Extra-virgin olive oil may rapidly kill off cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact.
Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) already has a reputation as a superfood. It contains an abundance of antioxidants that are proven to confer health benefits.
Studies show that one phenolic compound in EVOO – oleocanthal (OC) – provides many of the health benefits we see from diets rich in EVOO like the Mediterranean diet.
Recently researchers put oleocanthal from EVOO to the test against cancer. They found that OC can induce rapid death in cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact.
The researchers from Hunter College, Rutgers University, and the Monell Chemical Senses Center investigated the effect of oleocanthal on prostate, breast, and pancreatic cancer cells. They found that OC induced the loss of cell adhesion within as little as 30 minutes. Within 24 hours 100% of the cancer cells were non-viable.
Oleocanthal works on lysosomes within the cancer cells. Lysosomes are small organelles which are the cell's first line of defense against viruses and bacteria. They are also the place where cells store waste. Cancer cells have fragile lysosomal membranes compared to healthy cells. The OC breaks open the membrane around the lysosomes in cancer cells but leaves noncancerous cells intact.
Previous studies showed that oleocanthal from EVOO acts as a potent antioxidant as well as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agent. It also protects the brain by altering the neurotoxins beta-amyloid and Tau that are associated with Alzheimer's disease.
[Editor Sayer Ji's Note: One of the common criticisms against using so-called in vitro studies, that is, studies involving cells, to determine the value of a potential drug or natural compound in cancer research is that they don't necessarily apply to larger biological systems like tissues and whole organisms. While this is generally a fair assumption, in the case of foods like olive oil which attain direct contact with epithelial tissues in the alimentary canal (i.e. mouth to anus) upon common dietary consumption/exposure, the in vitro research may have special carry over of relevance in to in vivo systems, especially epithelial cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.]
Olive oil has been called the ancient fountain of youth. It lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke. In fact, olive oil turns off the genes that turn on heart disease and inflammation.
But the bad news is that olive oil prices are spiking. Poor harvests in Spain and Italy last year have led to a shortage of extra-virgin olive oil.
That means more producers may be tempted to adulterate the oil to boost profits. In past years, some producers have been caught adding cheap hazelnut, soy, or sunflower seed oil to bottles labeled "extra-virgin."
The term "extra-virgin olive oil" is legally regulated. The term was invented in the 1960s when stainless steel milling technology allowed for the production of different grades of olive oil. Extra-virgin olive oil can only be made from mechanically crushed olives. It can't be refined in any way by chemical solvents or high heat. It has to pass a chemical test.
But it also has to pass the smell and taste test by experts.
69% of Supermarket EVOO is Not Extra-Virgin
When the Olive Center at the University of California at Davis tested extra-virgin olive oils on supermarket shelves, they found 69% didn't pass the smell test and 31% were oxidized or had poor chemical quality.
They also tested 15 samples of extra-virgin olive oil from restaurant suppliers. They found 60% failed to qualify as extra-virgin. One even contained canola oil.
Why does it matter? Quality counts when it comes to olive oil's health benefits. Olive oil goes rancid quickly and loses its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Bad olive oil actually adds to your body's burden of free radicals and impurities.
Whose extra-virgin olive oil can you trust?
Recently, Bertolli and Whole Foods' 365 brand 100% Italian olive oil both earned quality seals from the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA). Pompeian is the second largest olive oil bottler in the U.S. and the only one that has undertaken to voluntarily comply with the USDA's olive oil quality standards. It has earned both USDA and NAOOA quality seals.
How To Find The Best Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Here's how to make sure you're getting the best olive oil for your money:
- Check the Date. Olive oil is a fruit juice and should be fresh. Look for an expiration, harvest or press date. Use it within two years of harvest.
- Look for a Quality Seal. Check the website of the NAOOA to see if your olive oil is listed.
- Dark Glass Bottles. Light causes olive oil to oxidize and go rancid. Buy your oil in dark bottles or metal containers.
- D.O.P. Certified Italian Oil. You might think your olive oil is Italian but it probably isn't. About 40% of bottles labeled "Italian" originated in other countries like Spain, Greece, or Tunisia. The label should disclose the origin of the olives used. If you really want oil from Italian olives look for oil designated D.O.P. (Protected Designation of Origin). It means the olives are grown, harvested, processed and shipped from the place listed on the label.
- Beware of Bargains. Extra-virgin olive oil is expensive to produce and ship. You get what you pay for.
- Avoid "Light" Olive Oil. Light and extra light olive oil is highly refined. It has little flavor and is almost clear in color. It has the same number of calories and none of the health benefits of extra-virgin olive oil.