The Rising Star of Olive Oil Polyphenols
A researcher is endlessly curious and it was curiosity that resulted in Gary Beauchamp, PhD, of Monell Chemical Senses Center, identifying the phenolic compound oleocanthal. Oleocanthal is only found in olive oil so it is interesting that while attending a meeting on molecular gastronomy in Sicily, Beauchamp made a momentous observation.
“I had considerable experience swallowing and being stung in the throat by ibuprofen from previous studies on its sensory properties,” explains Beauchamp. “So when I tasted newly-pressed olive oil, I was startled to notice that the throat sensations were virtually identical.”
This led to the discovery, in 2005, that the phenolic compound decarboxymethyl ligstroside aglycone, indeed has similar anti-inflammatory properties as ibuprofen with significantly fewer side effects. Beauchamp did us all a favour when he simplified its name to “oleocanthal” oleo=olive, canth=sting, al=aldehyde.
Since then, research into many diseases related to chronic inflammation in the body has increased. These include cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, Alzheimer’s, many cancers, Type II diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerated colitis, and Parkinson’s disease.
In a significant shift, medicine is looking beyond treating symptoms to the underlying causes of disease and how to support the body in recovering and maintaining health.
Dr. Tanya Edwards, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine, shares that inflammation is now recognized as the “underlying basis of a significant number of diseases.”
Oleocanthal – a lifestyle choice.
If we can have a diet rich in nutrition that also prevents 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 ageing 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 the role of olive oil was thought to be as a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids. But now, the anti-inflammatory properties oleocanthal and antioxidant properties of oleacein among others of the some 30+ phenols presently identified are proving olive oil is more than just a good fatty acid.
Oleocanthal – a new class of therapeutic agent?
Following a 2016 study, Maria Chiara Monti a Dipartimento di Farmacia, Università degli Studi di Salerno wrote: “The ‘state of the art’ knowledge confirms the benefits of the consumption of EVOO, also suggesting that oleocanthal has the potential to be considered a lead molecule for the improvement of a new class of therapeutic or chemopreventive agents.”
Oleocanthal as a supplement.
Researchers Professor Khalid El Sayed, Ph.D., and Associate Professor Amal Kaddoumi, Ph. D., Basic Pharmaceutical Sciences Department of the University of Louisiana Monroe School of Pharmacy, have worked on a project to develop an olive oil-based food supplement to help prevent cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Our recent studies showed that oleocanthal selectively suppressed several human breast cancer cell lines,” El Sayed said. “In addition to its cancer preventive and control activity, oleocanthal has also demonstrated an anti-Alzheimer’s disease activity and we also found evidence for its potential to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”
EVOO health quality proved by science.
We owe a great deal to the curiosity in scientists. Indeed in 2012 research team Drs. Prokopios Magiatis and Eleni Melliou wondered about the reference in ancient medical texts to the medicinal qualities of early harvest olive oil made from green olives. This led to their discovery of a method to accurately measure the phenolic compounds in olive oil using the sophisticated NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance). Their discovery was that oleocanthal and its usual partner oleacein are most abundant in early harvest olive oil from green olives.
Supply growing to meet demand
Since then, this research has caused hundreds of olive oil producers, mostly in Greece, to adjust harvest times and methods of production to produce olive oils of truly medicinal quality, high in levels of oleocanthal and oleacein. These oils are tested for a full phenolic profile and issued certificates. Science is unbiased and consumers can now be assured of the quality of olive oil they are buying. This is especially critical for those choosing extra virgin olive oil for its health protective properties.
A current EU funded 3-year, 5-country study ARISTOIL Interreg MED Program is studying the health benefits, production methods and marketing strategies for high phenolic olive oil. There is a mandate to educate the public with seminars and all research will be available online.
It’s also encouraging that other olive oil producing countries are coming on board and certifying their high phenolic olive oil. The five partners in the study are Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Italy and Croatia. This is great news for consumers as marketing initiatives get this valuable nutraceutical grade olive oil into their hands.
“Let food be thy food and medicine be thy food.”
Prevention is always the best medicine and a tablespoon or two a day (depending on phenolic concentration) of a quality extra virgin olive oil, rich in phenols, especially oleocanthal, can set you on the path of health, vitality and longevity. It’s natural, bioavailable and has no contraindications when reasonably consumed.
Health is our greatest asset and simple consistent lifestyle choices like adequate rest, exercise, stress management, social interaction, meaningful activity, and a foundation of nourishing health supporting foods will ensure that asset pays dividends well into our active future.
Researchers around the world are satisfying their own curiosity and applying this new knowledge in more and more studies. Science is only recently proving what the ancients over 2,500 years ago, shared in the words of Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
To you health!