Olive oil, a mainstay of the Mediterranean diet, has been associated with numerous health benefits.
Research in recent years has linked consumption of olive oil with lower risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Olive oil has anti-inflammatory properties and is rich in monounsaturated fats.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) also contains modest amounts of vitamins E and K and contains significant level of antioxidants.
With emerging data suggesting that EVOO and its bioactive compounds may also benefit gut health – notably by affecting the intestinal microbiota to benefit immune functions – researchers in Barcelona were interested to know how this might play out in pregnancy.
Would consuming these compounds during pregnancy and while breastfeeding influence the maternal microbiota, reach breastmilk, or modify the intestinal microbiota of the infant?
A team of researchers from the Faculty of Pharmacy and Food Sciences at the University of Barcelona, the Institute for Research on Nutrition and Food Safety (INSA-UB) and the Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition Networking Biomedical Research Centre (CIBEROBN) conducted a study in rats to find out.
The rat models were separated into three groups: a control group (whose diet was supplemented with water), a group whose diet was supplemented with EVOO, and another that consumed refined olive oil (ROO).
The study lasted for six weeks, accounting for three weeks gestation and three weeks of lactation.
Findings revealed that hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol derivatives, from enzymatic and microbial metabolism, were detected in plasma and lactic serum from rats administered EVOO throughout the six-week period.
“Our results support that diets enriched with EVOO could modify or even increase the phenolic content of breast milk, with potential health benefits for the infant,” noted the study authors.
Moreover, ‘promising’ levels of EVOO phenolic compounds and their metabolites were detected in offspring plasma.
The researchers believe this is the first study to address the impact of EVOO intake during lactation, and suggest its findings highlight the importance of the mother’s diet while both pregnant and breastfeeding.
“To date, several studies had described that the composition of breast milk can be affected by biological and environmental factors to which the mother is exposed, such as the mother’s diet. Therefore, the nutritional interventions during pregnancy and the breastfeeding period can have an impact on the quality of breast milk, and consequently, on the infant’s health.
“Therefore, our findings shed light on the importance of the mother’s diet during pregnancy and lactation, and they provide the base for future studies on the impact of phenolic compounds on the mother’s and the infant’s health”, conclude the study authors.
‘Nutrition during pregnancy and lactation: New evidence for the vertical transmission of extra virgin olive oil phenolic compounds in rats’
Published online May 2022
Authors: Anallely López-Yerena, Blanca Grases-Pintó, Sonia Zhan-Dai, Francisco J. Pérez-Cano, Rosa M. Lamuela-Raventos, Maria J. Rodríguez-Lagunas, Anna Vallverdú-Queralt.