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Man drizzling olive oil over a bowl of salad

How nitro fatty acids can lead to better heart health

26 Sep 2022

You may have heard of the many health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which involves eating a variety of vegetables, fruit, beans and pulses, nuts, whole grains and olive oil. It is not a strict regime or eating plan, but rather refers to the consumption of natural, locally available foods in Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Spain.1

Whereas those living in the Mediterranean have been experiencing the health benefits of their natural diet for generations, it has received lots of attention in recent years as scientists are now exploring link between this diet and better health, particularly cardiovascular health.

This way of eating has been associated with lower risk of heart attacks, heart failure and strokes,2 as residents of Southern European countries have shown low rates of these conditions, which originally alerted researchers to the potential benefits of their diet.3

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Nitro fatty acids

The secret seems to lie in a group of chemicals called ‘nitro fatty acids’. It’s thought that the combination of unsaturated fatty acids such as those found in olive oil and nuts and nitrate-rich vegetables such as dark-leafed lettuce can work together to form nitro fatty acids. Nitro fatty acids- made in the body after consuming leafy greens and olive oil together- can block the activity of an enzyme called ‘soluble epoxide hydrolase’. It is thought that the blocking of this enzyme can lower the blood pressure, which explains why the combination of unsaturated fatty acids and leafy greens might be to thank for the reduction in high blood pressure and the associated risks to heart health in countries where this diet is common.

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One Spanish study, published in 2013, focused on 7447 people who were at high risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and strokes. It was found that supplementing the subject’s usual diet for the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil for a period of 4.8. years reduced their combines risk of heart attacks and strokes by 30%.4 An earlier study in France found that a group of test subjects who had already had a heart attack were 72% less likely to have had another heart attack or died from heart disease after four years following a Mediterranean diet compared to the group who ate their usual diet.5

To benefit from better heart health, include this combination of unsaturated fatty acids and leafy greens in your daily diet.

Suggestions include:

  • A salad of rocket, watercress or romaine lettuce with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • Sprinkle walnuts over a spinach and ricotta pasta
  • Dip vegetable crudités into hummus made with olive oil
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.


1. [Online] https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/what-is-a-Mediterranean-diet.aspx.
2. [Online] http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1200303.
3. [Online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2684076/.
4. [Online] http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1200303.
5. [Online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9989963.