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The Healing Power Of Olive Oil

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Interesting fact about turning 50: Things change surprisingly fast.

For example, everything's just a tad bit ... drier. My hair, skin, eyes and, umm, other places, too.

When doing research about living a healthy life over 50, I had the opportunity to pick the brains of some of the best skin care experts in the country, including Dr. Patricia Wexler and Dr. Doris Day. Both said quite simply that the keys to great skin are: exfoliate, moisturize and protect.

There are an overwhelming amount of products on the market that could handle these tasks, in different price ranges. Not one who likes to spend money unnecessarily, I managed to ply a few very inexpensive beauty secrets out of these brilliant doctors, many of which are mentioned in the chapter on skin care in "The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More," the book I wrote when I hit 50 to help me enter this new phase of life with health, energy and style.

One of the best tips came from Carmindy, makeup expert and star of TLC's "What Not to Wear," who insisted that the most effective way to exfoliate skin (face and body) is with white sugar. Don't put it IN your body, she said. Put it ON your body! And, guess what? It works. Just be extra gentle when using it on your face.

My favorite beauty "secret" (which sure wasn't a secret to the ancient Greeks or my grandmother) is using olive oil on just about every part of your body, inside and out.

Olive oil has been used for thousands of years in Mediterranean cultures. Ancient Greeks knew of its power to heal wounds, and eventually they used it to light oil lamps, for cooking, and for beauty.

While doing research for my book, I did a lot of experimenting with countless products, until I eventually narrowed down my list. On the top is olive oil.

Here are some of the reasons why olive oil is the "liquid gold" we should all have in our kitchens, bathrooms and medicine chests:

On the body: Buy a plastic squeeze bottle (the kind you find in old-fashioned diners that hold ketchup) and fill with the finest extra-virgin olive oil you can find. Add a few drops of lavender oil for fragrance, and keep in your bathroom. Here's what you can do with it:

  • Dry Skin: After exfoliating your body with white sugar on a wash cloth (in the shower, take a little olive oil (infused with a few drops of lavender, if you wish) and gently massage it all over your body. Result? Skin like velvet. If your facial skin is feeling especially dry, take one drop of olive oil in your hands, and very gently tap it all over your face, making sure it doesn't look slick. Take a tissue and blot your skin just a little. You'll have skin that's soft and moist, but not greasy.
  • Extra-dry elbows and feet: First exfoliate both areas with white sugar. Then, massage a little extra virgin olive oil on your elbows and feet (especially the heels) every night. You will see an unbelievable transformation.
  • Sun Burn, Rash, Wound or Insect Bites: Gently apply a light layer of olive oil and leave uncovered. It helps with the itching and speeds up the healing. It's great for diaper rash, too.
  • Makeup Remover: This is the best and most gentle way to remove makeup from your face, even your eyes. Olive oil can remove the toughest waterproof mascara without harsh chemicals or soap that can irritate eyes. Allergic reactions to olive oil are practically non-existent.
    • Cuticles: Soak your nails in a little tray of olive oil. This will soften cuticles, making them easier to push during a manicure. Avoid cutting cuticles as that could cause infection or irritation.

  • Shaving: Whether shaving facial hair or your legs, putting a light layer of olive oil on damp skin first is a better option that shaving cream.
  • Dry hair: Olive oil is the most effective hair conditioner, especially for hair that's been over-processed by coloring and blowdrying. Massage some into hair, and wrap a hot towel around it. Leave on for an hour or so, and wash as usual. When your hair is completely dry, add a few drops in your hands, rub them together, flip your head over, bending down and scrunch a little olive oil in your hair. Result? Shiny (not greasy, unless you accidentally put on too much!) and healthy looking hair.
  • Dandruff: Massage a light layer of olive oil onto your scalp and leave it there for a few hours before washing. If your baby has cradle cap, a very common skin condition on the scalp, apply a layer of olive oil every day until it disappears.

