The scientific community is unanimous in highlighting the healthy attributes of olive oil and this depends directly on its unique chemical composition. What can we highlight in this regard? Briefly, within the major components, so called because they are quantitatively the most abundant, we can find oleic acid, monounsaturated fatty acid with widely accepted health claims.
But in virgin olive oil, we also find other components found in very small amounts, representing approximately 2% and, from what we have seen they dohave some very interesting characteristics. Together they are called minority components, which include phenolic compounds, pigments, hydrocarbons, sterols, etc. Considerable scientific evidence has been gathered in recent years about the health effects of these components, constituting essential elements in the healthy potential of this food. Moreover, these components are also related to the organoleptic characteristics of the oils. What we now know is that the special attributes of this food lie in the combined and synergistic effect between major and minority components.
Well, all the components that I havementioned up to now are present in the fruit, the olive. Consequently, oil which possesses all the components originally present in the olive will be most beneficial to our health. The highest quality oil due to its organoleptic properties and in possessing allthese bioactive compounds is undoubtedly Extra Virgin Olive Oil and, therefore, this type of oil has greatest potential in its health benefits.
Olive oil has not always been considered healthy, and this was even doubted at one time. For a while it was thought that consumption increased cholesterol and obviously this is not exactly a healthy effect. Early research focused on the lipid composition and its impact on our health. Since relatively recently we have seen the importance of minority components in the health effects attributed to the intake of virgin olive oils.
Our research group has been studying the effects on our health of some of the minority components for a long time. We especially like its effects on inflammation, oxidative stress and the possible preventive effect against the development of certain tumours such as in breast cancer. Epidemiological studies carried out for some time by numerous research groups show that there is a direct relationship between regular consumption of olive oil and a lower incidence of certain tumours, including breast cancer. What remains to be determined is what or which of the components present in virgin olive oil may be responsible for these effects and what their mechanisms of action are. This is precisely the subject of our studies, the possible effects of minority components in preventive effects against tumours, especially breast cancer.
The number of minority components is very high, there are more than 230. Our research group has been systematically studying a group of selected compounds for some time, such as Hydroxytyrosol, Tyrosol, Squalene, Uvaol, Erythrodiol, Maslinic acid, Oleanolic acid. The results we obtained show us that some of these components decrease oxidative stress and protect DNA from oxidative damage. This means they have the potential to explain, at least partially, the protective effect against the development of tumours such as in breast cancer and that is related to the regular consumption of virgin olive oil. With the results obtained by our group and others, it is increasingly clear that the effect of a single component is not responsible for the beneficial effects, but rather the combined and synergistic effect of multiple components in these oils.
Finally, I would like to highlight some of our most significant publications and where you can see the effects of these components with respect to the specified subject. You can access the summary of each of the studies by clicking on the title of the publication.
Thedifferentiallocalization of a methylgroupconfers a different anti-breastcanceractivitytotwotriterpenespresent in olives. Sánchez-Quesada C, López-Viedma A, Gaforio JJ. Food&Function 2014, DOI: 10.1039/C4FO00675E
Bioactiveproperties of themaintriterpenesfound in olives, virgin olive oil and leaves of Olea europaea. Sánchez-Quesada C, López-Viedma A, Warleta F, Campos M, Beltrán G, Gaforio JJ. J AgricFoodChem 50: 12173-82, 2013
Hydroxytyrosolprotectagainstoxidative DNA damage in human breastcells. Warleta F, Sánchez-Quesada C, Campos M, Allouche Y, Beltrán G, Gaforio JJ. Nutrients 10:839-57, 2011
Antioxidant, Antiproliferative, and Pro-apoptoticCapacities of PentacyclicTriterpenesFound in theSkinif Olives on MCF-7 Human BreastCancerCells and TheirEffectson DNA Damage.Allouche Y, Warleta F, Campos M, Sánchez-Quesada C, Uceda M, Beltrán G, Gaforio JJ. J AgricFoodChem. 59(1):121-130, 2011
Antioxidant and antiatherogenicactivities of pentacyclictriterpenicdiols and acids. Allouche Y, Beltrán G, Gaforio JJ, Uceda M, Mesa MD. FoodChemToxicol 2010; 48(10):2885-2890.
Olive oil and health: Summary of the II internationalconferenceon olive oil and healthconsensusreport, Jaén and Córdoba (Spain) 2008. López-Miranda J, Pérez-Jiménez F, Ros E, De Caterina R, Badimon L, Covas MI, Escrich E, Ordovás JM, Soriguer F, Abiá R, Alarcón de la Lastra C, Battino M, Corella D, Chamorro-Quirós J, Delgado-Lista J, Giugliano D, Esposito K, Estruch R, Fernández-Real JM, Gaforio JJ, La Vecchia C, Lairon D, López-Segura F, Mata P, Menéndez JA, Muriana FJ, Osada J, Panagiotakos DB, Paniagua JA, Pérez-Martínez P, Peinado MA, Pineda-Priego M, Poulsen HE, Quiles JL, Ramírez-Tortosa MC, Ruano J, Serra-Majem L, Solá R, Solanas M, Solfrizzi V, de la Torre-Fornel R, Trichopoulou A, Uceda M, Villalba-Montoro JM, Villar-Ortiz JR, Visioli F, Yiannakouris N. NutrMetabCardiovascDis 2010; 20(4):284-294.
Squaleneprotecsagainstoxidative DNA damage in MCF10A human mammaryepithelialcellsbutnot in MCF7 and MDA-MB-231 human breastcancercells.Warleta F, Campos M, Allouche Y, Sánchez-Quesada C, Ruiz-Mora J. Beltrán G, Gaforio JJ. FoodChemToxicol2010;48(4):1092-1100.
José Juan Gaforio es profesor de Inmunología. Coordinador del programa de dctorado de Aceite de oliva en la Universidad de Jaén.