Hydroxytyrosol - Foods That Contain It and How It Can Benefit You

Learn about the phytochemical Hydroxytyrosol

You’ve probably heard about the phytonutrient beta-carotene, but have you heard of hydroxytyrosol? Pronounced hi-drocks-i-tie-ro-sol (don’t worry, we had a hard time too).

Hydroxytyrosol is a phytonutrient found in olives, olive oil, and wines.[1] We can receive its benefits, without side effects, from them (synthetic forms and extracts can come with side effects). Nutrients—including vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals—can often be isolated or synthetic. These don’t even come close to natural nutrients in their whole food state; they are not the same. We believe in the synergistic effect of all phytonutrients. Read our helpful resource about how they are different and why natural nutrients, as opposed to isolated or synthetic, are safer and much more beneficial.

Hydroxytyrosol is a tyrosol within the polyphenol family that may help reduce cardiovascular risk, cancer risk, and more. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and plays a role in protection of low-density lipoproteins (LDL).[2] Seeing as they used a lot of olives, a major source of this hydroxytyrosol, ancient Greeks and Romans had it made when it came to this phenolic compound.

Olives were a big component of the ancient Mediterranean diet as well as other household uses including cleaning oil, lamps, perfumes, rituals, multipurpose lubricant, massages, and medicine.[3] Olives and olive oil were the main source of fat in the Mediterranean diet, providing healthful mono and polyunsaturated fats. The benefits of olives are not only due to these fats, but also to their other compounds like hydroxytyrosol.

The amount of hydroxytyrosol an olive contains depends on its quality. For instance, absorption of hydroxytyrosol was higher in individuals who consumed virgin olive oil as opposed to refined oil enriched with the phenolic compounds. And, hydroxytyrosol is more abundant in mature olives because it’s converted from another compound. Preparation processes also affect hydroxytyrosol concentrations.

Cardiovascular Health

Polyphenols are known to promote cardiovascular health. Hydroxytyrosol in particular can inhibit LDL oxidation, platelet aggregation, and other factors that play a role in the development of atherosclerosis (buildup of fatty material on artery walls). In addition, hydroxytyrosol increases antioxidant enzyme activity and phosphorylation (addition of a phosphate group) of certain activated proteins. Protein phosphorylation is a cellular regulatory mechanism; it activates or deactivates many enzymes and receptors.[4]

Cancer Prevention

Hydroxytyrosol from olives may also prove beneficial in reducing cancers. “Over the past 20 years, many studies in human beings have indicated an inverse correlation between regular fruit and vegetable consumption and development of various types of cancer,” according to Frontiers in Nutrition. “The chemoprevention by dietary phytochemicals is gaining increasing attention because of their ability to modulate a plethora of signal transduction pathways in different types of cancer.”[5] Chemoprevention is when chemicals are used to prevent or reverse carcinogenic progression to invasive cancer.

Polyphenols is one family of phytonutrients that has these chemopreventive characteristics. Specifically, hydroxytyrosol is anti-atherogenic, anti-thrombotic, and anti-inflammatory. It also has been shown to hinder progression of phases of carcinogenesis by preventing DNA damage from genotoxic molecules and by slowing rapid cell reproduction and prompting cell death in tumor cell lines (particularly in leukemia, colon cancer, breast cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, and cholangiocarcinoma).

Hydroxytyrosol might also be effective against Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). It has been shown to be effective against multiple stages of HIV life cycles by inhibiting cell-to-cell transmission and viral core antigen production.

Microbicides that inactivate or kill HIV-1 could be used to prevent HIV-1.[6] The polyphenolic compound, 5-hydroxytyrosol, is a potential microbicide due to its anti-HIV-1 activity. However, the toxicity and safety of microbicides remains a concern; some have even increased risk of infection due to abrasive and pro-inflammatory effects. In female rabbits, 5-hydroxytyrosol was shown to inhibit HIV-1 infections in all cells tested, but had low in vivo toxicity. Although, in other experimental situations and different cells it showed no in vivo toxicity. So, while there’s potential there, more research is needed.[7]

Instead of relying on synthetic medication, increasing your intake of olives and virgin olive oil can supply your body with nutrients that may help prevent HIV.

Other Benefits

Hydroxytyrosol scavenges reactive free radicals, which protects neural cells undergoing oxidative stress.[8] In this way, hydroxytyrosol may have an effect on neurodegenerative diseases and help protect the body from cognitive decline.

