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Olive Oil is Popular, But What About Olive Leaf
Olive oil is commonly recommended for eczema patients but olive leaf is just as effective. Multiple studies show that both products of olive tree share most of the same active ingredients and are equally effective in the treatment of eczema. However, olive leaf extract provides some unique medicinal benefits in the treatment of this skin disease. Read on to find out how oral and topical use of olive leaf extract can help your eczema.
by Brad Chase
Olive leaf is the leaf of olive tree, Olea europaea. Although olive oil is the more popular medicinal preparation from this tree, olive leaf and its extract are quite effective too and have unique medicinal properties.
Traditional remedies made from olive leaf are known for their antibiotic, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties as well as their ability to stimulate the immune system.
The active phytochemicals in olive leaf are mostly polyphenols and flavonoids. Common examples of these active compounds include oleuropein, oleocanthal and hydroxytyrosol.
The polyphenols of olive leaf extract are potent antioxidants. In fact, a liquid preparation made from fresh olive leaves was shown to have double the antioxidant capacity of green tea and 4 times the antioxidant capacity of vitamin C.
The high antioxidant capacity of olive leaf has been demonstrated to produce clinical benefits in multiple studies.
These antioxidants can help mop up harmful free radicals before they destroy cells and cause organ failure.
In fact, recent studies show that the antioxidant property of olive leaf is effective in the treatment of liver, colon, prostate, breast and skin cancers especially when combined with other natural antioxidants.
Besides its general antioxidant benefits, studies show that olive leaf is good for the brain and heart. Animal studies indicate that olive leaf extract can lower blood pressure, prevent the clogging of blood vessels and reduce the risk of stroke. In addition, it can help maintain the blood-brain barrier.
The 3 most powerful phytochemicals in olive leaf are oleuropein, oleocanthal and hydroxytyrosol. They are also found in olive oil.
Besides its antioxidant effect, oleuropein can also stimulate the immune system and promote fat-burning.
Hydroxytyrosol is a metabolite of oleuropein. It is an even more powerful antioxidant than oleuropein.
In fact, hydroxytyrosol is only the second most powerful natural antioxidant (after gallic acid). It has an ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity, a measure of antioxidant potency) value 10 times higher than that of green tea and twice the antioxidant capacity of coenzyme Q10.
Hydroxytyrosol is also an immunostimulant and it possesses antibiotic properties too.
Olecanthal is chemically similar to oleuropein. Besides its antioxidant property, it also has an anti-inflammatory effect that has been found similar to that of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen.
As an antioxidant, olive leaf can neutralize harmful free radicals before they destroy vital organs in the body.
With regards to eczema, the antioxidant protection offered by olive leaf is most important to the skin, gut and, to a smaller extent, liver.
The liver is the major organ responsible for the detoxification of the body. While it removes toxins from the body, it can be overwhelmed itself. When free radicals damage liver cells, they reduce liver function and allow toxins to freely circulate the body to cause serious damage in various organ-systems including the skin.
As a very potent antioxidant, olive leaf can protect the liver from such damage and, therefore, spare the body from widespread oxidative damage.
The skin is a major organ for eliminating toxins from the body. It is also the organ directly affected by eczema.
When toxins are pushed out through the skin, they can damage the lower layers and create the ideal environment for pathogens to colonize the skin.
When such pathogens colonize the skin, they increase the permeability of the layers of the skin and allow more foreign objects to reach the deep tissues of the skin. These effects cause itching, redness, dry scaly skin and skin inflammation.
Oliver leaf, as an antioxidant, can break this chain of damage before it sets in and results in eczema.
Lastly, the antioxidant effect of olive leaf may reduce the oxidative damage in the gastrointestinal tract. The state of the gut is important to general health because most of the immune system is directly wired to the gut.
Therefore, olive leaf can help prevent damage to the gut caused by harmful free radicals. This ensures that foreign substances including pathogens and toxins that trigger inflammatory reactions never get into the bloodstream.
The antimicrobial property of olive leaf is just as powerful as its antioxidant effect.
Studies show that olive leaf extract possesses antibacterial and antifungal properties. In addition, some clinical trials indicate that olive leaf is especially effective against drug-resistant bacteria.
These studies also show that olive leaf can effectively wipe out pathogenic bacteria (Campylobacter jejuni and Helicobacter pylori) and fungi (Candida albicans) known to colonize the gut. It is also active against pathogenic bacteria on the skin including Staphylococcus aureus.
Lastly, these studies confirmed that olive leaf can help arrest opportunistic infections that affect the gut after long-term antibiotic therapy.
How are these antimicrobial effects of olive leaf useful in the treatment of eczema? First, fighting skin infections can directly relieve the symptoms of eczema by stopping the damage done to skin cells and secretory gland.
Secondly, wiping out gut pathogens is the first step in treating leaky gut syndrome which has been conclusively proven to cause eczema.
In addition, by preventing opportunistic pathogens from taking over the gut, olive leaf can help restore the normal gut flora by allowing beneficial bacteria or probiotics to re-colonize the gut.
By healing the gut, olive leaf prevents toxins from reaching the blood and, therefore, reduces the dermatological presentations of systemic infections.
As an immunostimulant, olive leaf can boost the immune system by stimulating the release of immune cells to help combat pathogens and toxins.
However, the immune system has 2 major arms: “attack” and “defense”. The latter arm is part of the problem in eczema. To defend itself and contain damage to tissues, the immune system releases pro-inflammatory cytokines to different sites of injuries.
When these cytokines reach the skin, they cause local inflammation that contributes to the symptoms of eczema.
Fortunately, olive leaf also has anti-inflammatory effects as well as serving as an immune system booster.
As an anti-inflammatory agent, olive leaf (olecanthal) inhibits cyclooxygenase, an essential intermediate in the chain of reaction that leads to the release of inflammatory cytokines.
In fact, the anti-inflammatory effect of olive leaf extract has been shown to be comparable to that of ibuprofen and requires lower doses. Scientists also believe this anti-inflammatory effect is also a major contributor to the lower incidence of inflammatory diseases among people who eat Mediterranean diet.
Furthermore, olecanthal exerts its anti-inflammatory effect by inhibiting several pro-inflammatory cytokines, proteins and immune cells.
For example, it blocks interleukin (IL-1 beta) and tissue necrosis factor (TNF-alpha).
While these inhibition of pro-inflammatory factors have been shown to be effective in the treatment of degenerative joint diseases with inflammatory component, it is not far-fetched to expect the same anti-inflammatory effect for skin diseases such as eczema.
Olive leaf extract is a common ingredient of soaps and creams containing botanicals. But is there any benefit to using topical preparations of olive leaf?
Available clinical data shows that the medicinal benefits of olive leaf extract is not restricted to oral preparations. In fact, rubbing olive leaf extract on the skin can provide better results in the treatment of skin diseases such as eczema.
Topical olive leaf extract can protect the skin by its antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects.
Olive leaf extract can kill off pathogenic bacteria on the skin as well as protect skin cells and glands against damage from free radicals and microbial toxins. In addition, this medicinal herb has been demonstrated to relieve local inflammation in the skin.
Besides these established benefits, olive leaf can also soothe the skin and remove irritants from it.
Furthermore, olive leaf can help the skin retain its moisture content and prevent skin dryness that may worsen eczema.
In one Italian study, a group of researchers investigated the benefits of oleuropein for protecting the skin from sun damage.
By exposing the study participants to ultraviolet light before they rubbed on olive leaf extract or placebo (vitamin E), the researchers found that the cream made of olive leaf extract helped retained moisture in the skin (water loss reduced by 35%) and reduced redness by 22%.
These results show that topical use of olive leaf extract can help prevent dry, scaly skin in eczema as well as other related symptoms such as itching.
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