Component in EVOO Kills Cancer Cells

Oleocanthal in EVOO causes a rupture of cancerous cells, releasing enzymes and causing cell death, without harming healthy cells.
Feb. 18, 2015
Isabel Putinja

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A new study has proven that an ingre­di­ent in extra vir­gin olive oil can kill can­cer cells.

The results of the study, which will be pub­lished in the jour­nal Mol­e­c­u­lar and Cel­lu­lar Oncol­ogy, were made pub­lic on Jan­u­ary 23, 2015.

The researchers, nutri­tional sci­en­tist Paul Bres­lin (Rut­gers Uni­ver­sity), biol­o­gist David Fos­ter (Hunter Col­lege) and chemist Onica LeGendre (Hunter Col­lege) dis­cov­ered in a lab study that the ingre­di­ent, called oleo­can­thal, causes a rup­ture of a part of the can­cer­ous cell which releases enzymes and causes cell death, with­out harm­ing healthy cells. In this way, can­cer cells are killed by their own enzymes.

Oleo­can­thal is a name for a chem­i­cal in extra vir­gin olive oil (EVOO) that means Sting­ing Oil Alde­hyde’,” Paul Bres­lin told Olive Oil Times. It is made by the olive when it is crushed to make the pulp from which the oil is pressed.”

There are many com­pounds in EVOO that have a 6‑carbon ring struc­ture on them and col­lec­tively they are known as phe­no­lics,” Bres­lin added. These com­pounds are col­lec­tively good anti-oxi­dants pre­vent­ing oxy­gen pore-rad­i­cals from form­ing and they also tend to be anti-inflam­ma­tory. Oleo­can­thal has been shown to inter­fere with processes asso­ci­ated with many types of inflam­ma­tion, Alzheimer’s dis­ease, and can­cer for­ma­tion and growth.”


The researchers dis­cov­ered that oleo­can­thal caused can­cer cells to break down and die very quickly; within 30 min­utes, instead of the 16 to 24 hours it takes for pro­grammed cell death, known as apop­to­sis.

Though the sci­en­tists already sus­pected that oleo­can­thal can kill can­cer cells, this is the first time a study exam­ined how this occurs.

There are many stud­ies that show that oleo­can­thal can inter­fere with can­cer processes and growth path­ways. It has also been shown in live ani­mals that oleo­can­thal can shrink tumors in mice,” explained Bres­lin. What is not known is whether these are all sep­a­rate effects of oleo­can­thal on can­cer or whether there is per­haps an upstream event that trig­gers them. We have what may be an upstream event that is a novel phe­nom­e­non to be described in that we are open­ing up the lyso­some with oleo­can­thal inside the cell and releas­ing toxic enzymes that kill the cell. This phe­nom­e­non is called Lyso­so­mal Mem­brane Per­me­abi­liza­tion or LMP.”

We wish to look at whether this is why tumors are shrink­ing in mice in the pres­ence of oleo­can­thal. In our study, David Fos­ter and Onica LeGendre focused on breast, pan­cre­atic, and prostate tumor cells and showed they could be killed by LMP but we did not kill three kinds of healthy non-can­cer­ous cells,” Bres­lin said.

Researchers would like to take the study out­side the lab and inves­ti­gate the effec­tive­ness of oleo­can­thal to kill can­cer cells and tumors in liv­ing ani­mals.

This study con­firms the anti-oxi­dant and anti-inflam­ma­tory qual­i­ties of extra vir­gin olive oil and the ben­e­fits of diets rich in olive oil like the Mediter­ranean diet to good health.

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