Numerous studies have shown that various constituent chemicals in olive oil have anticancer properties. Olive oil contains several phenolic antioxidants including squalene, oleuropein, and oleic acid, several flavonoids including quercetin, luteolin, and apigenin, and an anti-inflammatory phenol called oleocanthal. Like common NSAIDs, oleocanthal is a non-selective COX inhibitor. Researchers at Rutgers University and Hunters College in New York recently explored the mechanisms oleocanthal uses to selectively destroy cancer cells in vitro (in the laboratory).
Oleocanthal kills cancer cells by rupturing vesicles called lysosomes that store the cell’s waste. Specifically, oleocanthal inhibits acid sphingomyelinase activity, which “destabilizes the interaction between proteins necessary for lysosomal membrane stability.” This effect is not seen in healthy cells. These findings by a chemist and two oncology biologists were published in the journal Molecular and Cellular Oncology.
Earlier studies have shown that oleocanthal kills cancer cells in vitro through c-MET inhibition as well, in multiple myeloma, prostate and breast cancer cells. c-MET is a tyrosine kinase receptor which triggers tumor growth in cancer cells, correlating with poor prognosis.
Cancer biologists Foster and LeGendre discovered that oleocanthal killed cells in multiple cancer cell lines in as little as 30 minutes, while only temporarily interrupting the life cycle of healthy cells. The researchers noted that clearly the next step is to test oleocanthal in living animals.
Low incidences of breast cancer in the Mediterranean area was linked to extra virgin olive oil consumption in 2007 by Spanish researchers. Studying the phenolic compound oleuropein, researchers found that it reversed acquired resistance to Herceptin in HER2 over expressing breast cancer cells, in vitro. When such cells were co-cultured with Herceptin and oleuropein, the researchers found a 50-fold increase in the drug’s efficacy.