Monday, February 23, 2015

Olive oil and cancer-What can be the relation?

Why are some people so much obsessed with consuming olive oil? Is it for its flavor or nutrition? It depends on the perception of those who are prepared to pay a much higher price to buy it in spite of the fact that this is the most adulterated food items in the world. Since it is high cost oil, fraudsters find in this an excellent opportunity to make a fortune in double quick time. On an average a liter of organic olive oil can fetch almost Rs 3000 while the so called extra virgin olive oil with less than 0.8% free fatty acids costs Rs 300-1000 per liter depending on the brand. Though olive oil has been claimed to be helpful in preventing CVD and other arterial diseases, no conclusive scientific evidence has yet been generated to justify the same. No health authority any where in the world allow use of such unqualified claims on the label of the bottle. In Mediterranean countries olive oil is a common cooking medium and across the world it is cherished as an excellent salad oil for dressing. Of the 3 million tons world production Spain accounts for more than 40% followed by Greece and Italy. Greeks consume the highest quantities of olive oil, the annual per capita consumption being a whopping 26 liters! Olive oil contains many phenolic compounds some of which are of significance in human health and therefore unprocessed oil commends high prices as non-exposure to heat protects these phytochemicals. A recent report about the cancer curing property of a particular polyphenolic constituent viz, Oleocanthal if confirmed, may boost the intrinsic value of this plant oil in the coming years. Please read further below.  

An ingredient found in extra-virgin olive oil called oleocanthal has been known as a compound capable of killing a variety of human cancer cells, but how this process actually played out was not understood. Now, a team of researchers has uncovered not only how oleocanthal destroys cancer cells, but that it is able to do so while leaving healthy cells unharmed. Paul Breslin, a professor of nutritional sciences at Rutgers University, had thought that oleocanthal killed the cancer cells by targeting a key protein in cancer cells that triggers apoptosis, a process that sees dangerous or damaged cells self-destruct by upsetting the balance of ions in the cell membranes. In investigating this theory, he teamed up with David Foster and Onica LeGendre, two cancer biologists from New York City's Hunter College to more closely examine the process. "We needed to determine if oleocanthal was targeting that protein and causing the cells to die," says Breslin. What first surprised the scientists was how quickly the oleocanthal destroyed the cancer cells. While apoptosis requires between 16 and 24 hours to take effect, the oleocanthal was killing off the cancer cells within 30 minutes to one hour. This led the team to believe that there were some other factors at play. What they discovered was that the oleocanthal was piercing the cancer cell's vesicles, the containers that store the cell's waste. By puncturing these "dumpsters," as Breslin describes them, it creates an outpouring of enzymes that then cause the cell to die. "Once you open one of those things, all hell breaks loose," says Breslin. And when it came to the healthy cells, the researchers found that they remain completely unharmed. While the application of oleocanthal caused a temporary halt in their life cycles, after 24 hours they returned to normal. With the testing thus far carried out in the lab, the researchers say that they will now look to establish the effects of oleocanthal on cancer cells in living animals".

Originally the healthy aspect of oil was more related to the presence of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) like oleic acid with some beneficial effect on arterial health but there are less expensive oils like Sunflower oil which has more MUFA than that present in Olive oil (84% vs 72%. If so why go for Olive oil which is 10 times costlier than Sunflower oil? Probably demand for olive oil is driven more because of its delicate flavor imparted to it by the bitter poly phenolic chemicals, numbering of 30 in it expressed during cold mechanical pressing. Also there is a perception that olive oil is a good cosmetic ingredient with beneficial effect on skin besides its use in some pharmaceutical products. Ultimately the price in the market will be determined by the demand-supply dynamics and the prices are bound to rule high as long as its production is restricted to a few countries in the Mediterranean region.


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