Arthritis is characterized by pain and inflammation of the joints. There are approximately 100 several types of arthritis, with different causes and treatment methods.

Some arthritis also affects other tissues and organs including the skin.

About 1 in 5 adults have some or the other form of arthritis, depending on the causes namely genetics, injuries, infection, excess weight, etc., but the most common cause is age.

Most common types of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease) and osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) [1].

Other types of arthritis include gout, lupus, juvenile arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, etc.

The main goals of arthritis treatments are to reduce pain and inflammation along with other symptoms to improve quality of life. Treatments vary depending on the type of arthritis and its severity.

The conventional treatments include painkillers and, in some cases, surgery.

Due to the increase in cost as well as adverse effects associated with these conventional treatments, more and more individuals are turning to more holistic and herbal approach for their symptoms.

However, used for centuries these alternative treatments are gaining more popularity, many researchers are studying these complementary and alternative treatments and have been found to be safe and effective.

In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of olive oil in arthritis, so let’s see what olive oil is.

What is Olive Oil?

Olive oil is the liquid fat obtained by pressing whole olives (the fruit of Olea europaea; family Oleaceae), a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin.

The archives that mention olive trees and olive oil production dates to 2000-2400 BC near the Syrian city, Aleppo.

The oil is vastly used in cooking, is also used in cosmetics, medicine, and soaps, and was also used as a fuel for traditional lamps.

Olive oil has gained immense popularity in both culinary world as well as a therapeutic aid.

There are over hundreds of varieties of olives, each with a distinct flavor, texture, and shelf life that make them more or less suitable for different applications, such as direct human consumption on bread or in salads, indirect consumption in domestic cooking or catering, or industrial uses such as animal feed or engineering applications [2] [3] [4].

Recent studies have revealed that olive oil has certain compounds that help reduce the production of enzymes that cause inflammation thus reducing the chronic and acute inflammation.

Benefits of Olive Oil for Arthritis

For centuries olives and its oil has been used mainly in cooking along with few other applications in medicinal, cosmetics and religious practices.

The scientists have isolated a compound called oleuropein, a polyphenol that provides olive oil its host of health benefits and is also responsible for its distinctive taste, flavor, and aroma [5] [6].

It has been established that oleuropein is accountable for olive oil’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and its disease-fighting characteristics.

There are some animal trials that shows oleuropein also has anti-cancer and anti-diabetic properties [7] [8].

1. Anti-inflammatory Properties of Olive Oil

There is a separate group of arthritis diseases that falls under the category of “Inflammatory Arthritis”, for example; Rheumatoid arthritis (inflammation of joints), psoriatic arthritis (inflammation under the skin), lupus (autoimmune disease attacking healthy tissues), spondylitis (inflammation of the spine), etc.

Olive oil is a major component and principal source of fat in the Mediterranean diet and it has been established that the risk of chronic inflammatory diseases is the lowest in Mediterranean population in the world [9].

Virgin olive oil has many phenolic compounds that exert anti-inflammatory properties of which oleocanthal has the most potent anti-inflammatory effects that are similar to ibuprofen [10] [11].

Oleocanthal is now considered as a natural occurring NSAID, chronic low dosage use of ibuprofen and other chemical NSAID are known to have anti-carcinogenic and anti-thrombotic effects.

Therefore, it is more likely to use naturally occurring NSAID like oleocanthal that may help curb inflammation and as a result attenuate the development of chronic inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

There several studies involving humans, animals and in vivo, that shows the correlation between the consumption of olive oil and decrease in the inflammation causing enzymes like C-reactive protein, interleukin -6, 17, and COX-1 and 2 [12] [13] [14] [15].

In all these studies, olive oil was either given as a supplement or as part of a dietary pattern, with variations in control diets.

What does it Mean? Olive oil has many potent anti-inflammatory agents and is a healthy alternative to chemical NSAIDs and can be consumed without any potential side effects. Therefore, many doctors advise patients with arthritis or at considerable risk of arthritis to follow the Mediterranean diet

2. Virgin Olive Oil is Rich in Antioxidants

The underlying problem of many arthritis is the excessive level of free radicals in the joint. Since the cartilage (cushion-like material present in the joints), is constantly replenishing by replacing the old cells with the new cells.

In the absence of antioxidants, an excessive level of free radicals in the joint leads to an imbalance between the old cells and new cells.

It is important to restore this balance between renewing cells to maintain a healthy cartilage/ joints classic example of such arthritis is osteoarthritis, lupus, etc.

The antioxidant property of olive oil is well researched and recognized both in animals and humans for many decades.

The reason behind the high content of antioxidants in olive is because the fruit of olive is exposed to the air and varying a harsh climatic condition of middle-east, it must defend itself from oxygen.

It, therefore, synthesizes a larger concentration of antioxidants, which pass through to the oil.

Olive consists of many antioxidant compounds, but recent studies have explicated two isolated compounds, oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol, for their potent antioxidant activity.

There are several pre-clinical studies demonstrating their protective action against several diseases especially cardiovascular and metabolic diseases [16] [17] [18].

Caneulo et.al in 2012 and Martin et.al. in 2011 reported that hydroxytyrosol inhibits oxidative stress induced by various chemicals and revising the antioxidant defense mechanism of the body by influencing several molecular pathways [19] [20].

Another study conducted on collagen-induced arthritis in mice showed a significant decrease in Reactive oxygen species (enhancers of oxidation) in the plasma level of these mice.

It also showed that treating these mice with oleuropein on the onset of arthritis, diminished the clinical and histopathological signs on arthritis [21].

