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"And the dove came in to him in the evening, and lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off. So Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth."
(Genesis 8 : 11)
After the Great Flood we didn't hear too much about the olive leaf for a long time. Obviously this was a hard act to follow.
In a much later biblical time (Ezekiel 47 : 12), God speaks of a tree: "The fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine."
Was it the olive tree?
In Revelations, at the very end of the New Testament, there is an angelic vision of a "tree of life" whose leaves "were for the healing of the nations." Today, as modern medicine increasingly embraces phytochemicals it is interesting to speculate about the biblical "tree of life."
Again, was it perhaps the olive tree?
The ancient Egyptians may be been the first to put the olive leaf to practical use. They regarded it as a symbol of heavenly power, and in keeping with that belief, they extracted its oil and used it to mummify their kings.
Later cultures found the leaf was better utilized for the living than the dead. Over the ages, there is documentation that it was a popular folk remedy for combating fevers.
The first formal medical mention of the olive leaf - an account describing its ability to cure severe cases of fever and malaria -- ocurred about 150 years ago. In 1854, the Pharmaceutical Journal carried a report by one Daniel Hanbury and contained the following simple healing recipe:
Boil a handful of leaves in a quart of water down to half its original volume. Then administer the liquid in the amount of a wineglass every 3 or 4 hours until the fever is cured.
The author said he discovered the effective tincture in 1843 and had used it successfully. This method became well known in England for treating sick Britons returning from His or Her Majesty's tropical colonies. The author believed that a bitter substance in the leaves was the key healing ingredient.
He was right.
Decades later, scientists isolated a bitter substance from the leaf and named it oleuropein. It was found to be one ingredient in a compound produced by the olive tree that makes it particularly robust and resistant against insect and bacterial damage. From a technical angle, oleuropein is an iridoid, a structural class of chemical compounds found in plants. It is present in olive oil, throughout the olive tree, and is, in fact, the bitter material that is eliminated from the olives when they are cured.
In 1962, an Italian researcher reported that oleuropein lowered blood pressure in animals. This triggered a flurry of scientific interest in the olive leaf.
Other European researchers confirmed this interesting finding. In addition, they found it could also increase blood flow in the coronary arteries, relieve arrhythmias, and prevent intestinal muscle spasms.
Around this time, a Dutch researcher determined the active ingredient in oleuropein to be a substance he called elenolic acid. It was found to have a powerful anti-bacterial effect.
By the late 1960's, research by scientists at Upjohn, a major American pharmaceutical company, showed that elenolic acid also inhibited the growth of viruses. In fact, it stopped every virus that it was tested against. Among others, the substance was found to counteract a variety of viruses associated with the common cold of humans.
Moreover, a number of laboratory experiments at this time with calcium elenolate, a salt of elenolic acid, demonstrated a strong effect against not just viruses, but bacteria and parasitic protozoans as well.
The compound worked effectively at low concentrations without any harmful influence on host cell mechanisms, the American researchers concluded. That meant they believed it to be extremely safe and non-toxic, even at high doses.
Following test tube experiments, the pharmaceutical company launched animal tests. Experiments showed the compound was indeed extremely well tolerated. There was a hitch, however. In the body of an animal, the substance rapidly attached to protein in blood serum. For all intents and purposes, this meant calcium elenolate was of no use. The binding action essentially took it "out of action," rendering it ineffective. As a result of this obstacle, research into the compound as a potential virus and bacteria killing pharmaceutical drug was dropped.
Nevertheless, research and interest in olive leaf extracts has moved forward, primarily in Europe. Among the most recent findings are these:
* In a series of experiments, oleuropein was found to inactivate bacteria by apparently dissolving the outer lining of microbes.
* At the University of Milan Pharacological Sciences, researchers found that oleuropein inhibited oxidation of low-density lipoproteins, the so-called "bad cholesterol" involved in heart and aterial disease. This revelation, if confirmed by further research, suggests that oleuropein may contain antioxidant properties similar to other phytochemical compounds. Medical researcher Morton Walker, D.P.M., writing about olive leaf extract in the July 1996 issue of the Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, comments that the intake of flavonoids "is correlated with a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease indicated that the daily intake of olive oil and/or olive leaf extract containing phenols will likely bring on a similar result." At the present time, the cardiovascular research community is excited about such actions. Studies have shown that some phytochemicals can reduce the harmful oxidation of cholesterol as well as slow down the accelerated clumping of blood platelets that can lead to dangerous clots.
* At Spain's University of Granada, pharmacologists determined that olive leaf extract causes relaxation of arterial walls in laboratory animals. Such results suggest a possible benefit for hypertension, an effect first mentioned by researchers more than 30 years ago.
* In Tunis, researchers found that aqueous extract of olive leaves reduced hypertension, blood sugar, and the level of uric acid in rodents. This finding again indicates potential in the treatment of hypertension, as well as diabetes and heart disease. An elevated uric acid level is a risk factor for heart disease.
Remember the biochemical snag mentioned earlier -- that elenolic acid binds with proteins in the body to nullify any therapeutic use? The problem has been overcome and the door opened for the development of effective olive leaf extract supplements.
Such products are now available, containing oleuropein and synergistic olive leaf extracts, including flavonoids.
The medicinal firepower is there.
The safety is there.
The added benefit of other phytochemicals is there. In short, we now have an exciting new herbal with a promising future.
For the record, the researchers at Upjohn found calcium elenolate effective in test tube experiments against the following viruses: herpes, vaccinia, pseudorabies, Newcastle, Coxsacloe A 21, encepthlomyocarditis, polio 1, 2, and 3, vesicular stomititus, sindbis, reovirus, Moloney Murine leukemia, Rauscher Murine leukemia, Moloney sarcoma, and many influenza and parainfluenza types.
They found it effective against these bacteria and parasitic protozoans: lactobacillus plantarum W50, brevis 50, pediococcus cerevisiae 39, leuconostoc mesenteroides 42, staphylococcus aureus, bacillus subtilis, enterobacteraerogenes NRRL B-199, E. cloacae NRRL B-414, E. coli, salamonella tyhimurium, pseudomonas fluorescens, P. solanacearum, P. lachrymans, erwinia carotovora, E. tracheiphila, xanthomonas vesicatoria, corynesbacterium Michiganese, plasmodium falciparum, virax and malariae.
The researchers credit a number of unique properties possessed by the olive leaf compound for the broad killing power:
* An ability to interfere with critical amino acid production essential for viruses.
* An ability to contain viral infection and/or spread by inactivating viruses or by preventing virus shedding, budding or assembly at the cell membrane.
* The ability to directly penetrate infected cells and stop viral replication.
* In the case of retroviruses, it is able to neutralize the production of reverse transcriptase and protease. These enzymes are essential for a retrovirus, such as HIV, to alter the RNA of a healthy cell.
* It can stimulate phagocytosis, an immune system response in which cells ingest harmful microorganisms and foreign matter.
The research suggests that this may be a "true anti-viral" compound because it appears to selectively block an entire virus-specific system in the infected host. It thus appears to offer healing effects not addressed by pharmaceutical antibiotics.
Clinically, the olive leaf extract has been used for a relatively short time. Health professionals began using it early in 1995 when it first became available. Although we do not have long-term perspectives as yet, initial results are very positive. We see a very promising and unique herbal with multiple applications. It shows considerable therapeutic action against many common conditions. In short, it appears to be living up to its unique background and expectations.
From research and clinical experience to date, we can say that supplemental olive leaf extract may be beneficial in the treatment for conditions caused by, or associated with, a virus, retrovirus, bacterium, or protozoan. Among such conditions are influenza, the common cold, meningitis, Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), encephalitis, herpes I and II, human herpes virus 6 and 7, shingles, HIV/ARC/AIDS, chronic fatigue, hepatitis B, pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhea, malaria, dengue, bacteremia, severe diarrhea, blood poisoning, and dental, ear, urinary tract and surgical infections.
In our clinic, we use olive leaf extract for a variety of infectious and chronic conditions. We also believe that many people who lead stressful lives or who may be particularly susceptible to colds and viruses may benefit from long-term use of olive leaf extract as a preventive agent.
As I mentioned earlier, I am constantly surprised by unexpected benefits reported by patients. This indicates that we are perhaps just scratching the surface in our understanding of phytochemical benefits. Patients have told me about improved psoriasis, normalization of arrhythmias (heart beat irregularities), and less pain from hemorroids, toothaches and chronically achy joints.
I myself cured a chronic toenail fungual infection after starting on the supplement. It had not responded to the many other nutrients that I take.
One woman with bad allergies reported significant improvement and a level of energy she hadn't felt for years.
One elderly male with severe arrhythmia told me his condition had vastly improved in about eight days just from taking olive leaf extract alone. A woman with mild arrhythmia said her condition improved substantially while she took the supplement and then slowly became irregular again after she ran out.
We know from the oleuropein research done in the 1960s that the substance improves blood flood to the heart and acts to normalize arrhythmias. Currently, we are learning much about the cardiovascular benefits of the phytochemical compounds found in grape seeds, onions, kale, green beans, broccoli, and other vegetables. It will be interesting to see what benefits the particular phytochemicals in olive leaf extract produce for heart and arterial health.
Phil Selinsky, a naturopathic doctor at the Institute for Holistic Studies in Santa Barbara, and biochemist Arnold Takemoto, who has been developing patient nutritional programs on behalf of physicians in Arizona for 15 years, have found olive leaf extract to be an effective addition to their array of natural healing tools.
After using the supplement in dozens of cases for over a year, Selinsky is impressed with the benefits and looks forward to continued use and greater understanding about its most effective applications.
There is no doubt that olive leaf extract has real healing power. In a moment I will go into much greater detail on how it has helped patients.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that like any nutritional supplement it should not be considered a cure-all or panacea. In holistic practices such as mine, individual supplements are part of a comprehensive program that includes better diet, exercise, and stress control methods. That's how we maximize health and minimize symptoms.
In such a program, a patient may start with supplement X, Y and Z, get involved in an exercise program, and experience perhaps 50 percent relief for a given condition. That's a lot of relief but then we keep trying to improve the situation. We now add another supplement, let's say the olive leaf extract, and we get another degree of improvement, often quite large. In this manner, we continually tailor the program of an individual patient for the best results. And in this scheme of things, olive leaf extract is making a very positive contribution. It complements all the good things patients are doing.
There is always the possiblity that one ingredient, one supplement, can fill a large gap or particular need in the body and by itself lead to major improvement. We see that happen all the time. But usually it is all the elements in a nutritional program that work together -- like a team of horses pulling a wagon -- that gets the job done most effectively.
Biochemist Arnold Takemoto puts it this way: "Olive leaf extract is not a single magic-bullet. There are very few such things, especially in non-pharmaceutical medicine. In many cases it takes a whole lot more than just one ingredient to get over a particular condition. Yet I find it a very valuable addition against chronic fatigue syndrome and many other viral conditions, especially those that are more tenacious. It fills a hole that we haven't been able to fill before."
In the Townsend Letter article, Takemoto told Morton Walker that he has "yet to discover another herbal substance that accomplishes antimicrobially what this substance achieves."
Takemoto went on to say that Lisa Weinrib, M.D., one of the physicians he works with, treats many cases of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.
She has noticed that patients with these problems exhibit much improvement from use of the extract, according to Takemoto. "It's the missing link that functions as an antiviral and antiretroviral agent by slowing down the organism's reproductive cycle. A slowdown...allows the patient's immune system to go on the attack."
Takemoto says olive leaf extract has helped patients eliminate stubborn viral infections they have had for years. One patient, who had suffered from shingles (herpes zoster) for nine years, experienced complete relief within two days of starting olive leaf extract and other supplements.
"In my approach," Takemoto says, "I target key antibody responses for specific viruses, stimulate the immune system, and with olive leaf extract attempt to inhibit the reproduction of the virus. It takes everything to get over some of these real chronic conditions."
One of the most frequent comments we hear from patients after they start taking olive leaf extract is that they feel more energetic and have a greater sense of well-being. Many want to continue the supplement even after the treatment program has cleared up or reduced specific problems.
Some patients are energized to the point that they inquire whether there is an "upper" in the product. There is not. It simply generates a natural "upper" effect. Healthy people who take it say they also feel this infusion of energy.
One of my patients is an 18-year-old professional ice-skater who says that one or two olive leaf extract tablets a day helps her sustain the high energy level she needs for practice and performance.
In my clinic, as in many others, fatigue is the No. 1 complaint. I am not refering to serious chronic fatigue situations but just routine tiredness, likely caused by a combination of consuming a dead food diet and not exercising. The average person, of course, is not going to change eating habits and is not going to go on a regular exercise program. In such cases, the olive leaf extract looks like a good source of pep for the pepless.
In my experience, olive leaf extract also has helped in many chronic fatigue cases, even the most serious. One female patient described to me what she called a "really quite unbelievable" recovery within one month of taking the supplement.
