Who would have guessed fresh extra virgin olive oil has something in common with Advil or Motrin. Not taste, of course. Instead, say scientists, freshly pressed EVOO contains a natural anti-inflammatory agent that behaves much like the pain-killer ibuprofen, which is sold under the trade names Motrin and Advil.
That may help explain why the Mediterranean diet is good for you, according to one scientist.
Gary Beauchamp, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Monell Chemical Senses Center, came up with the idea of a potential EVOO-ibuprofen link several years ago while attending a conference on molecular gastronomy in Sicily.
At the time, two conference organizers — who owned an olive oil grove and clearly had a passion for olive oil — held an EVOO tasting which Beauchamp attended. Tasting cups were laid out containing the oils.
Beauchamp took a sip and was startled. “I’ve been using olive oil all my life,” the scientist told Penn’s news service. “But I’m too cheap to ever use the expensive kind, and I’d certainly never drunk it.”
Beauchamp noted the oil irritated his throat in much the same way as ibuprofen, which he and his colleagues at Monnell had been studying. Given the stinging sensation, the scientist speculated the oil might contain similar pharmacological properties.
Back in Philadelphia, Beauchamp teamed with Monell scientist Paul Breslin and Penn chemistry professor Amos Smith to isolate and evaluate the compound responsible for the throaty sting. They eventually it and named it oleocanthal. Smith’s lab then made it from scratch to be sure it was the active ingredient causing the irritation.
From there, the team tested the compound’s pharmacological properties and found that, like ibuprofen, it curbs the activity of COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, “suggesting that oleocanthal is a natural anti-inflammatory agent,” according to Penn’s news service.
Beauchamp threw cold water on the idea you can drink olive to cure a headache. “The levels are far too low,” he told Penn’s news service. The amount of olive oil a typical Mediterranean consumes a day — about 50 milliliters — amounts to only a tenth of a dose of ibuprofen, the news service noted.
However, Beauchamp said the results may partly explain why the Mediterranean diet, which is associated with a reduced risk of coronary and cardiovascular diseases, as well as several kinds of cancer and dementia, is good for you. “Some component of the value of the Mediterranean diet,” he told the news service, “may derive from consuming small amounts of olive oil every day.”
Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch