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Keywords:

  • Atherosclerosis;
  • Hydroxytyrosol;
  • Phenolic compounds;
  • Squalene;
  • Virgin olive oil

As olive oil is the main source of calories in the Mediterranean diet, a great deal of research has been devoted to characterizing its role in atherosclerosis. Virgin olive oil is an oily matrix that contains hydrocarbons, mainly squalene; triterpenes such as uvaol, erythrodiol, oleanolic, and maslinic acid; phytosterols; and a wide range of phenolic compounds comprising simple phenols, flavonoids, secoiridoids, and lignans. In this review, we analyze the studies dealing with atherosclerosis and olive oil in several species. A protective role of virgin olive oil against atherosclerosis has been shown in ApoE-deficient mice and hamsters. In the former animal, sex, dose, and dietary cholesterol are modulators of the outcome. Contradictory findings have been reported for rabbits, a circumstance that could be due to the profusion of experimental designs, differing in terms of doses and animal strains, as well as sources of olive oils. This role has yet to be fully validated in humans. Minor components of olive oil have been shown to be involved in atherosclerosis protection. Nevertheless, evidence of the potential of isolated compounds or the right combination of them to achieve the antiatherosclerotic effect of virgin olive oil is inconclusive and will undoubtedly require further experimental support.