Headache? Try some olive oil...
By Julie Wheldon, Daily Mail
1 September 2005
It has long been regarded as an essential part of the Mediterranean diet for healthy living. Now scientists believe they have discovered exactly what it is that makes extra virgin olive oil so good for us.
A study suggests the oil can prevent inflammation in the same way as common headache pills. In doing so, it helps stave off long-term health problems such as cancer and heart disease.
The researchers, based at the University of Pennsylvania, found the main compound in the oil, oleocanthal, contained the same properties as the painkiller ibuprofen.
Ibuprofen has been linked to a lower risk of cancer and heart problems, as has aspirin, which belongs to the same class of antiinflammatory drugs, called COX inhibitors.
The study concluded that extra virgin olive oil - made from the firstpressing of the olive - may offer similar long-term advantages.
The extra virgin oil costs around twice as much as the standard version. While the ordinary oil offers some health benefits, these are less pronounced.
Dr Paul Breslin, who led the research, said extra virgin could not actually be used to cure headaches because a daily dose of 50g would only be equivalent to 10 per cent of a normal dose of ibuprofen.
He added, however, that a longterm Mediterranean diet which included the oil could help build the body's natural defences to conditions such as cancer and heart problems.
'Our findings raise the possibility that long-term consumption of oleocanthal may help to protect against some disease by virtue of its ibuprofen-like activity,' he explained.
'It is known that regular low doses of aspirin for instance, another COX inhibitor, confer cardiovascular health benefits.
'Ibuprofen is associated with a reduction in the risk of developing some cancers and of plateet aggregation (which indicates clotting) in the blood.
'A Mediterranean diet, which is rich in olive oil, is believed to confer various health benefits, some of which seem to overlap with those attributed to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.'
The study, published in the journal Nature, adds to the growing evidence of the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet typically rich in fish, unsaturated fats and vegetables.
The diet also includes an occasional glass of wine.
In April, researchers at Athens University concluded that a healthy man of 60 who followed a Mediterranean diet could expect to live a year longer than one of the same age who ate differently.
The team looked at more than 74,000 people in nine European countries.
They found that the Greeks adhered most closely to the recommended diet, followed by the Spanish, Italians and French.
The British were fifth - ahead of the Danes, the Germans, the Swedes and the Dutch.
Last year, a study fond that eating a Mediterranean diet can be especially beneficial for the elderly.
For the study, Dutch researchers looked at the eating habits of healthy men and women aged 70 to 90 in 11 European countries.
They discovered that, along with exercise, moderate drinking and not smoking, a Mediterranean diet reduced death rates among this age group by 65 per cent.
As a result of its reported health benefits and inspired by foreign holidays, more and more Britons now use olive oil, with sales rising by around 10 per cent a year, according to analysts.
A year ago its sales here overtook those of other cooking oils for the first time.