If you’re concerned about your cancer risk, chemical warfare may be your best insurance policy.
Of course, I’m talking about natural chemical warfare. Natural chemicals, sometimes called phytochemicals, are health-boosting compounds found naturally in certain foods.
Chief among them is a phytochemical found in olive oil with remarkable antioxidant and anti-cancer effects. Researchers around the world are just beginning to understand how it works.
To understand the power of this olive oil phytochemical called hydroxytyrosol, you need to understand the process of oxidation.
Oxidation is a normal and necessary process that takes place in your body when free radicals “react” with other molecules. This process actually keeps your body healthy by fighting off viruses and other illnesses. As I’m sure you know, antioxidants play an important role. They keep free radicals in check and working for your body’s health instead of against it.
When there are more free radicals than antioxidants, your body suffers from oxidative stress, which damages your cells and DNA. Oxidative stress is linked to just about every disease you can name – including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, heart failure, heart attacks, sickle cell disease, autism, infection, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, and more.
Hydroxytyrosol: One of the most powerful
Scientists are fascinated with olive oil’s hydroxytyrosol because tests suggest it’s one of the most powerful antioxidants among plant phytochemicals. The research shows that hydroxytyrosol significantly lowers oxidative stress in the body to fend off diseases like cancer.1
Plus, hydroxytyrosol has a second cancer-fighting power: A wealth of research shows hydroxytyrosol influences the immune system by shrinking inflammation—which unchecked can cause cancer to grow and spread.
Not only does inflammation lead to an unhealthy accumulation of immune cells that attack and damage important parts of the body, but on top of that the over-production of immune cells yields cells that are “immuno-suppressive” when it comes to recognizing and killing off cancer cells.
That means they don’t recognize and destroy cells that have become cancerous. Instead, they alter what’s known as the “micro environment” around tumors in ways that keep other immune cells from identifying malignancies and destroying them.
As a result, researchers estimate that chronic inflammation contributes to the development of up to 20 percent of all cancers.2 Personally, I’d bet that number is much, much higher.
Hydroxytyrosol stops liver cancer
Lab tests at the University of Chile show that this phytochemical helps the liver fight oxidative stress and improve the production of liver enzymes that prevent liver cancer.
The scientists analyzed what happened in the livers of animals suffering from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition that often leads to liver cancer. They found that in animals who began consuming hydroxytyrosol:
- Liver damage from oxidative stress was significantly reduced or eliminated.
- Intestinal health improved. The lining of the digestive tract stopped absorbing as many harmful substances.
- The mitochondria (energy-producting organelles) in liver cells functioned more efficiently.
- Even brain health improved and the neurons in brain tissue were better protected from oxidative stress.3
Those are pretty impressive benefits! Other studies show that hydroxytyrosol may:
- Reduce the risk of skin cancer. Tests in Asia demonstrate that it can protect the DNA in skin cells from damage by ultraviolet sunlight.4
- Fight triple-negative breast cancer. A study in Spain indicates hydroxytyrosol can inhibit the activity of breast cancer stem cells and keep tumors from spreading.5
Olive oil’s 2nd superstar brain cancer fighter
But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that there’s another phytochemical, really an acid, found in olive oil that can help hydroxytyrosol fight off cancer. In this case, the two chemicals can team up to stymie brain cancer.
This substance, a fatty acid called oleic acid, can change the function of genes in cells that prevent cancer-causing processes from taking place.
Oleic acid’s positive benefits start with its influence on a cellular bad guy known as MSI2, which sounds to me like the name of a villain from a James Bond movie.
Like an evil secret agent, MSI2 prevents production of miR-7 – a cellular good guy that, when MSI2 isn’t around to interfere, suppresses the formation of tumors in the brain. Oleic acid allows miR-7 to escape MSI2’s evil clutches.
According to the researchers at the University of Edinburgh who have studied this process in the lab, this characteristic of oleic acid means it drops the risk of brain cancer –although they aren’t ready to say for sure that oleic acid can prevent brain cancer.
Still, in going through the studies of olive oil and brain cancer, I also found a study in Italy indicating that combining oleic acid with hydroxytyrosol can slow down the growth and viability of brain cancer cells called C6 glioma cells.6 The Italian research showed that the two of these chemicals together keep brain cancer cells from incorporating the cholesterol and fats they need to rapidly form tumors.
What’s more, research shows that oleic acid supports your overall health. A number of studies show oleic acid can help you maintain healthy blood pressure levels,7 as well as improve cholesterol,8 blood sugar9 and weight loss. This doesn’t surprise me since the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in olive oil, is known to result in all of these health benefits.
and oleic acid to fight cancer
If you want to make the most of these two cancer-fighters you should regularly consume extra virgin olive oil – the type of olive oil that is richest in hydroxytyrosol and oleic acid.
Use it as a salad dressing or on vegetables. It’s best to use it cold. When you heat it the hydroxytyrosol tends to break down and get lost.
If you do cook with olive oil, don’t let extra virgin oil get above 320 degrees or it degrades. Virgin olive oil can be heated up to about 420 degrees, but it doesn’t contain as much hydroxytyrosol as the extra virgin stuff.
One way to get more extra virgin olive oil into your diet is to spread it on bread instead of butter or other kinds of spreads.
You can also find supplements containing hydroxytyrosol and oleic acid. While I’m comfortable with taking a hydroxytrosol supplement, I’m not so comfortable with the idea of an oleic acid supplement. I think you’re better off getting that cancer-fighting phytochemical from your diet.
Oleic acid is a fatty acid and, should you consume too much, some scientists believe it can throw off your body’s balance of essential fatty acids such as omega-6 and omega-3. Finally, oleic acid can have a laxative effect when consumed in large amounts.10 You can avoid these problems from the get-go by sticking to a dietary source of oleic acid such as olive oil.
And olive oil is so delicious, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to do that.