Did you know that the daily consumption of high quality extra virgin olive oil could help prevent colon cancer? A higher consumption of extra virgin olive oil is considered a hallmark of the traditional Mediterranean diet, which is associated with a low incidence and prevalence of cancer, including colon cancer!. Extra virgin olive oil is rich in phenolic compounds, antioxidants suggested to possess anti-cancer effects against colon cancer by inhibiting different stages of the colon carcinogenesis process2, by inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death) of the diseased cells3, or by acting as selective modulators of estrogen receptors4. Interestingly, most phenolic compounds have a chemical structure similar to 17 β-estradiol (the main form of estrogen in humans), and a decrease in estrogen receptor β expression is associated with the progression of the disease5,6. Therefore, phenolic compounds in extra virgin olive oil could interact with signals dependent on estrogen for growth of the cancerous cells, in turn having an anti-proliferative effect on them4.
Hydroxytyrosol (HT), the most abundant phenolic compound in extra virgin olive oil, in particular has significant anti-cancer properties in human colon cancer cell lines7,8. HT can exert a strong anti-proliferative effect against colon cancer cells through its ability to arrest the cell cycle and induce apoptosis in tumor cells7,8, likely through the generation of additional reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS are chemically reactive oxygen molecules whose build-up can cause damage to DNA, RNA and proteins and ultimately cell death9. The further exposure of colon cancer cells to additional ROS could push the tumor cells, which already have high constitutive oxidative stress levels, towards death9.
Although some progress has been made on understanding the role of extra virgin olive oil in the prevention of colon cancer, the precise cellular mechanisms by which HT and its phenolic counterparts can exert their anti-cancer effects remain poorly understood. Given that colon cancer is the third most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States10, a particular focus should be placed on elucidating these mechanisms to reveal novel pharmacological targets to prevent the disease. Regardless, it has become clear that a diet rich in extra virgin olive oil may lower your risk for colon cancer. Just be sure to know that not all extra virgin olive oil is created equal, and to choose a high quality, early harvest one that is very high in phenolic content, like KARMIRI, which is of the Koroneiki variety, or one that is of the Coratina, Conicabra, or Moraiolo varieties11.