This Compound Found In Olive Oil Shows Promise In Destroying Cancer Cells

New discoveries show that a substance in extra virgin olive oil destroys the cellular structure of cancer cells with no harmful effect on healthy human cells. The possibility of killing cancer cells using a natural food substance is an exciting new development in medical research.

New Discovery Shows Compound in Olive Oil Kills Cancer Cells

Scientists from Rutgers and Hunter College have successfully shown how to get cancer cells to essentially kill themselves. Paul Breslin of Rutgers and Hunter College colleagues David Foster and Onica LeGendre were aware that a phenolic compound called oleocanthal in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) kills cancer cells but how this happens was unclear. Programmed cellular death, also known as apoptosis, normally takes 16 to 24 hours to occur.

The scientists discovered that oleocanthal applied directly to cancer cells led to the cells’ demise within 30 minutes to an hour, therefore something unexpected was happening. They found that this substance invades the cancer cell and targets the fragile membrane surrounding a small vesicle known as a lysosome and releases the contents. The contents include the waste products the cancer cell produces, and their release destroys the cell.

Photo by Daniella Segura via Flickr
Photo by Daniella Segura via Flickr

Substance in Olive Oil Kills Cells Selectively

Oleocanthal has a benign effect on healthy human cells due to the sturdier membrane surrounding the lysosomes. The healthy cells become quiescent and are dormant for approximately 24 hours. Once awakened, the cells resume their normal activity. Aside from this effect oleocanthal has on normal cells, scientists feel another mechanism imparting protection for healthy cells may be involved. Further research is in progress.

Cancer Cells’ Enzymes Kill the Cells

Cancer cell death is due to enzymes released into the cell by the cancer cell itself. Tearing the membrane of the lysosome causes havoc within the cell. Since lysosomes in cancer cells are large, the amount of waste products released into the cells is enormous. This toxic environment within the cell kills the cell within 30 minutes, which is much faster than other mechanisms of cell death.

Photo by Flavio~ via Flickr
Photo by Flavio~ via Flickr

The Type of Olive Oil Matters

Using non-extra virgin olive oil does not confer the same benefits as EVOO. Light and extra-light olive oil are formulated using a different process and may not have the same healthy compounds. Some olive oils on the market have been found to contain other types of oil such as canola or soybean. The type of olive oil is printed on the bottle and reading the label makes it possible to determine both its origin and content. As EVOO is light sensitive, dark glass or metal canisters can help keep olive oil from going rancid. For best results, use EVOO within two years of its harvest date and look for bottles marked with the quality seals of the North American Olive Oil Association.

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Other Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

EVOO has many benefits aside from its cancer-killing capabilities. It has long been a staple in diets around the globe and is known to be helpful in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease by altering the Tau and beta-amyloid neurotoxins in the brain. It’s a potent nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agent and may reduce inflammation. Olive oil has also been reported to lower the risk of having a stroke or heart attack as well as shut down the genes involved with inflammation and heart disease.

The use of oleocanthal from extra virgin olive oil may be a potent new weapon in the fight against cancer. The research is promising and the possibilities are exciting.

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