Olive Oil Combined With Sleep Could Reduce Risk of Stroke and Heart Attack

The Mediterranean diet staple olive oil could help you avoid heart attacks and stroke when combined with sleep.

Researchers from the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto found that levels of an important protein increase after eating foods high in unsaturated fats, like olive oil. Published in Nature Communications on Thursday, the study revealed that that protein can inhibit a key cause of bleeding and cardiovascular diseases.

The plasma protein that foods high in unsaturated fats can increase is called Apolipoprotein A-IV, or ApoA-IV. The higher the rates of ApoA-IV, the lower the rates of cardiovascular disease. ApoA-IV can block the platelet surface glycoproteins GPIIbIIIa, or integrin αIIβ3. This platelet receptor helps platelets in the blood clump together, called platelet aggregation. This can block blood flow, which causes thrombosis.

"Platelet aggregation can save lives because it can stop bleeding in damaged vessels," said Dr. Heyu Ni, Platform Director for Hematology, Cancer and Immunological Diseases at Keenan Research Centre and principal investigator of the study, said in a statement. "But we usually don't want platelets to block blood flow in the vessels. This is thrombosis, and if vessel occlusion occurs in the heart or brain, it can cause heart attack, stroke or death." According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year 790,000 Americans have a heart attack and around 795,000 Americans have a stroke.

After each meal, platelets are stimulated, which means they can bond together easier. When ApoA-IV increases in circulating blood after eating unsaturated fat, it can change its shape to support increased blood flow, so the risk of heart attack and stroke also decreases.

"This is the first study to link ApoA-IV with platelets and thrombosis," Dr. Ni said. "With this work, we have also explained why higher levels of ApoA-IV can slow down plaque buildup in blood vessels, known as atherosclerosis, because this process is also related to platelet function." The researchers also found that ApoA-IV has a circadian rhythm that causes it to be most active overnight and least active in the morning.

Olive Oil Bottles
Olive oil bottles are lined in a factory in Dos Hermanas, Spain. Levels of an important protein increase after eating foods high in unsaturated fats, like olive oil. MARCELO DEL POZO/REUTERS

"Mother Nature wants us to sleep well," Dr. Ni said. "So, we are protected by this protein while we sleep, and most likely to experience a cardiovascular event after waking up in the morning."

This means that when someone eats foods high in unsaturated fat, like olive oil, as well as follows appropriate sleep patterns, the ApoA-IV protein could help protect them against heart attacks and strokes. The scientists hope future studies can reveal how to use this research to create therapies targeted at cardiovascular disease.