Dr. Prokopios Magiatis & Dr. Eleni Melliou with Olea Health capsules

Made with Greek olive oil, the new Olea Health olive oil softgel capsule, “the densest polyphenol capsule in the world” according to its website, entered the Greek market in September. Its advocates believe this low-calorie product can offer a high concentration of the olive oil polyphenols that scientific studies suggest have numerous health benefits.

Olea Health’s central health claim is based on the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) health claim, Regulation 432/2012 (page 22), "olive oil polyphenols contribute to the protection of blood lipids from oxidative stress.” This approved claim is valid only for “olive oil which contains at least 5 mg of hydroxytyrosol and its derivatives (e.g. oleuropein complex and tyrosol) per 20 g of olive oil,” which is 250 mg per 1000 g.

According to its website, Olea Health contains 10 to 12 times more polyphenols than the minimum required by the EFSA regulation. Xenia Pirounia from Olea Plus, maker of Olea Health, explains that “3 capsules of Olea Health give our system 7 to 8 mg of polyphenols. Our olive oil contains approximately 3000 mg / 1000 g [of polyphenols]. The EFSA’s health claim for olive oil is [for] 250 mg / 1000 g. If we used an olive oil with the amounts indicated by EFSA, we would have to consume 30 grams of olive oil” to get as many beneficial polyphenols as one can attain from “3 g of olive oil or 3 softgel capsules” of Olea Health.

At a workshop for Greek olive oil producers at the Chania Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Crete, Dr. Prokopios Magiatis of the University of Athens showed me a bottle of Olea Health capsules. After 15 years studying olive oil from a pharmaceutical perspective, he believes Olea Health is a safe way to get the benefits of olive oil polyphenols while reducing calorie and fat intake (as opposed to eating more olive oil with a less dense polyphenol concentration). Magiatis suggests that Olea Health may also help prevent or treat cholesterol problems, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and cancer--other things polyphenols seem to do in animal tests.

After Olea Plus Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) from Laconia, Greece won a silver award at the Olympia Health & Nutrition Awards in June for being one of the olive oils with the highest polyphenol content in the world, its producers decided to encapsulate their very bitter oil’s health benefits in a convenient softgel capsule. Xenia Pirounia explains that an “Olea Health capsule contains just olive oil with no addition of any other ingredient” inside the capsule. The total polyphenol content of the Olea Plus olive oil that was used to make Olea Health is 3018 mg / kg, with 553 mg / kg oleocanthal and 502 mg / kg oleacein. 

The Olea Plus company worked hard to revive long-forgotten ideas about olive olive production, influenced by the writings of the ancient doctor and pharmacologist Dioscorides in conjunction with the advice of the Department of Pharmacognosy at the University of Athens, which enabled them to produce their Olea Health capsule. They aimed to revive Dioscorides’s ideas about the medicinal properties of early harvest olive oil (which is made from unripe olives).

Olea Health is now being sold in selected specialty stores and pharmacies in Greece. Pirounia expects to start exporting in Europe in 2017. She adds, “our next goal is to expand to the USA and Canada.” An English-language version of their website will be ready soon, enabling North Americans and others to order online. 100 capsules--more than a month’s supply—now sell for 30 euros on their website. When Magiatis commented to an audience of producers that he thought they cost about 25 euros, impressed murmurs arose from farmers lucky to get 3.50 euros for a kilogram of their EVOO.

Some are concerned that if olive oil is available in a capsule, consumers will stop enjoying it in their food. However, Magiatis argues that “there’s room for both” the actual EVOOs and capsules offering health benefits without flavor. A new focus on high phenolic EVOOs, and greater consumer appreciation for their valuable health benefits, may offer hope to some of the struggling Greek olive farmers still looking for a way out of the economic crisis—hope in the form of a fairer price for the olive oil that too often brings them very little profit.

With Olea Health, Magiatis suggests, “the future is already here.” There are some EVOOs that are especially flavorful, with substantial health benefits; there are others that are both tasty and extremely healthy. What’s attracting more attention now is very bitter olive oil that’s mainly good for our health.

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