When researchers started studying Greeks living on the island of Crete more than 40 years ago, they were amazed to find that although the traditional Greek diet is very high in fat, people had exceptional low rates of heart disease. Olive oil plays a critical part in their diet and we would do well if we follow their example. Olive oil, which is made of crushed olives, not only appears to lower the risk of heart disease, it may reduce the risk of various forms of cancer as well.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), long known for its heart health benefits, has now been identified for its rapid destruction of cancer cells. While scientists have proven that the oleocanthal compound found in EVOO causes cell death in cancer cells, they have been unable to provide an explanation for this phenomenon until now. Paul Breslin, David Foster, and Onica LeGendre offer answers in their paper "(-)-Oleocanthal Rapidly and Selectively Induces Cancer Cell Death Via Lysosomal Membrane Permeabilization (LMP)," published in Molecular & Cellular Oncology.
In their recent study, the researchers discovered that the key to understanding the toxic effect of oleocanthal in cancerous cells lies in its reaction with the lysosomes of the cell, where the cells store waste: the oleocanthal ruptures the cancer cell lysosomes causing cell death within 30 minutes to an hour while leaving un-cancerous cells unharmed. This suggests that the lysosomal membranes of cancerous cells are weaker than those of uncancerous cells. Because of oleocanthal's targeted damage to cancer cells, it may prove an ideal option for therapeutic cancer treatment. Paul Breslin, co-author of the study, said "The mechanism of killing cancer cells and sparing healthy cells, lysosomal membrane permeabilization, has been hypothesized as a possible mechanism of effectively killing cancer cells and sparing healthy tissues but has never been realized before. Our realization of this makes this paper of particular therapeutic interest for cancer treatment." The study's focus on the effect of oleocanthal on cancerous and un-cancerous cells leads to larger implications about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in EVOO. Breslin stated, "the Mediterranean diet is known to be associated with a reduced risk of many different kinds of cancer. Whereas the entire diet likely has many benefits, this study points directly to the olive oil phenolic, oleocanthal, as playing an especially important role in these observations. As more people turn to the Mediterranean diet as a healthy life option, oleocanthal is growing in its significance as a key active component of this diet." All fats, from butter and margarine to olive oil, contain almost the same number of calories. But they behave quite differently inside the body. Saturated fats, for example, which are found mainly in meats and dairy foods, are incredibly destructive, because the body can't rid itself easily of harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. The kind that blocks arteries and raises the risk of heart disease. Olive oil. However, is a monounsaturated fat, with no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. Olive oil is recommended by the American Heart Association for your food preparation. When you replace saturated fats in your diet with olive oil lowers LDL cholesterol while leaving the beneficial high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol alone. Compared with butter, olive oil also gives us a feeling of being more satisfied . The olive oil-loving Greeks eat very little butter or margarine. Additionally, their main meals usually consists of vegetables and legumes instead of meats. So even though they use a lot of olive oil, they get very little saturated fat. Olive oil helps to prevent many cancers by protecting the cells in your body from oxidation. Extra virgin olive oil may also help lower the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, according to a Greek study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Experts believe extra-virgin olive oil reduces the risk of rheumatoid arthritis because of its anti-inflammatory effects.
One study found that olive oil is similar to ibuprofen in reducing inflammation. Besides the monounsaturated fat in olive oil , it also contains other disease-fighting compounds that can prevent damage in the arteries before it starts. Several of the compounds in olive oil , like polyphenols, are powerful antioxidants. This means that they are able to destroy free radicals before they can do damage.
This results in keeping your arteries clear when you use olive oil in your diet. Although olive oil is best known for protecting the heart, research suggests that it may also protect the breasts as well. In a study involving more than 2,300 women, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health in Greece found that women who used olive oil more than once a day, had 25% lower risk of breast cancer compared with those who use it less often. As a matter of fact, Greece women are much less likely to die from breast cancer than are American women.
Olive oil is rich in vitamin E, which has proved to stop cellular damage that can lead to cancer. And of course, the same polyphenols that help prevent free radicals from damaging the heart may play a role in preventing cancer as well. All types of olive oils are rich in monounsaturated fats, but not all have equal amounts of disease fighting polyphenols. Some olive oils are quite rare and exquisitely flavored and priced. Others are much more affordable. Many cooks keep two (or more) kinds of olive oil in the kitchen – a gourmet oil for drizzling on salads or pastas and a heartier oil to use for cooking. Extra-virgin is the Cadillac of olive oils. It's usually used as a flavoring oil and not for cooking.
When you buy extra-virgin olive oil, look at the color. The deeper the color, the more intense the flavor. This type of oil is made from the first pressing of perfectly ripe olives, which leaves the polyphenols in and the bitter acids out. Although it's a little bit more expensive, studies have shown that it's worth your money to buy extra-virgin olive oil. Researchers in Spain asked 24 men to use refined olive oil for 3 months and extra-virgin olive oil for 3 months. They found that the antioxidants in extra-virgin olive oil kept their LDL or bad cholesterol from oxidizing and slowed the formation of plaque in the arteries, but the refined oil didn't offer this protection. Pure (also called virgin) olive oil is paler than extra-virgin and has a milder flavor. It's usually used for low- to medium heat frying. Light olive oil is often used by people who wants the heart-healthy benefits of mono- unsaturated fats but don't want the strong olive taste. It endures heat well, so you can use it for high-heat frying. Store it cool. If you don't use a lot of olive oil, it tends to go bad on the shelf. It gives up both its good taste and also its protective compounds. To keep olive oil fresh, store it in the refrigerator or another dark, cool place. When you bring it back to room temperature, it will quickly restore it's pourable nature. Or look for an olive oil that comes in a dark bottle to keep the light from damaging it's benefits. And buy only what you need within 2 months to prevent the oil of deterioration and tasting stale.