DOES OLIVE OIL KILL CANCER?
Recent news that a key substance in olive oil destroys cancer cells is a good reason to rethink your diet.
By Liz Krieger Aug 31, 2015
Many people have pushed olive oil aside in recent years in favor of coconut oil, which has garnered headlines for its ability to improve everything from your cholesterol profile to weight loss. But a new study may have you extending an olive branch, so to speak, to extra virgin olive oil. When researchers added a compound found only in certain types of olive oil—an antioxidant called oleocanthal—to cancer cells in the lab, something amazing happened: It wiped out the cancer cells in less than an hour. Even better, the oleocanthal didn't harm the healthy cells.
"That was definitely an OMG moment," says study co-author Paul Breslin, a professor of nutritional sciences at Rutgers University. The findings showed that oleocanthal proves lethal to cancer cells because it can penetrate their lysosomes (the part of the cell that stores and recycles waste), says David Foster, a study co-author and professor of biological sciences at Hunter College. "Lysosomal membranes are larger and more fragile in cancer cells than in healthy cells, making those cells vulnerable to any compound that can rupture this barrier," says Foster, who notes that they used roughly the amount of oleocanthal found in a sixth of a cup (about 50 milliliters) of high-quality oleocanthal-rich oil from Corfu, Greece. "It isn't that much," Foster adds. "It's certainly an amount you can ingest in one day."
Of course, oleocanthal is just one of many promising compounds that scientists are finding has dramatic cancer-fighting abilities. A recent study from Penn State demonstrated that a substance in green tea was able to kill oral cancer cells while sparing healthy ones. A number of studies have identified curcumin (a.k.a. the aromatic spice turmeric, which gives yellow curry its vibrant color) as a potent weapon against many kinds of cancers, including breast cancer. And don't toss that parsley decorating your main course. A University of Missouri mouse study revealed that apigenin, found in parsley and celery, shrank a type of breast cancer tumor that is stimulated by progestin, a synthetic hormone given to women to ease menopausal symptoms. Scientists at the University of California, Davis, recently reported that walnuts and walnut oil slowed the spread of prostate cancer in mice and reduced levels of a hormone implicated in both prostate and breast cancer. And, as if we needed more proof that broccoli and other cruciferous veggies are VIPs, growing research has shown that compounds called indoles and isothiocyanates can stymie the development of bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung, and stomach cancer in rodents. Unfortunately, because of the chasm between controlled studies in the lab and real-world dietary habits, it's unclear just how much of each of these compounds a person needs to consume to see similar results.
So, in an effort to thwart cancer, should olive oil elbow out coconut oil, or should we, say, add curried broccoli topped with walnuts and parsley to our diet and wash it down with green tea? At the very least, is something like extra virgin olive oil going to become a cancer treatment? Not so fast. "Seeing something in a lab or artificially induced in a rodent is far different from how it might impact you when you eat it," says Victoria Stevens, strategic director of laboratory services for the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. Plus, food entering the digestive tract has to go through a host of systems that affect how it's processed.
Still, it can't hurt—and chances are it may help, asserts Stevens. After all, almost all of these killer compounds have one thing in common: They're found in the Mediterranean diet, which time and again comes out on top in terms of being associated with longevity and lower rates of cancer, heart disease, and dementia, Breslin says. The takeaway? Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and fatty fish, use olive oil generously, limit processed foods and meats, and drink green tea. "When it comes to cancer," says Carrie Daniel-MacDougall, an assistant professor of epidemiology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, "it's long-term behaviors that count."
This article originally appeared in the Sept 2015 issue of Harper's BAZAAR.
Scientists have known for some time that olive oil can kill cancer cells, but research published online in January of 2014 may help explain its anti-cancer effects.
Investigators from Rutgers Univ in N.J,and Hunter College in NY reported that oleocanthal, a compound in extra-virgin olive oil, ruptures membranes of lysosomes, the structures within cells where wastes are stored, leading to the release of enzymes that cause cell death.
