Is Oleocanthal the Most Important Molecule in Olive Oil?

Oleocanthal is one of the most significant health-promoting molecules in medicinal olive oil. Over 300 peer-reviewed scientific studies implicate oleocanthal as a cancer protective, anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, antimicrobial, and neuroprotective agent. How can one small molecule do so much to promote health and fight disease? The answer is in its very reactive chemical composition.

Oleocanthal was first purified from olive oil in 1992, and its properties have been thoroughly studied since. Initial tests using human cells in 2005 found oleocanthal to be an extremely effective anti-inflammatory molecule – stronger than ibuprofen. The name oleocanthal is composed from oleo – which is Latin for oil, canth – also Latin, for the stinging sensation it generates at the back of the tongue, and al – which refers to the highly reactive aldehydes that make this molecule so potent. In fact, tasting an oil for that signature palate stinging quality is a quick way to ascertain whether it is rich in oleocanthal.

Scientists and clinicians around the world have studied the importance of oleocanthal as a major cancer protective agent. Studies both in vitro (in a dish) and in vivo (in a body) have implicated oleocanthal in protecting cells from becoming cancerous, slowing the growth of cancer cells, killing cancer cells, and preventing metastasis. These effects were achieved on a multitude of cancer types, including breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer and leukemia. Most studies demonstrated the tumor protective properties using purified oleocanthal. But in the last few years, several studies have shown that olive oils that are rich in oleocanthal are also cancer protective, and in some cases, even more potent than pure oleocanthal. While this effect is not well understood, it may have to do with the interplay between the various other medicinal molecules in olive oil, or the benefits of oleocanthal on our gut microbiome.

Beyond its tumor protective properties, oleocanthal has been shown to slow down the development of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Alzheimer’s disease is initiated by the buildup of abnormal proteins in the brain, leading to neuron dysfunction and eventually, neuron death. Oleocanthal was shown to degrade and clear these toxic proteins from affected neurons, improving the disease prognosis.

In most laboratory studies, results were achieved using high doses of pure oleocanthal. Therefore, to reap these same benefits through EVOO consumption, the concentration of oleocanthal must be exceedingly high. The average fresh, high-quality EVOO contains about 100 milligrams of oleocanthal for each kilogram of olive oil. This would require consumption of at least half a cup of quality oil each day to provide some protection against disease. On the other hand, top medicinal olive oils, like The Governor, contain as much as five to ten times this concentration of oleocanthal, allowing the same health benefits to be achieved with much lower consumption—as low as one spoonful a day.

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