Extra virgin olive oil is considered by many scientists and nutritionists to be a superfood, but what exactly makes high phenol olive oil so healthful? Hippocrates referred to the medicinal qualities of olive oil made from early harvest olives. It’s the olive oil that has a peppery sensation on the back of the throat shortly after swallowing. A compound known as oleocanthal is the health compound found in high phenol olive oil, also responsible for the pleasant peppery aftertaste. Ironically, it is this type of olive oil with health-promoting phenolic compounds, particularly high in oleocanthal, that is sometimes pronounced defective by “experts.”
Why is oleocanthal good for you?
Oleocanthal helps reduce inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is the underlying cause of many of today’s diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Type II Diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and others, oleocanthal is measuring up to this latest mention as a medical food. If we have a nutritious diet that also helps prevent inflammation then we likely won’t be one of the growing statistics of the chronic diseases that over the past decades have seemed inevitable to an aging population. The Mediterranean Diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and olive oil became popular for just that reason. Extra virgin olive oil is known as a key component. Until fairly recently olive oil was thought to be as a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids. But now, the anti-inflammatory properties of oleocanthal and the antioxidant properties of oleacein are proving olive oil is more than just a good fatty acid.
Does olive oil really kill cancer cells?
A recent study done at Rutgers University found that the oleocanthal kills cancer cells. Under normal conditions, unnecessary cells experience a process called apoptosis, a kind of cell suicide, which takes between 16 and 24 hours. In a series of tests at Rutgers, researchers found the cells of all forms of cancer they were studying got wiped out within 30 minutes to an hour. What they found was that oleocanthal in the olive oil was destroying the cancer cells’ waste centers. After oleocanthal did its damage, critical functions began to suffer and the cell soon died. Plus, healthy cells stayed intact. Similar studies drew the same conclusion which has paved the way for studying the effects of oleocanthal on cancer patients. The world’s first human study on the effects of oleocanthal on cancer is being led by Professor Paola Rojas of Peloponnese University and hematologist Dr. Ioannis Kontonis at the hospital of Sparta, who works with patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Ten patients consumed 40g of olive oil potent in oleocanthal daily (split between morning and evening) for three months. At the same time, a second group of five patients consumed the same amount of high phenolic olive oil that did not contain oleocanthal.
The results showed that olive oil with a high oleocanthal and oleacein content (a total of 700mg/kg of oil) resulted in a decrease in cancerous white blood cells and an increase in the specialized death of cancer cells in nine out of ten patients. This olive oil also improved a number of other biochemical markers without having any negative effect on patients, especially on hematocrit and the number of platelets. In contrast, olive oil rich in the simple phenols hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol but very low in oleocanthal and oleacein did not cause any change in levels of cancerous white blood cells.
New studies also suggest that hydroxytyrosol, another chemical found in both olives and extra virgin olive oil, may be useful as an alternative therapy for the prevention of triple-negative breast cancer, according to research conducted by Spain’s University of Jaén. The study, whose findings were recently published in the European Journal of Nutrition, was done to determine the effect of hydroxytyrosol on breast cancer cells that are responsible for the reappearance of tumor metastasis. Several in-vitro triple-negative breast cancer cell lines were used which showed for the first time the inhibitory role of hydroxytyrosol on breast cancer cells and tumor cell migration, through the alteration of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and embryonic signaling pathways. The findings showed that hydroxytyrosol redusces breast cancer cells both in number and aggressiveness. The study also showed that hydroxytyrosol inhibits cells from multiplying.
“We report for the first time the inhibitory role of hydroxytyrosol on breast cancer stem cells and tumor cell migration by targeting epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, Wnt/β-catenin and transforming growth factor beta signaling pathways,” Marina Cruz-Lozano and Adrián González-González, the study’s co-authors, wrote in the report. “Our findings highlight the importance of the chemopreventive compound hydroxytyrosol as a novel candidate to be investigated as an alternative targeted therapy for triple-negative breast cancer.”
For the past 4 years, the research group led by Dr Sergio Granados, has been working on the search for biomarkers related to the appearance of metastasis, tumor reappearance and resistance to therapeutical treatment using stem cells as the axis of investigations. Their research may lead to personalized treatments, mainly for triple-negative breast cancer patients.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
High phenol olive oil rich in oleocanthal may or may not be a panacea. But in the meantime, there is enough research and growing body of evidence to the many health benefits of adding high phenol EVOO in your daily diet. For best effect, it should be taken daily and on an empty stomach. Under normal circumstances, there are no known contraindications but as always, call your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your health.