Aug. 31, 2005 -- A daily dose of olive oil may act as a natural pain reliever, according to a new study that shows the Mediterranean staple contains an anti-inflammatory ingredient.
Researchers say they've discovered a previously unknown ingredient in freshly pressed, extra virgin olive oils that acts as a natural anti-inflammatory, much like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
They say the soothing effects of the enzyme, which they named oleocanthal, may be responsible for some of the health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet, such as a reduced risk of stroke, heart disease, breast cancer, lung cancer, and some forms of dementia, all of which have been linked to inflammation.
"Now that we know of oleocanthal's anti-inflammatory properties, it seems plausible that oleocanthal plays a causal role in the health benefits associated with diets where olive oil is the principal source of fat," says researcher Paul Breslin, PhD, of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in a news release.
Olive Oil: Nature's Anti-Inflammatory?
Researchers say they began researching the potential anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil after observing that fresh extra-virgin olive oil irritates the back of the throat in the same way that NSAIDs do.
After isolating the throat-irritating enzyme, they found that it also inhibited the inflammatory activity of Cox-1 and Cox-2 like the anti-inflammatory drugs. Inhibiting these reactions impedes the production of the chemical messengers that cause the pain and swelling of arthritis inflammation.
The results, published in the Sept. 1 issue of Nature, show that a 50 gram (1.75 ounce) daily dose of olive oil is equivalent to about 10% of the ibuprofen dose recommended for adult pain relief.
That dose is relatively low and won't relieve a headache, but researchers say low doses of other anti-inflammatory agents, like aspirin, have been shown to provide substantial health benefits when taken consistently over time.
Researchers say the finding is significant because chronic inflammation is increasingly thought to play a role in a variety of diseases, from heart disease to cancer.