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Olive Oil's Phenolic Acids Affects Cancer Cells


For years, scientists have thought that olive oil might help prevent breast cancer. Now they may have discovered why.

Extra virgin olive oil has an abundance of phenolic acids. Research published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine reveals the bio-active effects of olive oil.

Also, in previous laboratory experiments, oleic acid, the main monounsaturated fatty acid in olive oil, suppressed one of the most important genes involved in breast cancer.

This was the first molecular support for the Mediterranean diet, said study author Javier Menendez, a research scientist with the Evanston Northwestern Healthcare Research Institute in Illinois.

Epidemiological studies have reported lower rates of breast cancer in people from the Mediterranean region, where a lot of olive oil is produced and consumed. This has led to speculation that the diet, including olive oil, may be responsible. In the study listed below, Menendez and his colleagues examined human breast cancer cells that had been grown for this research.

Specifically, they were looking at the effect of oleic acid on the Her-2/neu gene. The Her-2 gene is overexpressed in more than one-fifth of people with breast cancer and also tends to signal the presence of a particularly bad cancer.

Higher Her-2 levels generally mean the cancer is more aggressive and tends to respond less well to certain kinds of chemotherapy, Meyers said. It is prognostically unfavorable.

In the cells, oleic acid cut levels of the gene Her-2/neu by up to 46 percent.

In addition, oleic acid seemed to enhance the effectiveness of the drug Herceptin, which targets the Her-2/neu gene, and increased the expression of a protein that works to suppress tumors.

For Menendez, the news is already good. I'm really happy. I'm from Spain. I eat a lot of olive oil, he said. Spain is the world's biggest producer of olive oil. Olive oil is not toxic at all. It's a very safe habit for people, he added. Here's his published study:

Extra-virgin olive oil polyphenols inhibit HER2 (erbB-2)-induced malignant transformation in human breast epithelial cells: relationship between the chemical structures of extra-virgin olive oil secoiridoids and lignans and their inhibitory activities on the tyrosine kinase activity of HER2.

Our current findings not only molecularly support recent epidemiological evidence revealing that extra virgin olive oil related anti-breast cancer effects primarily affect the occurrence of breast tumors over-expressing the type I receptor tyrosine kinase HER2 but further suggest that the stereochemistry of EVOO-derived lignans and secoiridoids might provide an excellent and safe platform for the design of new HER2 targeted anti-breast cancer drugs.

Related Studies:

Summary of the II International Conference on Olive Oil and Health Consensus Report, Jaén and Córdoba (Spain) 2008. Nutrition Metab Cardiovasc Disease. 2010 May;20 Department of Medicine, Reina Sofia University Hospital, School of Medicine, Cordoba, Spain

Olive oil is the most representative food of the traditional Mediterranean Diet (MedDiet). Increasing evidence suggests that monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) as a nutrient, olive oil as a food, and the MedDiet as a food pattern are associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and hypertension. A MedDiet rich in olive oil and olive oil per se has been shown to improve cardiovascular risk factors, such as lipid profiles, blood pressure, postprandial hyperlipidemia, endothelial dysfunction, oxidative stress, and antithrombotic profiles. Some of these beneficial effects can be attributed to the olive oil minor components. Therefore, the definition of the MedDiet should include olive oil. Phenolic compounds in olive oil have shown antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, prevent lipoperoxidation, induce favorable changes of lipid profile, improve endothelial function, and disclose antithrombotic properties. Observational studies from Mediterranean cohorts have suggested that dietary MUFA may be protective against age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease. Recent studies consistently support the concept that the olive oil-rich MedDiet is compatible with healthier aging and increased longevity. In countries where the population adheres to the MedDiet, such as Spain, Greece and Italy, and olive oil is the principal source of fat, rates of cancer incidence are lower than in northern European countries. Experimental and human cellular studies have provided new evidence on the potential protective effect of olive oil on cancer. Furthermore, results of case-control and cohort studies suggest that MUFA intake including olive oil is associated with a reduction in cancer risk (mainly breast, colorectal and prostate cancers)

Vitamin D(3) protects breast epithelial cells against cellular stress.

Cellular stress (e.g., DNA damage, hypoxia, oncogene activation) has been identified as one of the key factors responsible for initiating the carcinogenesis process.

Data from this study suggests a significant protective role for vitamin D(3) against cellular stress in the breast epithelial cells and these effects may be mediated by altered miRNA expression.


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Updated: Dec 21 2013