Olives – touching a nerve

You reach for a succulent green olive, flecked with aromatic herbs and loaded with taste. Your thumb and finger close around it and your arm takes the olive to its final destination – your open mouth.

What a useful thing the nervous system is, getting the arm to obey such an important command from the brain. If we think of the nervous system as a telephone network, then the brain is Head Office, neurons based around the body are text messages, and the neurotransmitters travelling between them are electromagnetic waves carrying those messages around. Although that is perhaps not the ideal analogy. Mobile radiation is emerging as one of the factors which can damage our nervous systems, along with age, too many visits to the chippy, too many visits to the pub before going to the chippy, sugary drinks, heavy metals such as aluminium and mercury, and air pollution.

All the more vital, then, that we give our nervous systems plenty of TLC so they can fend off these assaults of civilisation. How lucky that olives and their oil are able to serve that very purpose, since eating them requires no deprivation at all. 

Olives and their oil contain powerful antioxidants such as oleuropein which can do something scientists get very excited about – namely, get through the blood-brain barrier to perform life-saving tasks on struggling cells. Unfortunately, infiltrators such as heavy metals and radiation can also get through and do damage to the brain and nervous system; but antioxidants such as those found in olive oil can help counteract that. 

The brain is full of fat, which means it is prone to oxidising – think of a rind of pork fat left in the warm air, going rancid. This leads to degeneration of the nervous system. Olives and their oil, however, can help keep the brain young and fresh. The oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol they contain are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant; hydroxytyrosol and oleocanthal are cyclooxygenases, and oleuropein counteracts low density lipoprotein oxidations. (You don’t need to know what that means, only that it’s in the scientific literature.) The oleuropein in olive oil can even counteract arsenic poisoning in mice. Olive oil’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect has also been found to improve motor recovery in rats after spinal chord injury, and brain damage after stroke.

So tell your legs to walk over to your nearest olive supplier and pick up a pot or two to go with your dinner. Pesticides aren’t good for the nervous system either, so if you choose organic, you’re getting double the benefits. 

You can find your nearest Real Olive Company stockist here

By writer and nutritionist Sally Beare


Angeloni, C et al (2017). Bioactivity of Olive oil Phenols in Neuroprotection. Int J Mol Sci 18(11):2230.

About E et al (2013).The effect of pulsed electromagnetic radiation from mobile phone on the levels of monoamine neurotransmitters in four different areas of rat brain.Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci17(13):1782-8. 

Tang, J et al (2015). Exposure to 900 MHz electromagnetic fields activates the mkp-1/ERK pathway and causes blood-brain barrier damage and cognitive impairment in rats. Brain Research1601; pp 92-101.