Does Virgin Olive Oil Improve HDL Function?

Mediterranean diets enriched with virgin olive oil improve high-density lipoproteins (HDL) function in individuals with high risk for cardiovascular disease, according to a recent study.

Previous research has indicated that interventions with a single antioxidant could improve some HDL function, but no long-term randomized trials have assessed the effects of antioxidant-rich diets on HDL function.
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The study included 296 participants from the Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea study after a 1-year intervention. One hundred participants were randomly assigned to a traditional Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil (TMD-VOO), 100 were assigned to a traditional Mediterranean diet enriched with nuts (TMD-NUTS), and 96 were assigned to a low-fat control diet. 

Researchers assessed the effects of both traditional Mediterranean diets on the role of HDL particles in reverse cholesterol transport, HDL antioxidant properties, and HDL vasodilatory capacity. In addition, researchers studied the effects of the Mediterranean diet on HDL quality-related characteristics such as HDL particle oxidation, resistance against oxidative modification, main lipid and protein composition, and size distribution.

Their findings showed that both TMD-VOO and TMD-NUTS increased cholesterol efflux capacity relative to baseline, and all 3 diets increased the percentage of large HDL particles compared to baseline.

“The TMD-VOO intervention decreased cholesteryl ester transfer protein activity (relative to baseline, P=0.028) and increased HDL ability to esterify cholesterol, paraoxonase-1 arylesterase activity, and HDL vasodilatory capacity (relative to control, P=0.039, P=0.012, and P=0.026, respectively),” the researchers wrote.

Conversely, the control diet had a negative impact on HDL anti-inflammatory functions.

Overall, their results showed that the traditional Mediterranean diets, especially when enriched with virgin olive oil, improved HDL cardioprotective functions.

—Melissa Weiss


Hernáez Á, Castañer O, Elosua R, et al. Mediterranean diet improves high-density lipoprotein function in high-cardiovascular-risk individuals [published online February 13, 2017]. Circulation. doi: