Olive Oil Has Painkilling Properties

Compound in it imitates activity of ibuprofen, researchers say

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By Ed Edelson
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 31, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A chance tasting at a scientific meeting in Sicily has led to another reason for including olive oil in your diet.

The pungent liquid turns out to contain a compound that has the same molecular action as ibuprofen, the widely used painkiller, researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia report in the Sept. 1 issue of Nature.

And that similarity means that olive oil may offer the same health benefits as low-dose use of anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, said research leader Paul A. S. Breslin. Those benefits include a reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, some cancers and Alzheimer's disease.

The research effort had its beginning at a meeting on molecular gastronomy, where Gary Beauchamp, director of Monell, was offered some newly pressed extra-virgin olive oil.

"He tasted it and it stung in his throat the same way as ibuprofen, a distinct sensation," Breslin said. "He brought that virgin olive oil back to us. We isolated a compound from it, synthesized it and tested it for activity."

That newly discovered compound has been named oleocanthal by the Monell researchers. Tests show that it inhibits cox-1 and cox-2, molecules associated with pain and inflammation, just as ibuprofen does.

But the action of oleocanthal is much weaker than that of ibuprofen. It would take 500 grams of olive oil to get the effect of the ibuprofen dose recommended for adult pain relief.

Breslin certainly isn't recommending that high a daily dose of olive oil. But he did say the new finding offers another reason for Americans to adopt the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fish, unsaturated fat, fresh vegetables -- and olive oil.

"You could take a baby aspirin every day, but the Mediterranean diet offers the same health benefits," he said.

Olive oil can be substituted for some of the fat-rich products that abound in the current American diet, Breslin said. "You can put butter on your toast or dip it in olive oil," he said. "It's a no-brainer."

The health benefits of olive oil already have official federal approval. Last November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized advertisements saying that olive oil helps reduce the risk of coronary disease.

More information

The Mediterranean diet and its benefits are described by the American Heart Association.

SOURCES: Paul A.S. Breslin, Ph.D., professor, Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia; Sept. 1, 2005, Nature

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