PEAS Health

Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Health

The Role of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in Preventing Cancer

Extra Virgin Olive and Cancer

Cancer is a disease which is caused by abnormal and uncontrolled division of cells in part of the body. According to the National Cancer Institute, the abnormal and uncontrolled division in cells can spread to other tissues through the blood and lymph systems. There are more than one hundred types of cancers and usually the type derives its name from the organ where it starts. Examples are breast cancer, colon cancer, lungs cancer, throat cancer etc.

In this article I have tried to collect the information regarding the effects of olive oil on cancer. All the material is for information purposes only and is not intended to cure any medical condition. I have also referenced to the research to make it easy for the reader for any further reading.
Cancer and diet
Olive Oil and Cancer
Olive Oil and Prostate Cancer
Olive Oil and Ovarian Cancer
Olive Oil and Bowl or Colon Cancer
Olive Oil and Skin Cancer
Olive Oil and Child Leukaemia
Olive and Esophageal Squamous Cell Cancer
What constituents of olive help in reducing the risk?
Is it only the oil a combatant or combined with Veg and fruit??


Cancer and diet
Cancer Research UK reports that unhealthy diets have a deep relation with cancer and that one in ten cases of cancer in the UK have been observed to be caused by unhealthy diets. Eating healthy and balanced diet can greatly reduce the risk of cancer. Diets which are high in fiber such as fruit and vegetables and low in red and processed meat and salt play a good role in reducing the risk. In an article published in BJC 2011, Parkin, M etal, observed that one in ten cases of cancer in the UK was a cause of the consumption of regularly unhealthy diets.

Olive Oil and Cancer

In 2008, Esrich and associates conducted a study on the possible beneficial effects of olive oil against cancer. The study concluded that olive oil could have positive effect and could reduce the risk of colon, breast and prostate cancers. Several studies have been conducted over the last three decades to find the anti-cancer properties of high quality extra virgin olive oil and the results so far have been found to be very promising.

Breast cancer and Olive Oil

Research studies have shown that regular intake of olive oil can prove protective against breast cancer and reduce its risk. The type of fat has a considerable role in causing cancer; it is, therefore, important to eat healthy diet along with olive oil to derive full anti-cancer benefits. When toxins are consumed through diet, they attack DNA which then causes cell mutations and paves the way for malignant tumors. As olive oil contains vitamins and antioxidants, it provides body the immunity and power to fight against the free radicals produced by toxins. According to a report published in Daily Mail UK, the Spanish scientists from the University of Autonoma de Barcelona conducted a study on rats and found that eating a good amount of extra virgin olive oil destroys the gene which causes breast cancer. Not only that, but it also protects the DNA from damage that can cause cancer. The paper further reported that Dr Eduard Escrich (a researcher in the field) recommends taking 10 teaspoons of high quality olive oil on a daily basis for long term benefits.

Science Daily reports that a joint study was conducted by Javier Menendez and Antonio Segura who led the teams from Catalan institute of Oncology and the University of Granada respectively.  Menendez writes that their findings, for the first time, revealed that the phenols component of the oil (extra virgin) effectively prevented the spread of the cancer causing gene in breasts.

The two teams investigated the effect of the phytochemicals against breast cancers and found to effectively inhibit HER2.

BBC also reported that a study by scientists in Chicago confirmed positive effect of olive oil cutting the risk of breast cancer. Scientists from Northwestern University concluded that laboratory tests on breast cancer showed that oleic acid sharply cuts the level of the cancer causing gene.

Olive Oil and Bowl or Colon Cancer

Reports have confirmed that if a diet is rich in olive oil, it may help in reducing the risk of bowl or colon cancer. Recent studies have shown promising results of the protective role of Olive oil in liver diseases. Intestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease have also been reported to have an inverse relation with the oil.  It is the bad type of fat that has adverse effect on health and may play a role in the development of cancer. A group of medical professionals in University Hospital Barcelona, Department of Gastroenterology conducted a study on rats by feeding them with safflower, fish oil and olive oil. The investigation continued for five months and it was found that rats fed with safflower had developed tumors two times more than the groups fed with fish oil and olive oil. The investigators mixed the oil with a chemical which accelerates cancer in the bowel.  Some studies on pre-cancerous lesions showed that the olive oil rich diet had positive effect on these lesions in three ways:

  • It reduced the number of cancerous lesions
  • Tumors developed were significantly low in numbers
  • Any tumors developed had a better prognosis and as result were far less aggressive.

Three authors from School of Medicine University of Athens and one from Harokopio University conducted a systematic review of 13800 patients in 19 observational studies on the effect of olive oil in cancer related diseases in the period between 1999 and 2011. The authors found that the highest consumption of olive oil was associated with lower chances of having any type of cancer.  It was also found that olive oil consumption was associated with lower odd of breast and colon cancers.

Replacement of the dying cells with fresh ones in bowl lining promotes colon health. The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2000 reports that such replacements discourage cancer. In a similar tone, the American Journal of Medicine, 2002 suggested that making the olive oil the main fat in diet reduces the risk of cancer development by half.

