Extra virgin olive oil, particularly high phenol olive oil, is one of the few foods that most health experts seem to agree on. The list of benefits is so extensive that olive oil is widely considered to be a superfood. There are numerous studies to support that it can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, reduce inflammation, and decrease your risk of stroke and heart disease. It’s also packed with antioxidants and healthy fats.
We have previously cited studies that have shown that olive oil kills cancer cells. Previous evidence suggests that certain olive oils can lower your odds of developing cancer, particularly oleocanthal — a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory compound found only in high-quality EVOO. Now, new research published in the journal PLOS further supports that EVOO just might have the power to kill off cancer cells. Many studies have linked consumption of EVOO with reduced incidence of cancer, most significantly a randomized trial in which elevated EVOO in the diet led to a 62% reduction in the incidence of breast cancer in Spain over a 5 year period. Data provided here link the cytotoxic effects of EVOOs to their level of oleocanthal (1). The cytotoxic effects were due to the ability of oleocanthal to induce LMP and necrotic cell death preferentially in cancer cells. Whereas pure oleocanthal can also have negative effects on non-cancerous cells, EVOO is considered safe and healthy and, therefore, could be both preventative as well as a potential treatment–as indicated by the Spanish study (1). This new study not only reinforced what these what previous studies have found, but also that extra virgin olive oils, potent in antioxidants like oleocanthal, are much more protective against cancer than those with little to no oleocanthal. Despite these findings, it is important to keep in mind that there are limitations to this study. First, it's too early to conclude that olive oil can treat or cure cancer.
“You’re not taking a medication, you’re just eating olive oil, so I’m not going to be trying to give you some advice like ... once you have been diagnosed with cancer, go have olive oil,” explained Vasilis Vasiliou, chair of the department of environmental health sciences at Yale Cancer Center.
This study was also conducted in mice. "More research is needed to better understand how well oleocanthal works in humans, not just mice, before we can recommend olive oil as a cancer treatment" Vasilou explained. Regardless, these findings are consistent with the growing body of evidence that oleocanthal can kill cancer cells. These results further support exploring if oleocanthal can help treat cancer in people.
So how do you know if your olive oil has oleocanthal?
Whether oleocanthal could be used as a form of therapy needs to be studied further. However, how do you know if there are high levels of oleocanthal in an EVOO? EVOOs with high oleocanthal levels have a unique peppery and bitter sensation in the back of the throat as well as eliciting brief coughing that has been used to determine the presence of oleocanthal in EVOO. Here at Olea True, we also use a scientific method called NMR analysis to measure the level of health-protective compounds like oleocanthal.
As researchers continue to study the link between oleocanthal and cancer, there are many studies showing that olive oil can be beneficial to your health. However, if you want to reap all the health benefits, you’ll need to invest in the higher-quality oil.
1. Toledo E, Salas-Salvadó J, Donat-Vargas C, Buil-Cosiales P, Estruch R, Ros E, et al. Mediterranean diet and invasive breast cancer risk among women at high cardiovascular risk in the PREDIMED trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175:1. pmid:26365989
For more on the health benefits of olive oil consumption, view this video by Organic Facts.