Biohacking With Extra-Virgin Olive Oil And Thyme To Protect Your DNA
I’m a biohacker, and while to a lot of people that means crazy tech gadgets, expensive therapies, and self-quantification tools to track your body’s metrics, I’ve always tried to take another path. Although I’m definitely not one to shy away from the high-tech side of biohacking, for me, going back to ancestral wisdom, and using the natural world around can be just as powerful and effective as gadgetry and things that go beep, but usually much cheaper and more accessible to most people. After all, there’s no point in me recommending some $10,000 biohacking tool to you in an episode of the Bio Alchemy podcast, if it won’t be affordable to most people.
But it’s not very often that I have a “HOLY SHIT!” moment when I read some research on how powerful a herbal compound – or in this case a combination of two natural food products – can be on the human body. And in the case of what I’m about to blast into your brain in this very post, research has shown that this simple two-ingredient tonic can have significant effects on protecting your DNA from damage, which in and of itself is phenomenal. And the two ingredients are so ridiculously common, I guarantee you have at least one of them in your kitchen right now.
The biohacking powerhouse in question is just plain old extra virgin olive oil, combined with the extremely common herb thyme. So to start with, let’s talk about what we know about how extra virgin olive oil reacts with thyme, and what the research suggests this combination could be doing to our body.
Most of this post is based on a study from The Journal Of Agriculture And Food Chemistry, published a few years ago back in 2016. You can delve into the study in more detail, but most of the important info can be found here.
The study specifically looked at the antioxidant properties of extra virgin olive oil, but more specifically the powerful phenols that these oils generally contain, and how they could possibly be made to be more bioavailable for the human body.
Extra virgin olive oil has been known for a long time to be extremely high in phenolic compounds – in fact, good quality extra virgin olive oil is one of the most dense sources of phenols of any food on the planet. However, although general supermarket EVOO will still be reasonably high, the best stuff usually comes from higher-priced, smaller-batch organic oils that you won’t find on a supermarket shelf. In fact, I’ve even heard of some of these prized high-phenol extra virgin olive oils being referred to as medical-grade foods, simply because of how powerful they can be on healing the human body. Several studies have pointed to the fact that polyphenols in olive oil can prevent brain degeneration, and even assist in reversing certain aspects of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Crazy when you think this is all just coming from a good bottle of olive oil.
And in case you’re not aware, phenols are powerful compounds that protect our body and cells from oxidative stress and damage, due to toxins, radiation, poor quality foods, and other damage we’re subjected to from our environment in daily life. Phenolic compounds like polyphenols have been known for a long time to be able to protect our bodies from this kind of damage, and it’s not this that’s any kind of scientific secret. But here’s where things get juicier than a Polish pickle straight outta the jar.
So, the study in question followed a group of human test subjects who were given 25ml of extra virgin olive oil per day, enriched with thyme polyphenols. And for reference, 25ml is a relatively small amount, only just over a standard tablespoon measurement. And during this time, test subjects were also advised to limit their intake of other high polyphenol foods, so as to get the most accurate reading.
Every three weeks, the subjects urine, plasma, and red blood cells were tested, to gauge whether or not the subjects were improving over several biomarkers. The most important of these were the levels of antioxidant compounds that could be detected in red blood cells, as well as the detectable levels of polyphenols in the urine and blood in general. And like all good studies, this was a randomized, double-blinded trial.
And so I don’t leave you hanging any longer, the results were pretty phenomenal.
After testing at three specific points, the study concluded that extra virgin olive oil enriched with thyme polyphenols provided major protection against oxidative DNA damage. In both the blood and urine, these human test subjects showed major boosts in antioxidant enzymes in red blood cells, as well as phenolic metabolites in the urine. In short, science is showing that by mixing a little bit of extra virgin olive oil with thyme and taking it daily, you are giving your body a significant boost in protecting itself from all forms of damage.
What’s interesting is that the study also compared test subjects who were taking plain old extra virgin olive oil on its own, which on its own also showed positive increases in these disease and damage fighting biomarkers. However, the group taking extra virgin olive oil enriched with polyphenols from thyme showed an even more significant increase, showing that this combination was by far the most effective, as in some way the phenolic compounds in extra virgin olive oil and thyme worked synergistically with each other to increase bioavailability of these compounds, or just maybe because there was some kind of one-two punch in the added power of additional polyphenols.
Just to get a little more scientific all up in here, what we believe is happening here when extra virgin olive oil is mixed with thyme and introduced into the human body, is that the NF-kappa-B pathway in the body is inhibited, which leads to a lower formation of reactive oxygen species, and a reduction in overall oxidative damage to your DNA. And if you didn’t understand that, that’s okay – to sum it up, more thyme and extra virgin olive oil in your body means less DNA damage due to toxins, and other stress your body is exposed to in the environment each day.
Again, you can check out the full study here if you so wish.. But for the most part, it shows that you should be getting much more good quality extra virgin olive oil into your body, ideally in combination with other polyphenol rich foods like thyme.
However, before you start rushing off and downing olive oil by the bottle, I want to share with you some tactics on how to improve this biohack, and how to increase the levels of polyphenols you’re getting from both compounds. Because just going for supermarket-shelf extra virgin olive oil and thyme may be okay, but it likely won’t be the most powerful option.
To start with, let’s talk about the quality of standard extra virgin olive oil, and what constitutes a high phenolic oil. In the European Union, there are actually laws regulating what can be considered or marketed as a high phenolic olive oil, for those who want the protective benefits it can afford. In EU law, anything over 250mg per kilogram of phenolic compounds fits this bill, which is generally a healthy oil.