This happens in cancer cells without harming healthy cells. In an interview with Olive Oil Times, coauthor Paul Breslin explained that oleocanthal develops in olives when they're crushed to make the pulp from which oil is pressed. He also noted that oleocanthal has been shown to reduce inflammation and inhibit cancer formation and growth. In the study, oleocanthal caused cancer cells to break down and die within 30 minutes, instead of the 16 to 24 hours necessary for programmed cell death, known as apoptosis. The researchers used laboratory cultures of breast, pancreatic and prostate tumor cells from mice to see if they could be killed by oleocanthal, or to be more specific, by the process of "lysosomal membrane permeabilization" (LMP). The new findings suggest that the lysosomal membranes of cancer cells are weaker than those of normal cells. Because of its effect on them, oleocanthal may turn out to be an effective treatment for cancer.
But we're not there yet. The research team is now turning its attention to whether or not LMP is the primary reason why tumors in mice shrink with exposure to oleocanthal. They also plan to investigate the compound for killing cancer cells and shrinking tumors in living animals and to explore the reasons why cancer cells are more sensitive to oleocanthal than non-cancerous cells. We know that olive oil has the highest percentage of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat of any edible oil. Quality olive oil also contains abundant antioxidants that have been shown to provide cardiovascular and anti-cancer effects. Research from the University of Athens published in 2003 showed that people who eat a Mediterranean-style diet have a 33 percent reduction in the risk of death from heart disease, and a cancer death rate that is 24 percent lower than that in people who eat typical Western diets. The Mediterranean diet was the template for my anti-inflammatory diet, and I have long recommend using extra-virgin olive oil as your main cooking oil.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Ingredient in Olive Oil Looks Promising in the Fight Against Cancer
Oleocanthal kills cancer cells with their own enzymes
By Ken Branson
A Rutgers nutritional scientist and two cancer biologists at New York City’s have found that an ingredient in extra-virgin olive oil kills a variety of human cancer cells without harming healthy cells. The ingredient is oleocanthal, a compound that ruptures a part of the cancerous cell, releasing enzymes that cause cell death.
Paul Breslin, prof of nutritional sciences in the , and David Foster and Onica LeGendre of Hunter College, report that oleocanthal kills cancerous cells in the laboratory by rupturing vesicles that store the cell’s waste. LeGendre, the first author, Foster, the sr author, and Breslin have published their findings in According to the World Health Organization’s World Cancer Report 2014, there were more than 14 million new cases of cancer in 2012 and more than 8 million deaths.
Scientists knew that oleocanthal killed some cancer cells, but no one really understood how this occurred. Breslin believed that oleocanthal might be targeting a key protein in cancer cells that triggers a programmed cell death, known as apoptosis, and worked with Foster and Legendre to test his hypothesis after meeting David Foster at a seminar he gave at Rutgers.
“We needed to determine if oleocanthal was targeting that protein and causing the cells to die,” Breslin said.
After applying oleocanthal to the cancer cells, Foster and LeGendre discovered that the cancer cells were dying very quickly – within 30 minutes to an hour. Since programmed cell death takes between 16 and 24 hours, the scientists realized that something else had to be causing the cancer cells to break down and die. LeGendre, a chemist, provided the answer: The cancer cells were being killed by their own enzymes. The oleocanthal was puncturing the vesicles inside the cancer cells that store the cell’s waste – the cell’s “dumpster,” as Breslin called it, or “recycling center,” as Foster refers to it. These vesicles, known as lysosomes are larger in cancer cells than in healthy cells, and they contain a lot of waste. “Once you open one of those things, all hell breaks loose,” Breslin said.
But oleocanthal didn’t harm healthy cells, the researchers found. It merely stopped their life cycles temporarily – “put them to sleep,” Breslin said. After a day, the healthy cells resumed their cycles. The researchers say the logical next step is to go beyond laboratory conditions and show that oleocanthal can kill cancer cells and shrink tumors in living animals. “We also need to understand why it is that cancerous cells are more sensitive to oleocanthal than non-cancerous cells,” Foster said.