Inspired by biblical descriptions of the health benefits of olive oil, physiologist Dr Shaul Eger has devoted himself to concocting remedies in which it’s a key ingredient.
Thirty years ago Dr. Shaul Eger, an Israeli physiologist specializing in animal husbandry, was told by specialists that his heart arrhythmia was incurable and that he might die. He turned to ancient Jewish sources, where he read about the health benefits of olive oil. “I realized I had a problem, so I went back to my ancestors – to the Bible,” Eger tells ISRAEL21c.
He was particularly inspired by the Jewish doctor Assaf Harofeh (Assaf the Physician) a Mesopotamian believed to have lived in the sixth century, whose works opened Eger’s mind, and heart, to a new remedy.
Harofeh writes that olive oil staves off mental illness and other ailments including those which afflict the heart. “We know from the Bible and Rambam [a leading 13th century Jewish scholar and physician] that olive oil is good for the memory,” says Eger, citing the Jewish law book, the Talmud, where it is written that those who drink olive oil will retain their memory for 70 years.
Just a spoonful of oil
“I found a lot of scientific basis for using olive oil” says the scientist, “… and I started to consume it.” Eger adds that his Arab neighbors near Yokneam Moshava, a village close to the Carmel region in Israel’s north, agreed about the oil’s health benefits.
At the time, while olive oil was a mainstay of the diet of Israel’s Arab population, Jewish Israelis hadn’t yet discovered it, so he bought it unrefined from his Arabs neighbors. “It was awful – the quality at the time [was low] because it was made in the traditional way, on stones. From a sanitation point of view it was a disaster. The acidity was high, the peroxide value was terrible.” Still, he swallowed the stuff.
His self-prescribed remedy was a spoonful of olive oil a day, and within six months Eger was up to eight spoons a day. His arrhythmia disappeared. Before taking the olive oil, Eger says of his arrhythmia: “I suffered from it badly and had two bad experiences where I blacked out.”
But after drinking the olive oil, his entire outlook and career path were transformed. He decided to quit his job at the Ministry of Agriculture and make his own olive oil. Eger believes that he was one of the first Jews in modern Israel to grow olive trees and harvest the oil, “on the same land and in the same climate that made olives 3,000 and 4,000 years ago.”
Born in 1944, before Israel became a state, Eger was infused with the Zionist ideals of being a pioneer and farming the land, but he also wanted to be a scientist. He had earned a PhD at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his studies were focused on cattle, but after tasting the healing properties of olive oil, he switched gears. “I learned by myself, and got into a niche, in a subject I found to be very complicated, interesting and significant to human health,” he recounts. “Olive oil is a tricky raw material. It’s easy to produce, but easy to spoil – it’s so delicate. In terms of medicinal value, it’s potent. I decided I was going to deal with this.”
Spreadable oil for baking and bottoms
The married father of three (who says he almost became “unmarried” as a result of his olive oil passion), has three grandchildren, and has planted 1,000 olive trees, whose fruit he reaps today.
Investing money in science, Eger’s efforts have yielded a number of new products which he hopes will make Israeli olive oil competitive in the global market. With around 160 olive oil producers, Israel currently supplies only about one percent of the world’s total olive oil and according to Eger, the Israeli oil has no relative advantages in cost and taste.
So Eger chose to manufacture health products, with his oil as the key ingredient. One example from the line of Dr. Eger Olive Oil Products is a non-dairy, low-sugar chocolate spread.
Together with Prof. Ishak Neeman of the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa, Eger developed a technology for water-free, preservative-free, trans fatty acid-free solidification of oils. The ensuing margarine substitute or spreadable olive oil is solid and stable at room temperature. It can be used to make puff pastry, diaper rash cream or lip balm to treat herpes cold sores. The Eger line also offers beauty products for the face and skin.
A firm believer that people should not eat cheese and dairy products, Eger hopes to share his life experience, and cure, with the world. Olive oil has fatty acids, good anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties, he says, concluding, “It has the optimal composition of fatty acids, and five percent of its micro-ingredients are so important to our health.”