In the Body: Keep an excellent bottle of extra-virgin olive oil in your kitchen for good health, as well as for cooking. Here's why:

  • Weight Loss: Many people, especially from the Mediterranean, drink ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil every morning, followed by a small glass of warm water mixed with fresh lemon juice. This helps to cleanse the body, and jump-start the system. Women I met in Israel swear that drinking the olive oil each morning keeps hunger pangs away and has helped with weight loss and maintenance.
  • Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention: Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Stroke is the third. The FDA reports that by ingesting olive oil each day, you may reduce your risk of coronary heart disease, which can cause heart attacks and strokes. Olive oil contains up to 80 percent monounsaturated fatty acids, which helps to increase HDL, known as the "good" cholesterol, and decrease LDL, the "bad" cholesterol. Extra virgin olive oil, the least processed form of olive oil, has additional antioxidant properties that have a protective effect against heart disease.
  • Gallstone Reduction: According to the "Divine Prescription and Science of Health and Healing", by Gunther B. Paulien, the consumption of olive oil stimulates the production of bile and pancreatic secretions that drastically reduce the formation of gallstones. An experiment revealed the actual weight of a gallstone was reduced by 68 percent after two days of being soaked in pure olive oil.
  • Colon Cancer Prevention: An article in the International Journal of Cancer stated that the consumption of olive oil may protect against certain forms of cancer, especially colon cancer. Olive oil contains oleic acid and other phenols that have antioxidant benefits in the body. Antioxidants rid the body of free radicals that cause cell damage and may even lead to some forms of cancer. The study showed that the phenols extracted from extra virgin olive oil inhibited colon cancer at different stages. Of course, consuming olive oil is not a substitute for getting regular colonoscopies.
  • Breast Cancer Prevention: The Mayo Clinic reports that the second most common killer of women is cancer, with lung cancer ranking first and breast and colorectal cancer close behind. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 12 percent of women will at some point be diagnosed with breast cancer. Cornell University studies showed that olive oil consumption was linked to a substantial decrease in breast cancer risk. The oleic acid and antioxidants in olive oil can help combat other cancers, as well.
  • Alzheimer's Disease: A research study by Northwestern University in conjunction with the Monell Chemical Senses Center shows that the natural compound in olive oil -- oleocanthal -- may help treat and prevent Alzheimer's disease. Oleocanthal actually alters the structure of neurotoxic proteins believed to contribute to the debilitating effects of Alzheimer's.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes is a growing health issue in this country, especially due to the ongoing obesity issue. Many people aren't even aware they have diabetes. Diabetes can be complicated by menopause and bring about a host of other health problems such as eye, skin and foot complications. The American Diabetes Association recommends olive oil as a healthy, monounsaturated fat to manage diabetes and the European Food Information Council reports that olive oil can reduce blood glucose levels.

What olive oil should you buy? Definitely extra-virgin olive oil, although it isn't always easy to know if you're getting extra virgin, even if it says so on the label. (Note: olive oils that list "olive oil," "pure" or "light" do not contain oleocanthal. It, like other phenolics, is removed during the refining process. It must say "extra virgin olive oil" on the label.) Only extra virgin olive oil contains the all-important oleocanthal.

So how can you tell which of the extra virgin olive oils have lots of oleocanthal? The gold standard test is taste and your physical reaction to it. Many health experts believe that extra virgin olive oil that contains oleocanthal, a distinguishing chemical characteristic of fresh-pressed olive oil, will be extra peppery and will make you want to cough. A recent article compared the reaction one has to ingesting extra virgin olive oil with oleocanthal to swallowing ibuprofen. This unique sensation and the accompanying 'cough' are regarded among connoisseurs as indicators of high quality olive oil. If the one you are using is peppery then almost certainly you are getting a liberal dose of oleocanthal in your everyday diet.

What are some of the best uses of olive oil you've come across?

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Sometimes the best solutions are often the simplest ones, and the least expensive. For more information about living your best life after 50 visit www.bestofeverythingafter50.com. Staying connected is a powerful tool. "Friend" me on Facebook, and "Tweet" me on Twitter (BGrufferman). Stay in touch, and be well!