Bioactive Compounds in Extra Virgin Olive Oil
There are some (actually many) things in life that just read as inexact science. When it comes to the health benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil however, we are thrilled that evidence mounts by the month in support of its supreme benefits.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is rich in a wide variety of active compounds, all of which are important for sustaining your health. I should preface this by saying that the level of bioactive compounds found in olive oil depends on the olive cultivar, how it is made, where it is from. But as a general rule, the nearer to the harvest date (the fresher the oil), the higher the level of bioactive compounds. It’s a simple fact – unlike fine wine or true love, fine olive oil does not grow better with age.
- Phenolic acids and derivatives
- Caffeic acid
- Phenolic alcohols
We know that the phenolic profile of the olive changes as it grows and develops. The above compounds act as highly potent natural antioxidants (that scavenge free radicals) and exist naturally in Extra Virgin Olive Oil. This is one of the key factors favouring Extra Virgin Olive Oil over refined oils (which have very low natural antioxidants). Drilling down in to the detail, hydroxytyrosol has been shown to slow or inhibit low-density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation.
Oleuropein (and derivatives) are potent antioxidants which scavenge free radical species in the body. Some evidence suggests that oleuropein can reduce LDL oxidation, but in addition, oleuropein has potential as an antiangiogenic in cancer, with some preliminary evidence showing it may inhibit cell growth and invasiveness. It also has some antimicrobial activity.
- Ligstroside derivatives
Oleocanthal is responsible for the characteristic spicy kick in your throat stimulated by high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oils.
Oleocanthal has been shown to have anti-inflammatory capacity, through inhibition of cyclooxygenase enzymes – COX1 and COX2 (similar to the mode of action of Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs – such as Ibuprofen).
Lignans are phytoestrogen compounds which may have anti-cancer activity.
Although human studies are not yet completed, in vivo research shows that apigenin has some potential as a cancer chemo-preventive agent. Research also indicates that luteolin may have anti-inflammatory activity and play a role in cognitive disorders.
Phytosterols have been shown to reduce the levels of plasma cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. There is also some evidence to suggest that phytosterols may have anti-tumor activity.
Squalene is a triterpene acid found in Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is one of the only foods to contain such high levels of squalene (approximately 0.7%). Squalene is an antioxidant that has been reported to have a chemoprotective effect specifically against skin cancer. Squalene is a major intermediate in the biosynthesis of cholesterol and may have effects to lower cholesterol levels in some individuals.
Tocopherols, also known as vitamin E, are known to prevent lipid oxidation. α-tocopherol is a well-known antioxidant, which acts in a variety of ways to scavenge free radical species in the body.
- Oleanoic acid
- Maslinic acid
Studies suggest that hydroxyterpenic acids may have potential pharmacological effects relating to inflammation, cancer, cardiovascular pathology and vasorelaxation.