Study: Olive oil consumption confers protective effects on maternal-fetal outcomes: a systematic review of the evidence. Image Credit: Zhuravlev Andrey / Shutterstock

Olive oil is beneficial for the health of the mother and fetus

There are many studies that show how olive oil affects pregnancy. In a recent study published in the journal Nutrition researchevidence for its effects on fetomaternal outcomes has been collected. The results are interesting and suggest a protective effect on these outcomes.

Study: Olive oil consumption has a protective effect on maternal and fetal outcomes: a systematic review of the evidence. ​​​​​​​Image credit: Zhuravlev Andrey / Shutterstock


Nutrition plays a vital role in the health of a pregnant woman and the outcome of her pregnancy. Olive oil, an integral part of the Mediterranean diet (MD), is a healthy source of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and phytochemicals such as polyphenols that promote beneficial outcomes. Additionally, olive oil is associated with lower levels of adverse outcomes such as gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), preeclampsia, and small for gestational age (SGA) or large for gestational age (LGA) infants.

There are different types of olive oil depending on the production method, nutritional content, taste and aroma. These include virgin olive oil (VOO) and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), the latter being the highest grade with evidence supporting its benefit as part of a cardioprotective protocol. This could be due to its antioxidant content and anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

The current review included nine studies from Spain, Denmark, Italy, the United Kingdom and Argentina. Some were so small that they included only 30 subjects, while the largest had over 35,000 women. All were from the period between 2008 and 2020.

These studies were either interventional or randomized controlled trials (RCTs), with others being observational (case-control or cohort studies). A fifth was marked as good quality, the rest as medium quality.

Fetomaternal outcomes measured included SGA and LGA, preterm birth, preeclampsia, and cardiovascular risk.

What did the study show?

Several studies have shown a significant reduction in SGA with EVOO supplementation compared to controls who restricted dietary fat intake. Regarding VOO intake, one study showed an increased risk of SGA, while two found no difference between EVOO and control groups.

Three RCTs concluded that EVOO supplementation reduced the rate of LGA, while one showed no difference in overall neonatal complications. Similarly, two showed no significant association between olive oil and risk of prematurity, one RCT and the other a large prospective cohort study. However, another RCT showed a reduced risk of prematurity with EVOO supplementation.

This intervention also showed an association with a reduced risk of GDM in two studies, but another found no difference. Overall, this study failed to find an association between the risk of pregnancy complications overall, but did show an association with reduced weight gain during pregnancy, which could indirectly increase the risk of preeclampsia. However, another paper contradicted this finding and showed that EVOO supplementation reduced the risk.

Beneficial cardiovascular effects in pregnancy and postpartum have also been observed in association with EVOO supplementation. This included a decrease in triglyceride levels, possibly through the modulation of transcriptional processes by the phenols and hydroxytyrosol in EVOO.

What are the consequences?

The results of this study show that EVOO in particular and olive oil in general are associated with a reduced risk of maternal and fetal effects, including preeclampsia, GDM, SGA and LGA. “To our knowledge, no systematic review summarizing the evidence on olive oil consumption and maternal and fetal outcomes has been conducted.”

SGA is a marker of increased risk of adverse fetal outcomes, while LGA increases the risk of birth complications. Both were shown to be reduced in association with EVOO intake, while one study of SGA showed the same association with VOO intake.

Similarly, GDM and prematurity are associated with adverse fetal outcomes, both acute and chronic. Both were found to be reduced in one or more intervention studies. The anti-diabetic effect could be due to the activity of polyphenols in EVOO, as these compounds increase insulin sensitivity. However, more studies are needed as one researcher reported an association between olive oil consumption and reduced weight gain, which could increase the risk of preeclampsia and SGA.

The reduced risk of preeclampsia reported by some studies could be due to the rich content of antioxidants and phenols in EVOO. The intervention in the one study that failed to show such a benefit may have been done too late to see effects because healthy placental invasion and remodeling, a critical step in normal placental and fetal development, occurs during the first trimester of pregnancy.

This study is very early, with significant heterogeneity in many areas. “More studies are still needed on the impact of olive oil consumption on reducing the possibility of adverse maternal and fetal outcomesHowever, the findings suggest the value of olive oil consumption during pregnancy in relation to reducing the risk of SGA and LGA and cardiovascular events, preeclampsia and GDM.

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