Its antioxidant activities—including defense against reactive oxygen species, protection of cellular molecules, and prevention of developing degenerative diseases—can fight atherosclerosis, cardiovascular diseases, skin, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes mellitus, and metabolic syndrome.[9]


One study in the journal Biomedical Dermatology researched hydroxytyrosol’s anti-inflammatory effect in skin. Hydroxytyrosol was observed to decrease the expression of inflammatory interleukins. Researchers demonstrated that hydroxytyrosol has anti-inflammatory and antiaging effects on human dermal fibroblasts damaged by ultraviolet A (UVA), a type of ultraviolet light.[10]

There are various biological, physical, and chemical factors that cause skin to age. For example, skin aging occurs due to continuous exposure to ultraviolet radiation. UVA ray damage may contribute to the production of reactive oxygen species, causing cell death. If this happens consistently within the skin, tissues and cells can become damaged too. This can also lead to diseases like cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart diseases.

Also, in skin, ultraviolet rays cause collagen generation to decrease, which damages connective tissues in the dermal skin layer. UVA also causes protein denaturation and pigmentation. Hydroxytyrosol in olives is effective in protecting against damage and stress to cells, inhibiting their aging.


Obesity is another health condition that can be better managed by the beneficial nutrients in the olive plant. Obesity can also lead to other health complications and increase risk of chronic diseases. And although there are many anti-obesity drugs, these come with unpleasant side effects like headaches, vomiting, and more.

Natural products as well as other therapies including diet changes, exercise, and other behavior modifications, provide a better treatment for obesity. One study showed that olive leaf extracts (high in hydroxytyrosol) reduced body weight and adipose tissue and improved the lipid profile of rats. Moreover, it reduced elevated liver enzymes, liver inflammation, and cell death.[11]

Nevertheless, eating the whole plant food is much better than consuming an extract from it. All the compounds within the plant together are balanced and stable, working together to provide health benefits. Taking away some of those compounds, or isolating a single one, can decrease the nutrients’ potency and effects.

The Last Bite

The phytonutrient hydroxytyrosol can contribute to many health benefits. It may help prevent many diseases including cardiovascular diseases, cancers, HIV, obesity, and others. Olives and virgin olive oil are foods rich in hydroxytyrosol. Many ancient civilizations not only ate olives, but used them for cleaning, lamps, and medicinal treatment. Increase your intake of olives to receive more hydroxytyrosol. You can incorporate olives into pastas, tapenade, salad, or stew.

[1] “Showing All Foods in Which the Polyphenol Hydroxytyrosol Is Found,” Phenol-Explorer, accessed July 20, 2020, http://phenol-explorer.eu/contents/polyphenol/674.

[2] Cristina Vilaplana-Pérez et al., “Hydroxytyrosol and Potential Uses in Cardiovascular Diseases, Cancer, and AIDS,” Frontiers in Nutrition (Frontiers Media S.A., October 27, 2014), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4428486/.

[3] Mark Cartwright, “The Olive in the Ancient Mediterranean,” Ancient History Encyclopedia (Ancient History Encyclopedia, July 15, 2020), https://www.ancient.eu/article/947/the-olive-in-the-ancient-mediterranean/.

[4] Fatima Ardito et al., “The Crucial Role of Protein Phosphorylation in Cell Signaling and Its Use as Targeted Therapy (Review),” International journal of molecular medicine (D.A. Spandidos, August 2017), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5500920/.

[5] Cristina Vilaplana-Pérez et al., “Hydroxytyrosol and Potential Uses in Cardiovascular Diseases, Cancer, and AIDS,” Frontiers in Nutrition (Frontiers Media S.A., October 27, 2014), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4428486/.

[6] R. Scott Mcclelland and Robert W. Coombs, “Sex and Gender-Specific Issues in HIV Pathogenesis,” Microbicide - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics (Principles of Gender-Specific Medicine, 2004), https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/microbicide.

[7] Luis M. Bedoya et al., “Hydroxytyrosol: a New Class of Microbicide Displaying Broad Anti-HIV-1 Activity,” AIDS (London, England) (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, November 28, 2016), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5106087/.

[8] Akhlaq A. Farooqui and Tahira Farooqui, “Effects of Mediterranean Diet Components on Neurodegenerative Diseases,” Hydroxytyrosol - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics (Academic Press, 2018), https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/hydroxytyrosol.

[9] Stefania Bulotta et al., “Beneficial Effects of the Olive Oil Phenolic Components Oleuropein and Hydroxytyrosol: Focus on Protection against Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases,” Journal of Translational Medicine (BioMed Central, January 1, 1995), https://translational-medicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12967-014-0219-9.

[10] Seeun Jeon and Mina Choi, “Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Aging Effects of Hydroxytyrosol on Human Dermal Fibroblasts (HDFs),” Biomedical Dermatology (BioMed Central, July 24, 2018), https://biomeddermatol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s41702-018-0031-x.

[11] Ines Fki et al., “Comparative Study on Beneficial Effects of Hydroxytyrosol- and Oleuropein-Rich Olive Leaf Extracts on High-Fat Diet-Induced Lipid Metabolism Disturbance and Liver Injury in Rats,” BioMed Research International (Hindawi, January 8, 2020), https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2020/1315202/.