Scientists at the University of Illinois, in Chicago, have found that the fat in olive oil kick-starts failing hearts.
Olive oil may reverse heart failure, scientists believe, after finding it helped diseased muscle to pump blood more effectively.
The health-boosting properties of a Mediterranean Diet are well known, but until now, it has been unclear what was driving the benefits.
Now researchers at the University of Illinois have discovered that oleate, the common fat in olive oil, helps failing hearts to use body fat as fuel.
A healthy heart absorbs fat to keep pumping. But when the heart is damaged it can no longer process or store fat and so it becomes starved of energy.
Not only does the heart no longer have the fuel it needs to work properly, but the toxic fat is left in the body where it can clog up arteries.
Oleate appears to kick-start genes which produce enzymes which can break down fat so it can be absorbed by the heart.
“These genes are often suppressed in failing hearts,” said Douglas Lewandowski of the University of Illinois in Chicago.
“So the fact that we can restore beneficial gene expression, as well as more balanced fat metabolism, plus reduce toxic fat, just by supplying hearts with oleate is a very exciting finding.
“This gives more proof to the idea that consuming healthy fats can have a significantly positive effect on cardiac health.”
Around 750,000 people are living with heart failure in Britain, with 27,000 new cases each year.