Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
Olives are native to the Mediterranean and are grown especially in Spain, Italy, and Greece. They are also now grown in countries with a similar climate such as Australia and Chile and offer many fertility-friendly plant-based nutrients.
Olive oil dates back to around 3000BC in the eastern Mediterranean and parts of Asia. For the ancient Greeks and Romans, olive oil represented femininity and spirituality and was associated with the goddess Athena.
Nutritionally, olive oil contains plenty of healthy monounsaturated fat. This type of fat, along with the Mediterranean lifestyle has been linked to various health benefits including a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, blood pressure reduction, in skincare and in reducing inflammation. Olive oil is also known to contain antibacterial and antiviral properties.
It is important to recognise that not all olive oil is the same. There are different grades of olive oil and associated standards are defined by the International Olive Council. Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality, best extra virgin olive oil you can get. To qualify as extra virgin olive oil, it is an olive oil of less than 0.8% acidity and has no taste defects. In practice, the very best extra virgin olive oils have acidity levels much lower.
In relation to fertility, olive oil contains a good amount of vitamin E which is an important antioxidant. Vitamin E was linked to fertility by the ancient Greeks. The most active form of vitamin E is Alpha-Tocopherol, whose name originates from the Greek words tokos which means ‘offspring’ and phero which means ‘to bear’. Thus, tocopherol means to ‘bear children’. It is a powerful antioxidant which is important in protecting sperm and egg DNA from free radical damage. Vitamin E is thought to improve sperm quality and motility in men. It has shown to be particularly beneficial when supplemented alongside selenium. In women, vitamin E may help regulate the production of cervical mucus, which is important for conception, due to its ability to keep sperm alive for several days. A study published by Fertility and Sterility in April, 2010, showed that vitamin E supplementation may aid in increasing the thickness of the uterine lining in women with thin uterine lining <8mm.
Olive oil also acts as an anti-inflammatory which is important in conditions such as endometriosis.
5 key reasons that indicate that extra virgin olive oil is a fertility-friendly oil:
• Rich in antioxidants that can protect sperm and egg cells from harm.
• Low in saturated fats, which can contribute to inflammation.
• High in vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin that has been found to be beneficial for the uterine lining.
• Rich in beneficial monosaturated fats, which are known to reduce inflammation.
• Abundant in omega 3 fats, which have been shown to boost reproductive hormones and promote blood flow to the uterus.
Olive oil should be stored away from light and used within 1-2 months. To obtain maximum benefit from your olive oil enjoy it cold on salad dressings or drizzled on bread or vegetables. Avoid cooking with olive oil at high temperatures as the beneficial compounds that it provides will be destroyed.
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Sanderman, E.A., Willis, S.K. & Wise, L.A. Female dietary patterns and outcomes of in vitro fertilization (IVF): a systematic literature review. Nutr J 21, 5 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-021-00757-7
Takasaki A, Tamura H, Miwa I, Taketani T, Shimamura K, Sugino N (April 2010). Endometrial growth and uterine blood flow: a pilot study for improving endometrial thickness in the patients with a thin endometrium. Fertil. Steril. 93 (6): pp1851–8.