The health benefits of olive oil are wide-ranging; studies have linked the fat to reduced risk of obesity and heart disease, as well as cognitive improvements. Now, new research suggests that olive oil may also help to prevent brain cancer.
Researchers from the United Kingdom found that oleic acid - a monounsaturated fatty acid present in olive oil - stops cancer-causing protein activity in brain cells.
Study co-author Dr. Gracjan Michlewski, of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology at the University of Edinburgh in the U.K., and colleagues say that they are unable to conclude whether dietary intake of olive oil protects against brain cancer.
However, they believe that their study could open the door to new strategies to prevent the disease.
Dr. Michlewski and colleagues recently reported their findings in the Journal of Molecular Biology.
Brain cancer is the presence of a malignant tumor in the brain - that is, a tumor comprised of cancer cells.
According to the American Brain Tumor Association, there will be around 80,000 new cases of primary brain tumors diagnosed in the United States this year. Of these, around 26,000 will be malignant.
Among children aged 14 and under, brain tumors are the most common form of cancer, and they are the main cause of cancer-related death.
Oleic acid halts brain tumor formation by encouraging miR-7 production
Previous research has shown that oleic acid can inhibit the disease-causing activity of specific proteins.
With this in mind, Dr. Michlewski and team set out to investigate how the olive oil compound affects the activity of proteins miR-7, which is a microRNA involved in the suppression of brain tumor formation.
To reach their findings, the researchers tested the effects of oleic acid on living, human cells and cell extracts.
The team found that the compound inhibits the activity of a cell protein called Musashi homolog2, which stops the protein from halting the production of miR-7. As a result, the formation of brain tumors is prevented.
The researchers say that further studies are needed to determine whether olive oil consumption can help to prevent brain cancer, but their current results are promising.
"While we cannot yet say that olive oil in the diet helps prevent brain cancer, our findings do suggest that oleic acid can support the production of tumor-suppressing molecules in cells grown in the lab. Further studies could help determine the role that olive oil might have in brain health."
Dr. Gracjan Michlewski