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Study: Olive oil could help failing hearts

A new study found that olive oil improved the hearts of rats with heart failure. More research is needed, but the findings could have implications for humans as well.

The study, published in the journal Circulation, removed hearts from rats with heart failure to study the effects of fat on the hearts. The scientists kept the rat hearts beating, treating some of the hearts with oleate, a substance found in olive oil and canola oil, and some with palmitate, a substance found in palm oil, animal fat, and dairy products.

The hearts reacted differently to the two types of fat, leading researchers to believe that the oleate in olive oil could have a positive effect on heart health. The hearts that were given palmitate "looked like failing hearts," E. Douglas Lewandowski, study author and the director of the University of Illinois at Chicago Center for Cardiovascular Research, told Time. But in the hearts that were given oleate, the cells' fat content was restored to normal, and the hearts "contracted better and showed normalized genes that help in fat metabolism."

"We didn't think it would have such profound effects," Lewandowski told Time. "When we think about normalizing the metabolism, it's so far upstream of so many disease processes that it's very exciting."

In humans, heart failure develops over time as high blood pressure makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood, Time notes. More research, especially on humans, is needed, though, to conclude that olive oil will have similar effects on human hearts as it did on the rat hearts.