The major antioxidant compound found in olive oil is capable of killing cancer cells in less than an hour while leaving healthy cells unharmed, according to a study conducted by researchers from Rutgers University and Hunter College and published in the journal Molecular & Cellular Oncology.
The researchers hope that this may lead to a targeted cancer therapy based on this molecule.
“The Mediterranean diet is known to be associated with a reduced risk of many different kinds of cancer,” researcher Paul Breslin said. “Whereas the entire diet likely has many benefits, this study points directly to the olive oil phenolic, oleocanthal, as playing an especially important role in these observations. As more people turn to the Mediterranean diet as a healthy life option, oleocanthal is growing in its significance as a key active component of this diet.”
Makes “all hell break loose” for cancer
Many healthful plant compounds are known to induce apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in cancer cells by targeting a specific protein that controls the process. Yet apoptosis typically takes between 16 and 24 hours to complete, and prior studies had shown that cancer cells exposed to oleocanthal died within 30 to 60 minutes of exposure. The oleocanthal was acting much too fast, suggesting some mechanism other than apoptosis.
“We needed to determine if oleocanthal was targeting that protein and causing the cells to die,” Breslin said.