However, what’s on your supermarket shelf is likely to have a much lower level of these beneficial polyphenols in it, in some cases as low as 50mg per kg or less. And to be getting olive oil with phenols that will match the results shown in the study I mentioned, you need a bottle of oil with at least ten times the levels of phenolic compounds in it – ideally, around 500mg per kilogram, around double the minimum level of the EU’s guideline on what can be called a high phenol oil.
However – the issue here is that most olive oils do not list their levels of phenols, so most of the time, you have no idea of how rich in these incredibly protective compounds the oil you’re buying is. There are companies who do list their oil’s phenol content, but it’s not a common thing. So for that reason, I’m going to share with you some hacks on how to most likely buy oil with high levels of phenols, regardless of whether you know the actual content or not.
Firstly, any extra virgin olive oil that’s designated as “first harvest” or “early harvest” is a good bet. What this means is that the olives have been harvested and pressed while they’re more green, before they have been given a chance to fully ripen. Generally, it takes more olives to make a bottle when they have been harvested early – meaning this type of olive oil is usually more expensive. But, it will also generally have a much higher phenol content than other oils, especially in the very important polyphenol oleocanthal, which has been linked to a ton of health benefits.
Early harvest, or first harvest oil, will also have a more “spicy” or “peppery” taste, which is again a great marker for having a higher polyphenol content. If you’ve ever tasted olive oil that gives you a tingle on the back of your throat, this is a good sign – it may not be as easy for you to ingest, as it’s an acquired taste for some, though this usually means a relatively high polyphenol content, by way of it being an earlier harvest oil.
For the most part as well, if you can find good oils from a sun-drenched country like Greece, Malta, or Cyprus, they will usually be higher in phenols than from cooler countries. And of course, if you can buy organic, that’s never also a bad thing.
Now as I mentioned, you should be aiming to get a bottle with phenolic content of around 500mg per kg, though some oils have been tested far higher. One of the links I will put for you in the show notes is from a company that sells oils of up to 3000mg per kg of phenols, which is incredibly high – though as I stated before, there’s no evidence right now that a ton more is better. To get the benefits as listed in the study, you need 500mg per kg, though I can’t say with any definitive proof that having a bottle with six times that will provide six times more benefit. It might – we don’t know. Or you might just be urinating all those excess phenols out, with your body not able to use them.
So next, let’s talk about thyme. Thyme is an extremely common herb used all over the world, and chances are you’ve eaten it hundreds of times in your life. And if not, I can only assume you’re some kind of culinary barbarian that eats nothing but sandwiches made from white bread with more white bread as a filing.
Thyme is known for its phenol content, though as with everything, the quality definitely matters. Buy the herb as fresh as possible, use it as soon as you can after buying, and ideally buy organic, for the increased nutrient content. Or, even better, grow it yourself on a windowsill planter, as it’s extremely easy to do.
However, if you can get a hold of it like I do, wild thyme is usually the best option. Wild herbs will almost always by default have a higher phenol and phytonutrient content, usually because they’re not grown in poor quality depleted soil, as is the case with almost all farmed agriculture. So even if you’re buying organic, it won’t be as good as wild thyme.
And despite popular belief, dried thyme is almost as good. Scientific studies on a wide variety of herbs show that the phenolic content only drops by 10%-15% once dried, so it’s not always bad if you can only get dried. However, it’s important to note that the older the herb is, the more it will lose over time. So if you’re unsure of how long it’s been sitting there after being dried when you buy it, a good option is to just buy a larger amount yourself fresh of good quality stuff, and then dry it on low heat yourself in the oven. That way, you can be sure you’re not buying dried thyme that has been on a shelf or in a bag for a couple of years – which could be the case.
But long story short, quality matters with thyme, like with all other plants or herbs you’re using to biohack your biology.
Onto the biohack itself, how should you ingest these compounds together? Well, according to the study, 25ml per day of extra virgin olive oil was used, which as I’ve already said is just over a tablespoon, depending on where in the world you live. Though keep in mind that if you live in most of the world, a tablespoon will be 15ml, though for some weird reason in my home country of Australia, a tablespoon is 20ml. Go figure that my strange upside-down drop bear criminal people of a nation had to do things differently.
My recommendation is that once a day, simply measure out 25ml or so of the best quality olive oil you can get your hands on, finely chop or crush a teaspoon of thyme into it, and then down it in one gulp like a you would a shot of alcohol. Only in this case, it’ll be like a shot of alcohol, only one that will actually do good things for your body. Depending on what your tastebuds are like, you may not like it. And you may have to get used to the taste. Though even if you hate it, it’ll only be a few seconds of pain, for you doing something seriously beneficial to protect the building blocks of your body from damage, and disease. Think of it like armour, that’s going to protect your body from basically all the bad stuff that’s around you on a daily basis – that should be enough for you to swallow this herbal cocktail once a day.
Just one final thing that you should remember – at no point at all should you be heating olive oil, you need to be drinking it straight out of the bottle. I’m sure this is something that’s becoming close to common knowledge now, but when heating olive oil, you’re actually destroying a lot of its beneficial compounds. So take my advice, take your oil and thyme cocktail without any heat involved. And on that note, if you’re the kind of person who cooks with olive oil, you should stop that too – just pour it on your foods after cooking.
I think this combo is a great marker for how simple biohacking can be, especially for those of you who think it’s all expensive tech tools, and sci-fi gadgets. Yes, it can be. But it can also be as simple as making a mix of two natural ingredients, and taking them together once a day.