What does it Mean? The antioxidant property of olive is mainly attributed to two compounds oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol, these compounds are released during the extraction of oil, the cruder the oil the more is the content of these compounds. So, it is imperative to use less processed oil to get the maximum possible content available of these phenolic compounds.

3. How Olive oil Help Patients with Gout:

Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis caused due to the accumulation of uric acid crystals in joints, these crystals are the by-products of recycling of DNA and RNA in cells. Major causes of gout are bad genetics and a combination of diet and age.

Older men with a history of alcohol abuse and people suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer are more susceptible to contracting gout.

Chronic gout can even damage the bones, cartilage, and deterioration of the kidneys.

There is a mention in Mediterranean folk medicine, of using a concoction prepared from olive leaf extracts as a cure for gout.

A study conducted by J Flemmig et.al. in 2011 showed that olive leaf extract along with other phenolic compounds found in olive tree inhibits an enzyme named xanthine oxidase, responsible for converting DNA and RNA molecules into uric acid [22].

The exact mechanism of this is still unknown, but it is very similar to that of allopurinol a standard drug for treating gout.

It was deduced that a flavone named aglycone apigenin showed the strongest inhibition effect on xanthine oxidase followed by oleuropein [23].

What does it Mean? Although this study was conducted using olive leaf extracts the same compounds are also found in olive oil. Hence introducing olive oil in the diet of patients suffering from gout or are at the risk of developing it may help prevent or inhibit the progression of the disease.

4. The Good Fats of Olive Oil

Diet plays a significant role in preventing and managing arthritis. Researchers have been studying the correlation between food and arthritis since 1930’s [24].

There are many studies that show being overweight is linked to increased incidence of arthritis and its symptoms including pain and inflammation.

Recent studies have shown that making necessary dietary changes and losing weight has proven to lower many of the symptoms associated with arthritis.

Losing weight although cannot repair the damage already done by arthritis, it can surely help ease the pain and inflammation.

Olive oil is a rich source of monosaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, that help decreases the LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.

There are many comparative studies that show, a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil along with nuts and fresh fruits and vegetables helps aid in weight loss[25] [26] [27] .

Olive oil increases the concentration of high-density lipoproteins (HDL) also known as good cholesterol, which scavenges the bloodstream of plaque and toxin formation.

It is believed that oleic acid present in olive oil helps regulate a molecule named oleoylethanolamide (responsible for the feeling of satiate after meals). This help reduces the food intake and in turn, helps with weight loss [28].

Another phenolic compound present in olive oil, maslinic acid is known to alleviate knee-joint pain and a significant reduction in weight and body mass index of 20 middle-aged volunteers.

These volunteers were given olive fruit extracts containing 50g of maslinic acid for 12 weeks [29].

What does it Mean? Therefore, olive oil may be useful as a new preventive and therapeutic food ingredient for arthritic diseases. Since this clinical study is a preliminary study, more trials are needed to get a clear understanding olive oils role in weight loss.

5. Anti-microbial and Anti-fungal Properties of Olive oil

There is a group of diseases termed as “infectious arthritis”, caused by an infectious agent such as bacteria, viruses or fungi characterized by, joint pain, soreness, stiffness, and swelling caused by an infectious.

These infections can enter the joints in many ways; through a nearby wound, spread through the bloodstream after contracting infectious diseases like pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhea, etc.

Some of the infectious diseases are Lyme disease arthritis, Reactive or Reiter’s arthritis, Psoriatic arthritis, etc.

Reactive arthritis also known as Reiter’s arthritis, develops in response to an infection in another part of the body (cross-reactivity), encountering bacteria and developing an infection can trigger the disease.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacterial infection from a tick bite when the infection goes unchecked for a longer period of time, many patients’ complaint about knee joint pain and inflammation this is termed as Lyme arthritis.

Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes itchy or sore patches of thick, red skin with silvery scales. Some people who suffer from psoriasis also develop a form of arthritis called psoriatic arthritis.

In two separate studies employing olive oil and olive leaf shown to inhibit many bacterial and fungi species responsible for intestinal and/or respiratory infections (in vitro).

Both the studies describe the antimicrobial properties of two major phenolic compounds namely oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol along with some minor phenolic compounds [30].

What does it Mean? Olive oil due to its protective action of the phenolic compounds can be used both topically and orally for the therapeutic purposes as the alternative medicines.

Dosage and Safety Guidelines for using Olive Oil as an Alternative Medicine

Most of the trials carried out to study the effects of olive oil used daily dosages ranging from 25-40ml and/or 8 to 70gms without any reported side effects [31] [32]. There no recorded toxicology reports in any of the studies to date.

There are few reports of temporary mild diarrhea on ingestion of excessive amounts of olive [33]. And very rare cases of topical use of olive oil has caused allergic reactions.

It is always advised to consult your doctors or physicians before introducing any of the alternative medicines in your daily regimen.

Also, one should avoid dosages above those reported above and/or used in food preparations since the safety and efficacy above these dosages are still unproven.

In the end…

Olive oil is a potent and readily available alternative medicine for those suffering from arthritis. It not only helps in reducing inflammation but is also an effective analgesic agent thus helping in pain reduction.

Its fatty acid composition makes it an excellent lubricative and pro-penetrative agent which improves joint mobility and decreases the incidence of morning stiffness

Regular use of olive oil has shown to overall improve the quality of life by preventing the symptoms associated with arthritis.

Due to the high concentration of antioxidants, unsaturated fatty acids and other phenolic compounds present in olive oil can help prevent bone and cartilage damage.

Thus, those with a family history of arthritis can consume olive oil to delay its onset and strive for betterment.

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