Oleic acid is a key fatty acid found in olive oil and is a type of omega-9 fatty acid. We don’t talk about omega-9 nearly as often as omega-3 fatty acid, but that doesn’t make omega-9 irrelevant.
Instead, omega-9 fatty acids and oleic acid specifically, have many impacts on the body. They also have significant implications for health.
So, it’s important to look at the benefits of oleic acid – along with where they come from. After all, you’ll want to get the compound into your diet regularly.
Oleic Acid Takeaways
- Oleic acid is one type of omega-9 fatty acid. It’s most commonly associated with olive oil, but you find it in other places too, like nuts, avocados and various seeds.
- Many of the health benefits from olive oil may be directly connected to the oleic acid that it contains.
- Oleic acid offers various health benefits, including improvements to cholesterol levels, blood pressure and inflammation, along with decreased heart disease risk and the potential to improve both mood and cognition.
- Our bodies naturally produce omega-9, but it’s still important to get oleic acid from your diet.
- Foods rich in oleic acid are often beneficial in their own right – making them valuable dietary choices.
Oleic Acid Benefits
Unlike omega-3, oleic acid is considered a non-essential fatty acid. This means that our bodies can produce the fat, even if we don’t get it from the diet. In contrast, omega-3 needs to come from supplements or the diet.
The non-essential aspect implies that we don’t need dietary oleic acid. But, that’s not true at all. To understand why oleic acid is important, we need to look at what the compound does in the body.
Reduces Heart Disease Risk
Oleic acid may protect against heart disease by lowering total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels (1,2,3).
Indeed, the Mediterranean diet is often considered to be cardioprotective (4). The reliance on olive oil may be a key reason for that impact.
Decreases Blood Pressure
Another effect of oleic acid is on blood pressure levels. Multiple studies have linked olive oil or oleic acid to a blood pressure decreases (5,6).
There have been various theories about the cause of this effect, including the polyphenols in olive oil (7).
However, one study compared outcomes for olive oil and soybean oil. Soybean oil has similar compounds but substantially lower oleic acid levels. The authors found that oleic acid had a significant blood pressure impact, by influencing the lipid structure of cell membranes (8).
High blood pressure is also a risk factor for heart disease. So, this effect is another way for oleic acid to be cardioprotective.
One study found that increasing monounsaturated fat intake and lowering saturated fat could significantly improve mood by reducing anger while also increasing physical activity. In that study, oleic acid was used as the source of monounsaturated fat (9).
Another study found that a lower ratio of palmitic acid to oleic acid (i.e. more oleic acid) resulted in decreased inflammation and improved cognition (10).
Research into boys with ADHD also found oleic acid levels were associated with brain plasticity, which is a measure of openness and extroversion. The outcome suggests that the fatty acid could impact behavior and possibly mood through effects on cognition (11).
High levels of dietary unsaturated fat can also decrease age-related changes to mitochondria in the brain (12).
Additionally, the Mediterranean diet may help to prevent against cognitive decline (13). There are many potential reasons for that impact. One of those is olive oil and the oleic acid that it contains. Plus, higher levels of monounsaturated fat intake have been linked to decreased cognitive decline (14).
Provides an Energy Boost
Increasing oleic acid levels may also offer extra energy (15). That’s an appealing outcome, especially when combined with the mood and cognitive benefits.
A Key Anti-Inflammatory Choice
The impact of oleic acid on inflammation (16) may offer benefits to inflammation-related conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis. This may include decreasing the pain associated with such conditions, along with lowering overall inflammation levels.
One study also showed that taking olive oil and supplementing omega-3 lead to greater benefits for rheumatoid arthritis than omega-3 alone (17). Likewise, oleic acid inhibits a receptor on the pain pathway, which may reduce the sense of pain (18).
Additionally, some evidence suggests that olive oil can decrease inflammation, an effect that may be due to the oleic acid content. Mediterranean diet approaches also have a similar effect (19).
As one study pointed out, research into the topic has used a wide range of designs, so the association has not been conclusively proven (20). Still, there are many advantages to decreasing inflammation and any ingredient with that potential should be seriously considered.
May Decrease Obesity
Research suggests that oleic acid and unsaturated fatty acids may decrease some of the inflammation involved in obesity and its progression (21). This impact suggests that oleic acid can help decrease obesity (22).
Oleic acid can also stimulate fatty acid oxidation – a process that promotes fat burning (23).
