A naturally occurring chemical found in extra-virgin olive oils is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent, report scientists from the Monell Chemical Senses Center and collaborators at the University of Pennsylvania.

Named “oleocanthal” by the researchers, the compound inhibits activity of cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes, similar to the action of ibuprofen. The finding is significant because inflammation increasingly is believed to play a key role in a variety of chronic diseases.

“Some of the health–related effects of the Mediterranean diet may be due to the natural anti-COX activity of oleocanthal from premium olive oils,” observes Monell biologist Gary Beauchamp, PhD.

Studies revealed that, like ibuprofen, oleocanthal inhibits activity of COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes. Because inhibition of COX activity underlies the anti-inflammatory actions of ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), the new findings suggest oleocanthal is a natural anti-inflammatory agent.

Monell sensory scientist Paul Breslin, PhD, who directed the research together with Beauchamp, remarks, “The Mediterranean diet, of which olive oil is a central component, has long been associated with numerous health benefits, including decreased risk of stroke, heart disease, breast cancer, lung cancer, and some dementias. Similar benefits are associated with certain NSAIDs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen. 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.”

Monell Chemical Senses Center, Aug 31, 2005