Olive Oil: The Health Elixir
Scientists discover the compound behind olive oil's anti-inflammatory qualities.
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September 9, 2005
The health benefits of olive oil have been known for quite sometime. Olive oil consumption has been linked to the prevention of colon cancer, heart disease and gallstone formations, in addition to the upkeep of healthy and conditioned skin. Healthcare professionals often comment on the advantages of a Mediterranean diet, due largely in part to its main staple, olive oil. And today, those who have long sung the praises of olive oil will now have something new to sing about.
Researchers have discovered that 4 tablespoons of freshly pressed extra-virgin olive oil yield the equivalent healing properties of 10% of the adult dose of ibuprofen (commonly sold over the counter as Advil, Motrin and Nuprin). Ibuprofen, part of a group of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, works by blocking an enzyme responsible for the body’s inflammation, pain, and fever response. Although a serving of olive oil is not strong enough to cure pain entirely, daily consumption will give you the longer-term benefits of ibuprofen use.
According to Paul Breslin, head of the study at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, “The Mediterranean diet, of which olive oil is a central component, has long been associated with numerous health benefits, including decreased risk of stroke, heart disease, breast cancer, lung cancer and some dementias.” However while touted to alleviate chronic-diseases, anti-inflammatory drugs unfortunately also carry the risk of side-effects, including ulcers and reduced kidney functioning.
The anti-inflammatory ingredient discovered in olive oil is also the compound responsible for its throat-stinging sensation. The road to discovery began when Gary Beauchamp, a biologist at Monell, tasted fresh olive oil at a conference in Sicily. He experienced a stinging sensation in his throat identical to the sensation he felt after taking ibuprofen, leading him to ponder a possible connection between the two.
In collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania, The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, and Firmenich, Inc. Monell scientists were able to evaluate and isolate the previously unnamed compound in olive oil, and named it oleocanthal. Naturally occurring in olive oil, oleocanthal’s pharmacological properties were found to be identical to those of ibuprofen.
So which olive oil is best? “Most supermarket-style extra-virgin olive oils will be relatively low in this compound (oleocanthal),” says Paul Breslin. “But there are inexpensive olive oils available that have high levels”. Freshly pressed extra-virgin olive oil is probably your best bet, as olive oil tends to lose its potency with age.
Another tip: Olive oil should be kept tightly sealed in a cool and dark place. Light and heat are its main enemies and olive oil can easily go rancid when exposed to air or temperature changes. Proper storage is imperative in order for the oil to maintain its nutritional value.
Evidently a Mediterranean diet, or simply one that incorporates olive oil, is great for maintaining a health body. But remember not to over-indulge in this delicious oil, because it also contains a considerable amount of fat.
Monell Chemical Senses Center
Beauchamp, G.K., Keast, R.S.J., Morel, D., Lin, J., Pika, J., Han, Q., Lee, C-H, Smith, A.B. III, Breslin, P.A.S. Ibuprofen-like activity in extra-virgin olive oil. Nature, 2005, 437, 45-6.