The polyphenols found in olive oil are a natural for helping us lower our risk of certain cancer types. Many types of cancer only get initiated when cells are overwhelmed by oxidative stress (damage to cell structure and function by overly reactive oxygen-containing molecules) and by chronic excessive inflammation. Since the polyphenols in olive oil act both as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory molecules, they are perfectly suited for lower…ing our cells’ risk of oxidative stress and chronic unwanted inflammation. Research studies have shown that as little as 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil per day can lower our risk of certain cancer types, including cancers of the breast, respiratory tract, upper digestive tract, and to a lesser extent, lower digestive tract (colorectal cancers). In some research studies, the anti-cancer benefits of olive oil do not show up until the diets of routine olive oil users are compared with the diets of individuals who seldom use olive oil and who instead consume added fats that are more saturated in composition (for example, butter).

While most of the anti-cancer research on olive oil has focused on its polyphenols and their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, several studies have uncovered other fascinating ways in which olive oil provides its anti-cancer benefits. These other ways include the improvement of cell membrane function in a way that lowers risk of cancer development and the altering gene expression in cells in a way that enhances their antioxidant defense system. A final important mechanism linking olive oil intake to decreased cancer risk involves protection of our DNA. The antioxidants in olive oil appear to have a special ability to protect DNA (deoxyribonucleic acids)—the key chemical component of genetic material in our cells—from oxygen damage. DNA protection from unwanted oxidative stress means better cell function in wide variety of ways and provides a cell with decreased risk of cancer development.

There is also encouraging research on the potential for olive oil to help with control of certain cancers once they have already developed. For example, improvement of breast cancer status has been an area of particular interest in olive oil research. Here some of the research has focused on the secoiridoids in olive oil (especially oleocanthal), and its ability to help keep breast cancer cells from reproducing. Another example involves the ability of hydroxytyrosol (HT) in olive oil to trigger programmed cell death (apoptosis) in colon cancer cells. HT may be able to accomplish this anti-cancer effect by helping block the enzymatic activity of fatty acid synthetase (FAS). These cancer-controlling properties of olive oil and olive oil constituents are generally referred to as the “antiproliferative” properties of olive oil. We expect to see more future research in this area.

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