We’re all familiar with the concept of laying down reserves of money to live off later in life, when we’ve had enough of the office and want to sail the world or retire to grow vegetables. The same idea can be applied to our health – especially when it comes to building up our bones.
This is where consuming olives and olive oil can pay substantial dividends, since they have been shown to significantly benefit bone health. Given that osteoporosis affects three million people in the UK alone, with half a million of those visiting hospital every year for fragility fractures, that makes olives and their oil a very valuable resource.
We know that Mediterranean populations have lower rates of osteoporosis, and one important reason for this is the popularity of olives and their oil in Mediterranean countries. A 2012 study showed that Mediterranean men aged 55 to 80 who consumed olive oil daily had higher levels of a marker of bone health called osteocalcin compared with those who ate a similar diet but without the oil (1). The same goes for women, who have been shown in a Spanish study to have significantly increased bone mineral density when consuming olive oil regularly (2). And another recent study has shown that the polyphenols in olives and their oil improve bone mineral density and bone strength, thanks partly to their anti-inflammatory properties and their ability to boost numbers of bone-building cells (3). The study researchers suggested that olives and their oil could be an important anti-osteoporosis intervention food in the elderly.
But this isn’t just about the elderly – we need to make sure to build up our reserves of bone material in earlier life, so as to have them in store for later when our bone density begins to decline. The most crucial time for building up our ‘bone bank’ is in adolescence, so giving olives and olive oil to teens is a great idea. Taking plenty of exercise, making sure to get enough vitamin D from sunlight (or a supplement), eating plenty of green vegetables (for easily-absorbed calcium) and avoiding heavy drinking or smoking are all ways we can protect our bones during our lives, as well as doing as they do in the Mediterranean and enjoying olives and their oil daily.
By writer and nutritionist Sally Beare
- Fernandez-Real, José Manuel et al (2012). A Mediterranean Diet Enriched with Olive Oil Is Associated with Higher Serum Total Osteocalcin Levels in Elderly Men at High Cardiovascular Risk. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 97, Issue 10 (1): 3792–3798
- Roncero-Martin, Raul et al (2018). Olive Oil Consumption and Bone Microarchitecture in Spanish Women. Nutrients 10(8):968.
- Chin, Kok-Yong & Ima-Nirwana, Soelaiman (2016). Olives and Bone: A Green Osteoporosis Prevention Option. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 13(8): 755.