While many people are aware of the heart-friendly benefits of olive oil, compounds from the fruit and oil may also help prevent cancer. Careful review of the Mediterranean diet shows that the natural components in olives and olive oil, including squalene and terpenoids, help prevent the cellular damage that can lead to tumor formation.
The researchers concede that an individual’s whole diet (including fruit, vegetables, fish, and high-fiber foods) has a great impact on their health and susceptibility to risk of disease, but also conclude that olive oil as a source of healthy fats, polyphenols, and other compounds play a major role in the Mediterranean diet and its positive effects.
Owen RW, Haubner R, Würtele G, Hull E, Spiegelhalder B, Bartsch H. Olives and olive oil in cancer prevention. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2004 Aug;13(4):319-26.
Epidemiologic studies conducted in the latter part of the twentieth century demonstrate fairly conclusively that the people of the Mediterranean basin enjoy a healthy lifestyle with decreased incidence of degenerative diseases. The data show that populations within Europe that consume the so-called 'Mediterranean diet' have lower incidences of major illnesses such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Studies have suggested that the health-conferring benefits of the Mediterranean diet are due mainly to a high consumption of fiber, fish, fruits and vegetables. More recent research has focused on other important factors such as olives and olive oil. Obviously fiber (especially wholegrain-derived products), fruits and vegetables supply an important source of dietary antioxidants. What is the contribution from olives and olive oil? Apparently the potential is extremely high but epidemiologic studies rarely investigate consumption of these very important products in-depth, perhaps due to a lack of exact information on the types and amounts of antioxidants present. Recent studies have shown that olives and olive oil contain antioxidants in abundance. Olives (especially those that have not been subjected to the Spanish brining process) contain up to 16 g/kg typified by acteosides, hydroxytyrosol, tyrosol and phenyl propionic acids. Olive oil, especially extra virgin, contains smaller amounts of hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol, but also contains secoiridoids and lignans in abundance. Both olives and olive oil contain substantial amounts of other compounds deemed to be anticancer agents (e.g. squalene and terpenoids) as well as the peroxidation-resistant lipid oleic acid. It seems probable that olive and olive oil consumption in southern Europe represents an important contribution to the beneficial effects on health of the Mediterranean diet.
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