Olives and olive oil are especially said to be good for the heart and the vascular system. Olive oil is the main component of European salad dressings as well as other delicacies. Olive oil is extracted from the fruit of the olive plant Olea europaea, which is cultivated in large numbers in the Mediterranean area. There are several grades of olive oil depending on the production method. Some of these are:
- Virgin olive oil is oil produced from olives without any chemical treatment.
- Extra-virgin olive oil is extracted from olives without any use of heat or chemical treatment. Both virgin and extra-virgin oil cannot contain refined oil.
- Refined olive oil is produced with chemical treatment to neutralize the strong olive taste.
- Pure olive oil can be a mixture of refined and virgin oil.
In a recent article in the journal BMC cancer, researchers at the University of Granada, reported that olive oil also contains compounds which have anti-cancer properties. These “phytochemicals” which were isolated from extra-virgin olive oil, triggers cancer cell death. The phytochemicals were identified as the polyphenols lignans and secoiridoids and are only found in good quality extra-virgin olive oil. This suggests that these phytochemicals get destroyed during processing by heat or chemical treatment, probably by heat or chemical treatment.
According to leas researcher Javier Menendez:
The polyphenols were tested against human breast cancer cells in laboratory experiments and were found to significantly suppress the overexpression of HER2 cancer gene.
Although this is good news, the authors were quick to point out that the tumoricidal effects of the olive oil polyphenols in the lab still have to be thoroughly tested in clinical trials. For one thing, the phytochemical concentrations used in the lab experiments are so high and are not feasible for consumption on a day-to-day basis.
The results of the experiments, however, indicate that olive oil might explain the link between Mediterranean diets and low breast cancer risk.
According to the authors:
“These findings, together with the fact that that humans have safely been ingesting significant amounts of lignans and secoiridoids as long as they have been consuming olives and extra-virgin oil, strongly suggest that these polyphenols might provide an excellent and safe platform for the design of new anti breast-cancer drugs”.