How Oleocanthal In Extra Virgin Olive Oil Works On Cancer Cells

Let’s start with a simple definition –– what is oleocanthal?

“Oleocanthal is toxic to many cancer cells and causes rapid and extreme loss of cell viability without killing healthy cells” (1).

A Secret Ingredient?

For as long as extra virgin olive oil has been in the market, dietitians and medical professionals around the world have recognized it as a superfood. Even the Romans and ancient Greeks knew of its many health benefits! But oleocanthal, a potent polyphenol in extra virgin olive oil, has flown under the radar. And that needs to change. Because it aids in the fight against cancer. We now know the higher the oleocanthal concentration, the stronger the extra virgin olive oil is in battling cancer cells. Research tells us, “Cancer cells often have larger and more numerous lysosomes, making them more vulnerable to oleocanthal than other cells” (3). 

So How Does Oleocanthal Work?

Researchers have found that oleocanthal doesn’t harm healthy cells, as cancerous cells are naturally more sensitive to oleocanthal. By incorporating extra virgin olive oil into your diet, it can help prevent and decrease cancer risk. Chemist Onica LeGrendre argued that “Cancer cells were being killed by their own enzymes. The oleocanthal was puncturing the vesicles inside the cancer cells that store the cell’s waste” (2). In their work together, Onica LeGrendre and David Foster of Hunter College and Professor Paul Breslin of nutritional sciences at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences discovered that the cancer cells in the experiment were dying very quickly while the healthy cells were not harmed at all, but just “put to sleep” and continued on with their normal life cycle when “woken up.”

How To Know If Your Extra Virgin Olive Oil Has A High Content Of Oleocanthal?

Extra virgin olive oil with a high content of oleocanthal should have a “signature stinging sensation felt at the back of the throat” (3) just like the feeling of pepper. This is a great way to tell the quality of your extra virgin olive oil.

Give it a try –– a little bit of extra virgin olive oil can be drizzled on almost any dish you make for both taste and health benefits. Bon appetite! 

Written by Mandy Zhen
Reviewed by Kelly Powers, MA, RDN, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who takes a holistic approach to nutrition and health. Kelly is a recipe developer with a food blog highlighting whole foods, simple recipes, and her life in San Francisco. She’s the creator of 52 Weeks, a weekly meal plan program that helps users get back in the kitchen and feed themselves well. Kelly is also a co-founder of Olivaio.