Compound in olives may lower blood sugar levels and promote weight loss

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Scientists are investigating a natural compound found in olives to help control obesity and type 2 diabetes. Juan Moyano/Stocksy
  • Obesity increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Researchers at Virginia Tech have found a natural compound in olives and olive oil that may help regulate blood sugar levels and promote weight loss.
  • This could help researchers develop natural products for the treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

From 2022, one in eight people all over the world people live with obesity.

Previous research shows that obesity increases the risk of various health problemsincluding type 2 diabetes.

“It is well known that obesity is an important pathogenic factor for the development of type 2 diabetes, and it is also a major obstacle to effective metabolic control in many patients with type 2 diabetes,” explains Dongmin Liu, PhD, professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Exercise at Virginia Tech. Medical news today.

“However, lifestyle changes and public health measures appear to have very limited impact on the increasing prevalence of obesity, and available pharmacotherapies for obesity and diabetes may be ineffective in the long term, difficult to maintain weight loss, expensive, or carry long-term safety risks.”

“In addition, existing treatments for obesity and diabetes may not work for everyone,” Liu continued. “Therefore, developing new, less expensive treatments, particularly using natural products as primary or secondary adjuvant treatments, may provide more options and improve outcomes for a wider range of patients.”

Liu is the lead author of a new study in mice recently presented at NUTRITION 2024, the flagship annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, showing that a natural compound found in olives and olive oil may help regulate blood sugar levels and promote weight loss.

Liu and his team used a mouse model to conduct their research, which began by identifying natural compounds that L-cellswhich contain the metabolic hormones PYJ And GLP-1 that are released when eating. When these hormones are released, they signal the body to stop eating and help regulate blood sugar levels.

Researchers have identified elenolic acid, which occurs naturally in olives, as a compound that can trigger the release of the hormones PYY and GLP-1 in the gut.

“Elenolic acid is a natural compound found in olives and olive oil,” Liu explains. “It is part of a larger group of compounds called polyphenols. Elenolic acid is produced naturally during the ripening process of olives by the breakdown oleuropeinthe most abundant polyphenolic compound in dietary supplements based on olive and olive leaf extract.”

“We are studying this compound because, to my knowledge, it has never been studied to see if it has any beneficial effects on health or on diseases like diabetes,” he added.

When obese mice with diabetes were given an oral dose of elenolic acid, scientists reported significant improvements in their overall metabolic health compared to the obese control mice.

After four to five weeks of administration of elenolic acid, researchers found that obese mice with diabetes showed a 10.7% reduction in obesity.

“This is a healthy effect of elenolic acid, because it also increased muscle weight, reversed diet-induced fatty liver disease, and improved liver function,” Liu said. “Basically, oral intake of elenolic acid once a day led to increased secretion of some metabolic hormones from the intestines, called GLP-1, PYY, and GIPwhich may work together to limit calorie intake during feeding.”

In addition, the blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity of the obese mice given elenolic acid were comparable to those of healthy-weight mice within four to five weeks of treatment.

According to Liu, this finding is important for two main reasons.

“First, the finding that elenolic acid improved blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity to the point where they were comparable to those of healthy, lean mice indicates that it is an effective compound for correcting the key defects that lead to overt diabetes,” he explained. “Second, the results suggest that elenolic acid could potentially be developed into a treatment for people with obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes. If it works the same way in people, it could provide a new, natural way to treat these conditions.”

“Our next steps for this research are to unravel how this compound can effectively control blood sugar levels and obesity,” Liu continued.

“The key point to address this question is to find out how it regulates food intake. Secondly, to test combination therapy with metformin, a first-line antidiabetic drug, since our preliminary study (shows) that (the) administration of both drugs works much better than either one alone. We just received a four-year grant from the NIH to support these studies,” he explained.

After reviewing this study, Mir Ali, MD, a board-certified bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, said: MNT He found the findings interesting.

“It is known that there are certain compounds in foods that help with many conditions such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure,” Ali continued. “The key is to identify these and apply them to humans. These studies were done in mice that were genetically selected to have diabetes or obesity, so clearly it will be different in humans. The next step would be to apply this to human studies.”

According to Ali, it is important that researchers continue to find new ways to treat obesity and diabetes, because there is still no perfect way to treat every patient.

“Everyone responds differently to drugs, everyone’s genetic makeup is different, so the more options we have to help people the better,” he added. “And one day they might find the key that makes it applicable to a larger number of people.”

MNT also spoke with Monique Richard, MS, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian and owner of Nutrition-In-Sight about this research. She noted that this research is not surprising, given what we know about the Mediterranean lifestyle and the benefits of olives.

“The combination of different types of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids in olives provides a unique nutritional profile,” Richard continued. “Due to (their) high fat content, mouthfeel and often savoury palatability (salt, spices, oil, herbs) olives are satiating – in other words, they can provide a feeling of satisfaction. The interaction of the fatty acid components of the olive in the cells, and therefore the interaction with appetite and insulin receptors, has also previously been identified with (the) delivery of olive leaf extract in humans due to the identified polyphenols, oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol.”

For those looking to add more olives to their diet, Richard suggests adding a serving of olives (3-8, depending on size/variety):

  • is used to make a tapenade with raw vegetables
  • as a homemade pizza or pasta topping
  • in an omelette
  • in bean, couscous or Mediterranean salads
  • minced and used as relish
  • as a snack or starter filled with pimentos, garlic, cheese or nuts
  • as finger food, literally

When it comes to olive oil, Richard said quality is important when choosing the oil.

“Look on the label for tinted glass bottles, ‘extra virgin (EVOO),’ ‘cold pressed,’ ‘organic,’ ‘imported from Spain/Italy/Greece,’” she added.

Richard advised using quality EVOO:

  • used as a base for sautéing or roasting
  • to make salad dressing

Olive oil can also be used in homemade hummus or dips, as an addition to steamed vegetables, or as an addition to homemade vegetable or bean soup.

Although olives are packed with beneficial nutrients, they are prepared and packed in brine (salt water), which is absorbed by the olives.

“If you are following a low-sodium diet, you may need to limit the amount or frequency of olive consumption, read the nutrition facts label and remember to check with your registered dietitian for more individual ideas, tips and nutritional information,” she added.

Although humans can ingest small amounts of elenolic acid from eating olives, the concentration from olive oil or olives alone is unlikely to match the amount of elenolic acid used in the study.

The researchers are now further investigating the mechanisms to determine the safety of concentrated elenolic acid for future human clinical trials.

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