New treatments for breast cancer could be developed after research showed extra-virgin olive oil contains extracts that combat the disease.
This type of oil is made by pressing olives without using heat or chemicals, thus retaining compounds that are otherwise lost during regular refining.
Researchers in Spain found that polyphenols extracted from extra-virgin oil suppress the breast-cancer-promoting gene HER2 by causing cell death in a process known as apoptosis.
This mirrors the action of the well-known cancer drug Herceptin, which also targets the HER2 gene but is only effective in certain patients.
The Spanish scientists warn that the concentrations of the compound needed to achieve the anti-cancer affect “are unlikely to be achieved in real life by consuming olive oil”.
Nevertheless, writing in the open-access journal BMC Cancer, they add that these polyphenols might provide “an excellent and safe platform for the design of new anti-breast cancer drugs”.
Dr Sarah Cant, policy manager at the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “It will be interesting to see if further research may lead to the development of new breast cancer treatments, but there’s no evidence that consuming large amounts of olive oil will reduce a woman’s risk of breast cancer.”
Copyright Press Association 2008