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Olive oil kills cancer cells

Scientists discover a reason why Mediterranean diet helps people live longer

SCIENTISTS may have discovered the reason the Mediterranean diet helps people live longer and healthier – because olive oil destroys cancer cells.

The discovery, by researchers from Rutgers, Hunter College and New York City University, showed that oleocanthal in extra virgin olive oil “induced cell death in all cancer cells examined – as rapidly as 30 minutes after treatment”.

Studying prostate, breast and pancreatic cells plus normal cells in the laboratory, they discovered that the anti-oxidant oleocanthal only worked on the cancer cells and left the normal cells untouched other than a temporary slowing-down of activity.

Revealing their research in the journal Molecular & Cellular Oncology, they said extra virgin olive oil was a key part of the Mediterranean diet and was known to contain “an abundance of phenolic antioxidants that are potent inhibitors of reactive oxygen species and is associated with a reduced risk of several types of human cancers”.

Onica LeGendre, Paul Breslin and David Foster said the oleocanthal entered the cancer cell and weakened a membrane in the cell wall.

However, the team stopped short of declaring olive oil a cure for cancer, with David Foster saying that high-quality extra virgin olive oil contains just 0.2mg/ml of oleocanthal and earlier studies on mice had shown each mouse needed 0.15mg of the anti-oxidant to kill the cancer – which was the equivalent of drinking 2.25 litres of oil.

Colleague David Breslin said the dose used for the mice was “very high” but it was reasonable to believe that a daily dose of extra virgin olive oil over a lifetime could have a similar effect – although more animal and human tests were needed.

Olive oil is known to have an effect against heart problems, high blood pressure and constipation. Its omega 9 content also helps prevent cell ageing. American researchers have shown its anti-inflammatory properties help in pain relief.

However, olive oil production in France last year fell 70% due to attacks by the olive fly Bactrocera oleae and trees in Spain and Italy are being devastated by the bacteria Xylella fastidiosa - meaning prices are rising quickly.

Do you use olive oil for your meals? Let us know your favourite recipe at news[at]

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