"For the last few years I have not been feeling like myself. Iíve had little energy and enthusiasm for anything. This is not my usual nature. I attributed it to weight, unemployment and just being down. My head was always somewhat achy and I couldnít figure out why. The only way I could describe it would be as a constant low-degree headache which never left.
"I started taking olive leaf extract and noticed an immediate elevation of my spirits. What I liked about the product was that it was effective but gentle and didnít make me hyper or unable to sleep. Quite the contrary, I slept better.
"After a few days I began to notice more energy and a stronger sense of well-being. The cobwebs in my brain started to diminish. I also noticed a bad shoulder and a bad knee started to get better. The pain associated with these joints remarkably improved.
"The only side-effects I had were a couple of headaches in the beginning which disappeared with some aspirin. I started to feel much, much better. It was amazing to see the fatigue disappear and my general health improve. I couldnít believe I felt so well. I stopped taking the product after 30 days and experienced no withdrawal or anything. I simply felt better and that has stayed the same for the last 60 days without the product."
Another female patient with Epstein-Barr Virus reported that the supplement "has helped me very much in overcoming the tiredness I feel. It has given me energy."
For some very sick individuals, including people with chronic fatigue syndrome or particularly heavy loads of virus or bacteria in their bodies, olive leaf extract may possibly generate detoxification symptoms -- known as the "die-off effect" -- that may be unpleasant.
Such people may actually feel worse for a short time before feeling better. As an example, many chronic fatigue patients suffer from an associated depression. Patients of mine who toughed it out through the"die-off" period emerged highly energized and no longer depressed.
The "die-off effect," or Herxheimer Reaction as it is medically called, refers to symptoms generated by a detoxification process. If you are sick and use this product, you should be aware of the possibility. For this reason it may be advisable to consult first with a holistic health practitioner before using it.
If you have ever used Nystattin to fight yeast infections, you are probably familiar with this situation. Nystattin kills yeast. As the body becomes full of dead yeast, you may experience a variety of detox symptoms. Symptoms may intensify to the point where you need to stop or reduce the dosage of the medication in order to give your body a chance to eliminate the toxic waste.
Olive leaf extract is potent stuff. It can generate an internal cleansing action that may similarly cause significant detox symptoms. Refer to the next chapter about what to do if you experience such a reaction.
"Die-off" symptoms can begin almost immediately after starting the supplement. It can hit different people in different ways. Reactions include extreme fatigue, diarrhea, headaches, muscle/joint achiness or flu-like symptoms. Severity differs also from person to person, depending on the extent of infection.
Keep in mind that such symptoms are positive signs. Nevertheless, they can be unpleasant. Some people may not want to continue because of the discomfort. Others handle it better. Others experience no such effect.
Hereís what to do in case of substantial detoxification symptoms,:
* Reduce the number of tablets, or even stop them altogether for a while.
* You may need a day or two, or even a week, to allow your body to process the "die-off."
* When you feel better, you can resume the supplement at a low dose and increase slowly.
* Holistic practitioners can usually provide a supportive detoxification program for individuals who experience a strong "die-off" response. In my clinic, this program includes taking vitamin C to bowel tolerance. Such a regimen is best done under professional guidance.
Other than the "die-off" detoxification effect among some individuals, olive leaf extract appears to create no side effects. Past research with calcium elenolate, the derivative or oleuropein, included safety studies with laboratory animals. They were dosed orally and also via injection. The only symptom observed was a mild irritation of the mucous membrane among some animals at the injection site. Since olive leaf extract is taken orally, this observation is basically irrelevant.
The research indicated that doses many times higher than recommended are unlikely to produce toxic or other adverse side effects. During 1993 testing of the liquid form of the product against the herpes virus, there were no observed or reported side effects.
Deaths from infectious diseases, formerly on the decline, have recently taken an alarming upward turn in this country.
According to federal researchers, such deaths rose by 58% from 1980 to 1992, pushing this category of illness up behind heart disease and cancer in the No. 3 spot of killer diseases.
While the AIDS epidemic accounts for most of the rise, experts say there has been an unusual increase in mysterious respiratory infections among the elderly and blood infections among people of all ages. When you eliminate the AIDS the death rate during the same period for all other infectious diseases rose by 22 percent.
The World Health Organization (WHO), back in 1978, looked to the future and issued a report which contended that by the year 2000, sources other than Western, technological medicine would be needed in order for all people to have adequate health care. The organization subsequently adopted the report that recommended the use of traditional forms of healing and medicine, such as the use of herbs, to meet the demands of an factor, exploding global population.