Olive Oil and Ovarian Cancer

Another study found that women who included more olive oil in their diet had less chances of developing ovarian cancer. The study examined the diet of 3500 women in Italy. They were further divided into two groups. The first group consisted of 1031 women who already had developed ovarian cancer. The second group comprised 2411 women and they did not have any cancer. It was found that the women who consumed the highest amount of olive oil had the lowest rate of ovary cancer. The rate of reduction was found to be around 30%. The findings of the study were published in Bosetti, 2002.

Olive Oil and Prostate Cancer

A group of scientists from Instituto de la Grasa, Seville Spain suggested there was a positive relation between prostate carcinogenesis and the intake of saturated fat. It has also been suggested by many studies that the rate of death due to prostate cancer was lower in the regions such Greece and Italy because of the high consumption of olive oil in the Mediterranean diet.

Olive Oil and Skin Cancer

Some studies conducted on mice have shown positive results of olive oil on skins exposed to sunlight causing skin cancers. Studies of this nature were conducted in Japan and Ireland. The anti-oxidant properties of olive oil may be effective in reducing the risks of skin problems.

Olive Oil and Child Leukaemia

In article published by PubMed database, scientists from the Università degli Studi di Perugia, Italy found that extra virgin oil contained phenols which inhibit proliferation of leukemia cells (HL60).  They investigated the effect of phenols in the oil and found that phenols play a critical role in the anti cancer activity.

Olive and Esophageal Squamous Cell Cancer

Studies have found the inverse relation between vegetable and fruit consumption and esophageal cancer. According to the World Cancer Research Fund there is convincing evidence that high level of vegetables and fruit diet decrease the risk of esophageal cancer. Among other diets rich in fiber, vitamin C and carotenoids, olive oil has been associated with decreased risk of esophageal cancer. This has been confirmed by a scientific study and research published in NCBI.

What constituents of olive help in reducing the risk?

Studies indicated that healthy constituents found in olive oil had beneficial affect against cancers. Recent studies show that there are more than 70 healthy compounds found in olive oil. Here is a list and brief description of few of these constituents which may help reduce the risk of cancer.

1. Oleic Acid

It is a monounsaturated fatty acid that has maximum health benefits.  Arachidonic acid causes the production of prostaglandins which is known to be a major player in the production and development of tumors. Oleic acid significantly lowers the production of prostaglandins which in turn lowers the development of cancerous tumors. According to a study published in the Annals of Oncology (January, 2005), it was found that oncogene is a gene that changes a host cell in to a cancer cell. The study found that oleic acid had the ability to reduce the cancer causing effect of the oncogene gene.

 2. Antoxidants

These are substances or molecules that inhibit oxidation of molecules and counteract the damaging effect of tissues and cells in living organisms. According to Victoria Hassouna, the antioxidants present in extra virgin olive oil protect human beings from damages that can result from free radicals such as aging, weak immunity and even cancer.

3. Flavonides

Flavonoids are compounds found in plants and they have powerful antioxidant properties. Most common diseases that flavonoids may help in reducing the risk  include: repairing cellular damage, fight aging, reducing inflammation, promoting healthy arteries, and protecting against some types of cancers. The first pressed or oil obtained through cold pressing contains high levels of flavonoid substances which are not only heart healthy, but also antioxidants.

4. Polyphenols

The Catalonian Institute of Oncology, Barcelona, Spain conducted a study in 2009. The aim of the study was to find out any effect of polyphenols found in extra virgin olive oil on cancer, its growth or development. The study concluded that polyphenols were effective to fight against breast cancers. The phenolic compounds are highly effective antioxidants. Excessive heat destroys phenols, so refined olive oil which undergoes a heating process may not contain the beneficial amount as contained in the cold pressed virgin olive oil.

5. Oleuropein

It is one of the phenolic compounds found in olive oil. It is said that the robustness, high resistance and extra ordinary immune functions of the olive tree is because of Oleuropein. One of the substances of Oleuropein is called DHPE which helps to prevent cell’s damage and protects its integrity and even playing a role in preventing cancer.

6. Squalene

Squalene is a hydrocarbon present in extra virgin olive and is used in several medication, pharmaceutical products, food and animal diet. Researchers have shown that it is due to the high levels of squalene in olive that makes it anti-carcinogenic.

Is it only the oil a combatant or combined with Veg and fruit?

Some people are of the view that it is not only the olive oil but the oil used with other healthy diets containing fruits and veg that prevents or prove beneficial against cancer. This view is well supported by the Mediterranean diet which has been linked with low cancer rates. The Mediterranean diet not only contains olive oil but also a high amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Scientific studies which have shown beneficial effect of olive oil on cancer and related diseases have not yet fully come up with exclusive results to make an anti cancer drug out of olive. Researchers are still awaiting conclusive findings on the issue. However, there is a universal agreement on the fact that diets high in vegetables, fruit and extra virgin olive oil may reduce and even prevent the risk of cancer. British Medical Journal, 2008 reports that a study of more than 1.5 million people shows that strict adherence to the Mediterranean diet reduces the number of cancer deaths.

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