Antioxidants are incredibly important because they help protect your cells against free radicals, which are thought to play a significant role in numerous health issues. You’ve probably heard a lot about the fact that antioxidants can be found in foods and supplements like green tea, vitamin C, vitamin E, CoQ10 and alpha-lipoic acid. But actually, the world’s most powerful antioxidant is something you may have never even heard of –– it’s a little polyphenol called hydroxytyrosol.
Hydroxytyrosol is truly the superstar of antioxidants – the most powerful discovered to date! It has an ORAC value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity – its ability to absorb cell-damaging free radicals) of 68,576 – which is considered to be 15 times higher than green tea and 3 times higher than CoQ10.
It is not well-known yet because its discovery, and extensive studies of its properties, are so recent. Yet hydroxytyrosol is already being recognized by scientists for its powerful anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant and cardioprotective properties.
What’s So Special About Hydroxytyrosol?
Hydroxytyrosol is primarily found in the olive – its fruit, leaves and pulp. It was first discovered and extracted from the wastewater that resulted when green olives were rinsed in the process of making olive oil.
For decades olive oil has been known for its many healthy properties. It has long been noted that Mediterranean countries have lower rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer than other Western countries. And since the most characteristic element of the Mediterranean diet is olive oil, researchers began studying it, looking for the compound that was responsible for the anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering effects.
Traditionally, the benefits of olive oil have been ascribed to its oleic acid content. However, other foods like pork and chicken are also rich in oleic acid but do not provide the same cardiovascular protection as olive oil. So scientists began to search for other properties of olive oil that might be responsible for its health-promoting effects.
That’s when they found hydroxytyrosol – the polyphenol thought to be responsible for olive oil’s anti-inflammatory effects. Its ability to absorb free radicals and protect cells and mitochondria from damage is quite impressive.
Hydroxytyrosol boasts the highest level of free radical absorption activity ever reported for a natural antioxidant.
Hydroxytyrosol has some other very special characteristics that contribute to its effectiveness. It is:
- Rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and tissues, where it can perform its free radical scavenging duties.
- The only phenol that is able to cross the blood-brain barrier, which allows it to also absorb free radicals throughout the central nervous system.
- A metabolite of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which means it may play a role in neuroprotection.
- Both fat and water soluble, giving it the highest bioavailability of any antioxidant.
The Science Behind Hydroxytyrosol
In numerous human, animal and in vitro studies, hydroxytyrosol has been shown to:
- Reduce markers/indicators of inflammation including IL-10, PEG-1, C-reactive protein, COX-2, TNF-a, iNOS and others.(1)
- Support healthy mitochondrial function and significantly increase ATP energy production.(2)
- Help suppress bone loss.(3)
- Help improve blood lipid profiles.(4)
- Boost eye health.(5)
- Have a therapeutic effect on the cardiovascular system.(6)
- Protect against oxidative DNA damage in human breast cells.(9)
- Reduce the effects of peripheral neuropathy.(10)
Additional research shows that hydroxytyrosol holds great promise for a wide variety of potential health benefits.
Neuroprotective Effects of Hydroxytyrosol
A two-part German study in 2007 investigating the effect of hydroxytyrosol on mitochondrial membranes in the brains of mice concluded, “…the ex vivo data provide the first evidence of neuroprotective effects of oral hydroxytyrosol intake.”(7)
In 2010, the same group of researchers conducted a study to determine whether hydroxytyrosol reduces the risk of age-dependent neurodegeneration and cognitive decline. They concluded, “The results we obtained mainly confirm our previous observation of promising cytoprotection of brain cells…”(8)
Purity and Potency: The hydroxytyrosol in ProHealth’s Hydroxytyrosol Extreme is extracted from organic olive leaves and is the first pure hydroxytyrosol sold in the U.S. It contains a minimum of 25% hydroxytyrosol, which means you get 25 mg of pure hydroxytyrosol per 100 mg capsule.
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Safety: Hydroxytyrosol has an excellent safety profile. No adverse effects have been demonstrated even at very high doses. The FDA has granted hydroxytyrosol GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status.
Dosage: The suggested dosage as a dietary supplement is one 100 mg capsule daily, which provides 25 mg of pure hydroxytyrosol, or as otherwise recommended by your health care professional.
Hydroxytyrosol is the most powerful natural antioxidant currently known. Well-documented studies confirm its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant and cardioprotective health benefits. Although still relatively new to most people, hydroxytyrosol promises to soon become a staple in natural health care.
This article, originally published June 22, 2012, was updated on December 17, 2019.
Karen Lee Richards is ProHealth’s Editor-in-Chief. A fibromyalgia patient herself, she co-founded the nonprofit organization now known as the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) in 1997 and served as its vice-president for eight years. She was also the executive editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE magazine. After leaving the NFA, Karen served as the Guide to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the New York Times website About.com, then worked for eight years as the Chronic Pain Health Guide for The HealthCentral Network before coming to ProHealth. To learn more about Karen, see “Meet Karen Lee Richards.
1. Sanchez-Fidalgo S, et al. Influence of extra virgin olive oil diet enriched with hydroxytyrosol in a chronic DSS colitis model. Eur J Nutr. 2012 Jun;51(4):497-506. DOI: 10.1007/s00394-011-0235-y
2. Hao J, et al. Hydroxytyrosol promotes mitochondrial biogenesis and mitochondrial function in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. J Nutr Biochem. 2010 Jul;21(7):634-44. DOI: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2009.03.012
3. Hagiwara K, et al. Olive polyphenol hydroxytyrosol prevents bone loss. Eur J Pharmacol. 2011 Jul 15;662(1-3):78-84. DOI: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2011.04.023
4. Gonzalez-Santiago M, et al. One-month administration of hydroxytyrosol, a phenolic antioxidant present in olive oil, to hyperlipemic rabbits improves blood lipid profile, antioxidant status and reduces atherosclerosis development. Atherosclerosis. 2006 Sep;188(1):35-42. DOI: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2005.10.022
5. Zhu L, et al. Hydroxytyrosol protects against oxidative damage by simultaneous activation of mitochondrial biogenesis and phase II detoxifying enzyme systems in retinal pigment epithelial cells. J Nutr Biochem. 2010 Nov;21(11):1089-98. DOI: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2009.09.006
6. Vazquez-Velasco M, et al. Effects of hydroxytyrosol-enriched sunflower oil consumption on CVD risk factors. Br J Nutr. 2011 May;105(10):1448-52. DOI: 10.1017/S0007114510005015
7. Schaffer S, et al. Hydroxytyrosol-rich olive mill wastewater extract protects brain cells in vitro and ex vivo. J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Jun 27;55(13):5043-9. DOI: 10.1021/jf0703710
8. Schaffer S, et al. Cytoprotective effects of olive mill wastewater extract and its main constituent hydroxytyrosol in PC12 cells. Pharmacol Res. 2010 Oct;62(4):322-7. DOI: 10.1016/j.phrs.2010.06.004
9. Warleta, F, et al. Hydroxytyrosol Protects against Oxidative DNA Damage in Human Breast Cells. Nutrients 2011, 3(10), 839-857. DOI: 10.3390/nu3100839
10. Ristagno G, et al. Hydroxytyrosol Attenuates Peripheral Neuropathy in Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetes in Rats. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2012, 60 (23), pp 5859–5865. DOI: 10.1021/jf2049323
Note: This information has not been reviewed by the FDA. It is for general information purposes; is not intended to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any illness, condition or disease; and should not replace the personal attention of a qualified healthcare professional. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.