As we approach the year 2000, the wisdon -- and the urgency -- of this advice is obvious in the light of the serious side-effects and shortcoming of pharmaceutical drugs.
With the emergence, for instance, of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains, natural products such as olive leaf extract take on greater importance. Even if new antibiotics are developed, new infectious bacteria would emerge that are resistant to new drugs. In the case of herbal medicinals, their complex chemistry may often render them potentially more effective against a wide variety of microorganisms for which pharmaceutical drugs prove to be ineffective.
The olive tree has been exceptionally generous to mankind. Indeed, its special gifts to humans have been documented for thousands of years and it is a dove carrying an olive branch that in our day and age stands for the global symbol of peace.
The olive tree belongs to a plant family that includes the ash, jasmine and lilac. The cultivated olive is harvested from a tree known scientifically as Olea europa, native to the eastern Mediterranean region. Today, these trees are widely grown throughout the Mediterranean area (98 percent of olive oil come from there) and other regions with a similar climate.
According to Greek mythology, the olive tree was the creation of the goddess Athena, who first planted one out among the rocky grounds of the Acropolis and endowed it with powers to illuminate the darkness, soothe wounds, provide nourishment.
Athena clearly did a bang-up job. The tree has carried out its role divinely. It has given us:
* Olives for eating
* A hard and variegated wood that is esteemed by cabinet makers. Tourists returning from the Holy Land usually carry souvenirs made of olive wood.
* Olives for olive oil. During the Roman Empire, olive cultivation, curing and oil production advanced to a fine art --- an art that has survived largely intact for 2,000 years. So, too, have Roman recipes for the use of olives and olive oil in food. For cooking purposes, olive oil is recommended over other vegetable oils because it has been found to be less susceptible to heat-caused oxidation that changes the chemical structure of the oil into a potentially-harmful form.
* Live oil for illumination. This was the lighting oil used in Mediterranean houses well into the 19th century.
* Olive oil for lubrication. It oiled the machines of the industrial revolution just as it had served the Romans in earlier times as axle grease.
* Olive oil for healing. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, prescribed olive oil for curing ulcers, cholera and muscular pains some 2,500 years ago. Over the ages, numerous folk medicine applications for olive oil have been described. In more recent times, the health benefits of olive oil have attracted considerable attention. Studies indicate that the consumption of olive oil by Mediterranean peoples is an major reason why they have less heart disease than Americans. There is also some scientific evidence that olive oil intake may reduce the risk of breast cancer for women. Studies have also shown that olive oil is beneficial for blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
* The olive leaf for healing. Throughout history, the utilization of the fruit and its oil have overshadowed the rest of the tree. But recent medical research indicates that the olive leaf, celebrated in the bible and then relatively forgotten, may be a rising healing star.
It will be interesting to see if olive leaf extract can benefit AIDS cases. We know that it inhibits the production of reverse transcriptase and protease, enzymes necessary for certain viruses, such as HIV, to damage healthy cells.
Informal, preliminary reports are promising.
Mark Konlee, editor of "Positive Health News," a newletter on alternative treatments that circulates widely in the AIDS community, has reported exciting initial results with olive leaf extract, either in the tablet supplement form or directly as a tea brewed from leaves, in combination with other ingredients.
Those other ingredients, according to Konlee, have been found to be highly beneficial over the years. They include:
* Naltrexone, an immune-stabilizing drug used in the treatment of heroin and alcohol addiction. Clinical trials conducted by Bernard Bihari, MD, a New York City physician specializing in HIV/AIDS, demonstrated that this preparation stops the progression of the disease and the decline of the immune system in a majority of patients who take it regularly. Naltrexone stimulates key hormones regulating the immune system and the communication between the brain and immune function. No side effects have been reported.
* DNCB (dinitrochlorobenzene), a chemical used in photography labs that is applied in small doses on the skin. This compound acts as anti-viral agent by stimulating killer cell activity. An estimated 7,000 patients with AIDS have used this substance for some 10 years.
* A blend of olive oil/whole lemon juice. This "grassroots" recipe appears to be uniquely helpful in reversing neuropathy, swollen lymph nodes and wasting syndrome associated with the HIV.
For more specifics on this approach, interested individuals may contact "Keep Hope Alive," P.O. Box 27041, West Allis, WI 53227, or by phone at 414-548-4344.