[:en]Today it is well known that a Mediterranean diet rich in extra virgin olive oil is beneficial to health in several ways. It is also known that it is in the unsaponifiable portion (a tiny portion in olive oil, between 1and 3%) where the majority of bioactive compounds responsible for these benefits are found. Some of these benefits appear to coincide with those attributed to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The discovery of the presence of a natural anti-inflammatory in extra virgin olive oil could explain one of the mechanisms through which this comes about, bringing a cientific basis to the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet.
It was a peppery sensation in the throat that led biologist and doctor of bio-psychology Gary Beauchamp of the prestigious Monell Chemical Center of Philadelphia to follow his hunch about whether extra virgin olive oil shared pharmacological properties with ibuprofen. At the research center, scientists from several disciplines work together to discover the mechanisms and functions of taste and smell and to define the multiple meanings these senses have in terms of health and sickness.
Dr. Beauchamp retells the story of how the phenolic compound in extra virgin olive oil was originally discovered in different quantities according to the olive oil variety and how the oil was processed, and how it was found that their properties were similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory ibuprofen. As often happens in major scientific discoveries, it was by chance that Dr. Beauchamp discovered olecanthal. He was attending a conference on molecular nutrition in Sicily when he tried extra virgin olive oil for the first time. Previously, at the Monell Center, while working on a project for a pharmaceutical company, he had to try samples of a mixture containing ibuprofen that was meant to treat cold symptoms. When he swallowed the extra virgin olive oil, the piquant sensation he noticed in his throat reminded him of the mixture. His scientific curiosity kicked in and he was able to isolate the compound in the oil that produced the pungent sensation. He went on to research its properties and to see whether they were similar to non-steroidal anti-inflamatories. The compound descarboximetil ligustrosido aglicona) a Tyrol ester whose chemical structure derives from oleoropeina, was isolated from different superior quality extra virgin olive oils and their intensity of throat irritation, specifically in the oropharyngeal area, was measured. It was found that the intensity of irritation correlated positively with it and it was named Oleocanthal, which derives from oleo from the Latin oleum – olive oil; canth from the Latin acanthus and from the Greek ákantha which means thorn; and al from the chemical substance aldehyde which is the chemical structure of the isolated compound.
In 2005 Beauchamp and his collaborators published an article in Nature in which they explained how the similar sensation appeared to be an indicator of a shared pharmacological activity, in such a way that oleocanthal acted as a natural anti-inflammatory compound with an intensity and profile that was surprisingly similar to ibuprofen. Although they were structurally different, both molecules inhibit the same enzyme, ciclooxigenasa (COX) in the biosynthesis path of the prostaglandins. Oleocanthal not only carries out the same anti-inflammatory activity as ibuprofen, it does it in equimolar concentrations, its inhibitory action is superior to the ciclooxigenasas COX1 and cox2 (Beauchamp, G.K., Keast, R.S.J., Morel, D., Lin, J., Pika, J., Han, Q., Lee, C-H, Smith, A.B. III, Breslin, P.A.S. Ibuprofen- like activity in extra-virgin olive oil. Nature, 2005, 437, 45- 6). The results discussed in the article suggest the possibility that long term consumption of oleocanthal may help protect gainst different illnesses through its inhibitory action of the COX enzymes, similar to ibuprofen. With the ingestion of 50 g of extra virgin olive oil containing up to 200 μg per mL of oleocanthal, of which 60-90% is absorbed, this would correspond to the ingestion of up to 9 mg per day. This is a relatively low dosage, representing approximately 10% of the dose of ibuprofen recommended for treating pain in an adult, although it is known that equally low, regular doses of aspirin, which also inhibits the COX enzyme, also offer benefits for cardiovascular health. Ibuprofen has been associated with a lower risk of suffering from certain types of cancer, reduction of platelet aggregation in the blood, and with a protector effect in forms of Alzheimer‘s in rats.
More recently, researchers at CPAN (Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition) Australia have reviewed the different beneficial effects that oleocanthal, present in extra virgin olive oil, can have on pathological processes related to chronic inflammation, which includes certain specific types of cancer, degenerative illnesses of the joints and neurodegenerative illnesses such as Parkinsons or Alzheimers (Pardinson, L. and Keast, R. Oleocanthal, a phenolic derived from virgin olive oil: a review of the beneficial effects on inflammatory disease. Int. Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2014, 15, 12323-12334).
evcata. Source: Lourdes Humanes. D.O. Estepa.
Translator: Susan Hoover