Can olive oil prevent cancer and Alzheimer’s disease?

© shutterstock/Gleb Usovich

Oleic acid, the key component of olive oil, has properties that help to prevent cancer and Alzheimer’s disease and to lower cholesterol.

The health benefits of olive oil are well known; however, these benefits are mostly attributed to minor components such as polyphenols. Little research has focused on oleic acid despite it making up 70-80% of olive oil’s composition.

To investigate oleic acid and its benefits further, a team from the Faculties of Pharmacy and Medicine at the University of Seville, in conjunction with professionals from the Seville North and Aljarafe Health District and the Costa del Sol Hospital, have joined together to study this.

What is oleic acid?

Oleic acid is the main constituent of olive oil and is responsible for many health-promoting properties. Oleic acid is produced by the diet and synthesis in the body itself. It is the most abundant monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) in the human diet.

Olive oil is a large part of the Mediterranean diet. This diet is widely recognised for preventing disease and ageing. It involves eating a large intake of vegetables, moderate fish consumption, low-moderate dairy consumption, low red meat intake and moderate wine consumption.

How does olive oil prevent disease?

Moreover, oleic acid found in olive oil is the main MUFA in the human circulatory system. In the brain, it is a major component of membrane phospholipids and abounds in the neuronal myelin sheaths. Previous research has shown a significantly decreased level of oleic acid has been observed in patients suffering from major depressive disorders and Alzheimer’s disease.

One of the oleic acids’ most characteristic effects is their antioxidant properties. It can directly regulate both the synthesis and the activity of antioxidant enzymes. Another benefit is the hypocholesterolemic effect which inhibits the expression of proteins associated with cholesterol transport, reducing cholesterol absorption and thus preventing atherosclerosis.

The acid found in olive oil has been recognised as an anti-cancer molecule due to its inhibitory effects on the overexpression of oncogenes and their effects on programmed cell death. It is also generally considered anti-inflammatory; however, scientists are still exploring this.

Oleoylethanolamide, a derivative of oleic acid, also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and has been proposed as a potent therapeutic agent to treat obesity. Additionally, research has suggested that it could influence epigenetic mechanisms and modulation of the immune system, specifically by regulating cells involved in causing inflammation.

The researchers cautioned that most studies on olive oil have been conducted on animals; therefore, further studies are required to confirm the effects in humans.


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