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24/04/2020 - Press release

Biomolecules from olive oil may have beneficial effects on blood vessel health

The results have just been published in the scientific journal Food Chemistry

Up to now, it was not known what happened in the human body after maslinic acid and oleanolic acid were consumed in diet-compatible quantities, in other words, what happened from the moment they were ingested until their total elimination from the body, what is referred to as pharmacokinetics. Furthermore, information on the biological activity of these biomolecules in the human body is very scarce in the scientific literature. 

Using a method for determining oleanolic and maslinic acids in plasma developed by the Integrated Pharmacology and Systems Neuroscience Research Group at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM), and the Barcelona Mar Health Park Consortium node of the Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition (CIBERobn) network, as part of the NUTRAOLEUM research project, a clinical trial on humans has evaluated the pharmacokinetics of these two triterpenic acids from the olive tree after the ingestion of olive oils enriched in these biomolecules at two different concentrations. In addition, the effect of these triterpenic acids on endothelial function has also been studied, revealing that they contribute to preserving blood vessel health and preventing arteriosclerosis.

The nutritional trial consisted of developing an extra virgin olive oil into which these natural biomolecules (maslinic and oleanolic acids), extracted from the olive itself using clean technology, were incorporated and which was then administered to 54 volunteers. Two doses were evaluated, according to a double-blind, randomised crossover design. In the nutritional intervention in healthy adults, it was observed that the levels of both maslinic and oleanolic acid increased in biological fluids in a dose-dependent way. The bioavailability of maslinic acid, in other words, the quantity and velocity with which it goes into circulation and thereby reaches its site of action, was greater than that of oleanolic acid. The intake of triterpenic acids was associated with improved endothelial function. This is the first study in the world on the pharmacokinetics of maslinic acid and its in vivo effects on endothelial function in humans.

The pharmacokinetics of triterpenic acids were also modelled to better understand their distribution in the body. This is important for determining the dose (quantity that must be present, e.g., in the oil) and the intervals at which they should be taken. Their metabolism had already been described in a previous publication by the same NUTRAOLEUM project team (ANAL CHIM ACTA , October 2017.

Integrated Pharmacology and Systems Neuroscience research group

This type of nutritional clinical trial is not very common in Spain. The trial involving the functional oils was carried out in Granada at the Andalusian Public Health Service, coordinated by FIBAO between January and June 2014, under the direction of Dr. María Isabel Covas Planells, a researcher at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute at that time. After several years of study, the research has borne fruit, and has generated valuable information that is pioneering at the international level, in the world of olive oils and food chemistry, making it possible to understand the bioavailability of these two biomolecules from the olive tree and their functions with regard to human cardiovascular health. 

The results have been published in the March 2020 edition of the scientific journal FOOD CHEMISTRY (

The outcome of the study paves the way for new research projects to be launched in the near future, to confirm and expand these results and to promote the health claim that oils enriched with triterpenic acids can improve human endothelial function. On the other hand, thanks to this study, the pharmacokinetics of maslinic acid in humans have been revealed. This will serve as a basis for work on these olive tree biomolecules in other health functions, including research into cancer, a subject that is also currently being studied by other groups at the Universities of Granada and Jaén.

The close collaboration between the multidisciplinary team comprising researchers from FIBAO in Granada, the departments of Integrated Pharmacology and Systems Neuroscience and Cardiovascular Risk and Nutrition at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute of Barcelona (IMIM), and the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (INYTA) of the University of Granada, together with the companies that sponsored the clinical trial, from the NUTRAOLEUM Consortium, has made it possible to achieve these magnificent scientific results.

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