels, and metabolic syndrome (obesity; high blood sugar, triglycerides and blood pressure; etc.) .

Eat More Olives (and Other Things You Can Do to Aid in Diabetes Prevention)

Researchers in the new study demonstrated that oleuropein actually promotes the release of insulin. Oleuropein was also found to inhibit the toxic effects of amyloid-hormone deposits on beta cells—these deposits contribute to their lessened ability to release insulin. So the findings from this study suggest that eating more olives and consuming more extra virgin olive oil should be added to your list of ways to prevent or control type-2 diabetes.

Let’s review some prior studies we’ve covered in the past that may also provide help with Type-2 Diabetes prevention and control:

The upshot? Make sure that you add in olive oil to your cooking and your salad dressing. While this may sound easy, most mass-produced food substitutes much less expensive soybean oil. Hence, read those labels!

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Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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