Scientists have proven that olives are more than a bit healthy. Studies have found that a constituent of olives and olive oil inhibits the growth of cancer as well as deters the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Olive halts cancer pathway
A 2017 study from the University of Texas has shown that olives stop an important pathway that cancer cells use to grow.
The signaling pathway uses mitogen-activated protein kinases or MAPKs to express certain genes. This signals the growth of the cancer cells, producing metastasis.
The researchers found that a compound in olive called squalene, helps block the MAPK signaling system. The researchers concluded that virgin olive oil could be used as an adjuvant to other cancer therapies, calling virgin olive oil a “natural delivery system.”
Breast cancer reduced with olives
More specifically to breast cancer, scientists at the King Saud University treated human breast cancer cells with another constituent of olives known as oleuropein. The testing found that Oleuropein produced genetic changes among breast cancer cells that serve to inhibit their ability to metastasize and grow throughout the body.
One of the two key genetic changes influenced by the oleuropein was the inhibition of the matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) enzymes. These MMPs – specifically MMP2 and MMP9 – usher the process of metastasizing. The MMP enzymes were blocked, effectively inhibiting the spread of the cancer.
Oleuropein renders Alzheimer’s protection
The oleuropein extract also stimulated a genetic expression of the TIMP gene. When these genes are expressed, through a polymerase chain reaction, tumor growth is halted.
The researchers concluded that:
“Treatment of breast cancer cells with oleuropein could help in prevention of cancer metastasis by increasing the TIMPs and suppressing the MMPs gene expressions.”
In another study – this from researchers from Greece’s National Center for Scientific Research – oleuropein was found to inhibit the development of brain cell amyloid-beta protein precursor along with β-amyloid (Aβ) metabolism. Aβ metabolism has been linked to causing long-term memory loss among elderly persons.
The researchers treated human cells that had become subjected to the growth of β-amyloid protein complex – duplicating what occurs within the brain of someone developing Alzheimer’s.
They treated the cells with oleuropein and found that the olive extract interacted with the amyloid proteins in such a way that halted the Aβ metabolism process.
In this case, oleuropein stimulated MMP-9 activity amongst these amyloid-beta complexed cells. Increasing MMP-9 activity helps reduce the amyloid-beta oligomers amongst these cells.
The researchers concluded that:
“The experimental data reveal an anti-amyloidogenic effect of oleuropein and suggest a possible protective role for Oleuropein against Alzheimer’s disease, extending the spectrum of beneficial properties of this naturally occurring polyphenol.”
Olives rich in other phytonutrients
While olives contain a number of polyphenols, oleuropein and squalene are two of the best known. Other polyphenols within olives and olive oil can include hydroxytyrosol, tyrosol and verbascoside.
Along with these benefits, oleuropein has been found to dilate the blood vessels, reducing blood pressure and increasing bloodflow. Olive’s high level of antioxidants also gives it a tremendous anti-inflammatory capacity, especially among the cardiovascular system. Olive leaf has been found to be antiviral. It appears to inhibit virus’ ability to replicate, preventing viral shedding and budding within the cells and cell membrane.
The olive also contains a unique monounsaturated fatty acid called oleic acid. Olive oil also contains linoleic, palmitic, stearic and linolenic fatty acids. The combination of fats in olive helps balance pro-inflammatory fats such as saturated fats and arachidonic acids in other foods.
This blend of fatty acids, along with its antioxidants, gives olives and olive oil its proven ability to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and help prevent inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.
What is virgin and extra virgin olive oil?
Olive oil comes with a variety of labels, including virgin or extra virgin. Virgin oil must maintain a standard of less than 1.5-2% acidity (depending upon the country or origin), while extra virgin must maintain less than 0.8% acidity. A misnomer is that extra virgin is supposed to be from the first pressing. Rather, oil manufacturers find that certain seasonal pressings of certain olive varietals will produce the desired lower acid levels.
Many also assume that extra virgin oil utilizes only a mechanical press, but virgin olive oil also must be mechanically pressed. This contrasts to using chemical solvents to extract the oil. Most conventional vegetable oils are chemically extracted, while most olive oils are mechanically pressed. It should be noted that some mechanically pressed olive oils are blended with others to achieve the lower acidity – which is regulated by the Italian, Greece and government agencies.
In addition, high quality extra virgin olive oil is typically cold pressed, because it is mechanically pressed and utilizes less heat in the process. Most of the high quality extra virgin olive oils are cold pressed. Mechanical cold pressing helps preserve some of the heat-sensitive polyphenols and other nutrients contained within a fresh olive.
Pickling olives in a vinegar solution is one of the easiest and more delicious ways to preserve the polyphenol content of fresh olives.
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Hassan ZK, Elamin MH, Daghestani MH, Omer SA, Al-Olayan EM, Elobeid MA, Virk, Mohammed OB. Oleuropein Induces Anti-metastatic Effects in Breast Cancer. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2012;13(9):4555-9.
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SK. Oleuropein reduces free fatty acid-induced lipogenesis via lowered extracellular signal-regulated kinase activation in hepatocytes. Nutr Res. 2012 Oct;32(10):778-86.
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Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.