Most of us are aware of the health benefits of using olive oil, including the protection it offers against heart disease by helping control LDL (bad) cholesterol levels while raising HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Now, new study is showing that increasing your intake of olive oil may also help protect against ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects the large intestine (colon) and rectum, resulting in abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea, fever, joint pain, nausea, vomiting, and weight loss.

The study conducted by researchers at the University of East Anglia School of Medicine in Norfolk, England included more than 25,000 people, ages 40 to 65, recruited between 1993 and 1997. None of the study volunteers had ulcerative colitis at the beginning of the study. But by 2002, 22of the volunteers had developed the disorder. Researchers then compared the diets of the volunteers who had developed ulcerative colitis with those participants who didn't develop the disorder. They found that the volunteers with the highest intake of oleic acid, a monosaturated omega-9 fatty acid found in olive oil, were far less likely to develop ulcerative colitis. Oleic acid is also found in peanut oil, grapeseed oil, in butter, and some margarines.

In a press release of the research findings, lead author of the study, Andrew Hart, M.D., said, "We estimate that around half the cases of ulcerative colitis could be prevented if larger amounts of oleic acid were consumed. Two to three tablespoons of olive oil per day would have a protective effect." According to Dr. Hart, oleic acids may help protect against ulcerative colitis by blocking the chemicals that stimulate inflammation in the bowel.

While the study results look promising, scientists warn that more research needs to be done before recommendations can be made regarding the use of oleic acid in the prevention of ulcerative colitis. While all types of olive oil contain monounsaturated fat, extra virgin or virgin olive oils are the least processed and therefore provide the most health benefits.

Living with Ulcerative Colitis

 Although there's no known cause of ulcerative colitis, certain foods may worsen symptoms. To avoid flare-ups, try the following remedies:

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid high-fiber, fatty greasy, or fried foods and sauces
  • Limit or avoid altogether alcohol use and caffeinated beverages

Talk with your doctor to determine how best to treat your ulcerative colitis.