Implications for Diabetes
Decreasing fatty acid intake and increasing intake of compounds like oleic acid can help to improve responses to insulin (24). The effect may be particularly relevant for people with diabetes and those concerned with overall health.
An animal study also found that oleic acid could reverse type 2 diabetes symptoms (25), although the same effect hasn’t been proven for humans.
Plays Important Roles in the Body
Oleic acid is also involved in the general functioning of the body.
For example, it is used in myelin, which is a protective sheath that surrounds neurons. Myelin plays a key role in cell signaling. The site Mooscience offers more details about the underlying processes.
Likewise, oleic acid is associated with cellular membranes, playing a role in their structure and on the receptors that are present. Plus, it's significant for nerve growth and repair (26,27).
Provides Antioxidants and May Help Fight Aging
The oleic acid in olive oil is also a source of antioxidants. These have many benefits, including the ability to decrease DNA breaks and reduce some age-related changes (28).
Some evidence links oleic acid to cancer prevention, particularly a decreased risk of breast cancer (29,30). The effect is associated with antioxidants in oleic acid (31).
The concept of essential versus non-essential implies that only some compounds are relevant to health. But, such terms often relate just to what we need to survive – not what we need for optimum wellbeing.
For example, the official vitamin D recommendations are simply based on preventing deficiency and issues like rickets. This approach means that intakes may not be sufficient for the most benefits.
Oleic Acid Skin Benefits
You will also sometimes find oleic acid featured in skincare products. It is promoted as having various advantages, such as reducing wrinkles or fighting oxidation. Some claims also suggest that oleic acid in the diet may offer skin benefits.
This may be the case, but there currently isn’t enough evidence to support skincare claims (32).
Getting the Benefits of Oleic Acid
Because our bodies already create omega-9 fatty acids, you certainly don’t need to turn to oleic acid supplements. There’s also no need to stress about oleic acid intake, as you’re not going to face oleic acid deficiency.
Still, you may see some advantages by increasing intake of oleic acid foods. Many of these offer their own health advantages.
One fast and easy way is to simply drink olive oil, typically as a shot with some lemon juice. Alternatively, you might just rely on olive oil more in your cooking.
- This gives you access to the other beneficial compounds in olive oil too.
- Olive oil is a particularly relevant choice, as it is high in oleic acid.
- Plus, many studies into oleic acid have focused on olive oil as the source.
Some other common choices include olives themselves, avocados and avocado oil, nuts (hazelnuts are the best), seeds, eggs and even red meat.
You may also see some omega 3-6-9 supplements, which contain those three types of omega fatty acids. Supplementing omega-3 is often a good idea. But, you shouldn’t ever use a supplement with all three.
The health benefits of omega-3 are strongly associated with the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. Most people have far too much omega-6 in their system and not enough omega-3. The last thing you want to do is increase your omega-6 intake.
Oleic Acid Side Effects and Risks
Oleic acid is generally safe. After all, olive oil has a long history, particularly in the Mediterranean diet. Even so, there are some things to consider.
- High doses can be dangerous. Very high concentrations of omega-9 can be dangerous, especially in the absence of other fatty acids (33,34). But, you’re unlikely to ever reach such levels through your diet. That aside, you should never rely on a single type of fat. Instead, make sure you include many different sources of fat in your diet.
- Oleic acid may have negative reproduction impacts. This effect has only been found in one study and focused on a high fat diet in mice (35). It’s not clear whether a similar effect would occur for humans. But, the dose and experimental conditions are unlikely to be similar to human oleic oil consumption.
- There can be medication interactions. Oleic acid may interact with diabetes medications and blood pressure medications, due to the potential benefits.
Dietary Implications Are Complicated
It’s important to mention that dietary research is always difficult. Most studies will consider multiple factors and it’s often impossible to know how strictly participants were following any intervention.
Additionally, many oleic acid studies rely on olive oil as a source of the fatty acid. As such, they don’t distinguish between oleic acid impacts and other factors, like monounsaturated fatty acids and olive oil specific compounds.
Individuals also respond differently than one another based on factors like age, gender, health and many other areas. For example, blood cholesterol impacts tend to be higher for men than for women (36). This pattern means that each person may experience different outcomes from oleic acid.
Whether you get it from olive oil or another source, there are many health reasons to include oleic acid in your diet regularly.
Besides, foods like olive oil, avocado and nuts are packed with nutrients and offer advantages of their own. So, why not increase your intake a little and see what difference it makes to your health?
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