Did you know that consuming extra virgin olive oil could help prevent the effects of mercury exposure on your body? In humans, mercury exposure occurs mostly through nutritional sources, in particular contaminated fish and its associated products1. The consequences of mercury exposure can include immunotoxicity, kidney damage and various neurological disorders2. In addition, chronic mercury exposure can be a potential risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease3,4,5. Recently, researchers found that hydroxytyrosol, a phenolic compound naturally occurring in extra virgin olive oil, can counteract mercury toxicity in intact human erythrocyte cells6. These cells, also known as red blood cells, are responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the tissues and are particularly vulnerable to this toxic heavy metal7,8,9. In fact, erythrocyte cells may be primary targets of mercury toxicity, since mercury can have an anemia-inducing effect on the body10. The researchers attributed their findings to the fact that hydroxytyrosol is endowed with biological properties that can reduce cellular inflammation as well as plaque formation in the arteries11,12, likely through the compound’s ability to act as an oxygen free radical scavenger and metal chelator13.
Indeed, the aforementioned study helps strengthen the nutritional relevance of the phenolic fraction of extra virgin olive oil, particularly with respect to hydroxytyrosol, in the health promoting effects of the Mediterranean diet. According to a recent claim by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the positive effect of the phenolic fraction of olive oil on the prevention of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particle oxidation (which poses risk for cardiovascular disease) can be enforced simply by the daily consumption of 5 mg of hydroxytyrosol and its derivatives14. This amount, if supplemented by moderate amounts of extra virgin olive oil, can be easily consumed in the context of a balanced diet, especially by those vulnerable to mercury exposure. Nevertheless, it would be wise to eat your fish dishes with an extra drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, just to counterbalance any detrimental effects of mercury contamination on your body.