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Olive oil polyphenols may help reduce breast cancer risk

A report published online on December 18, 2008 in the journal BioMed Central Cancer revealed the discovery of Spanish researchers of a suppressive effect of compounds found in extra virgin olive oil against breast cancer cells containing the cancer gene HER2. HER2 is amplified or overexpressed in an estimated 20 to 30 percent of invasive breast cancers, and is associated with a shorter relapse time and reduced survival.

Javier Menendez of the Catalan Institute of Oncology along with Antonio Segura-Carretero from the University of Granada and colleagues tested phenolic fractions of extra-virgin oil in two cultured human breast cancer cell lines, and left some cells untreated as controls. The team found that fractions containing polyphenols known as lignans and secoiridoids selectively triggered programmed death in cells overexpressing HER2 protein. "Our findings reveal for the first time that all the major complex phenols present in extra-virgin olive oil drastically suppress overexpression of the cancer gene HER2 in human breast cancer cells," Dr Menendez remarked.

Extra virgin olive oil is produced by pressing olives without the use of heat or chemicals, and retains phytochemicals otherwise lost in refinement. Although the authors speculated in their introduction to the article that the intake of significant amounts of olive oil might be responsible in part for the association observed between the consumption of a Mediterranean diet and a reduction in breast cancer risk, they note that, "The active phytochemicals (i.e. lignans and secoiridoids) exhibited tumoricidal effects against cultured breast cancer cells at concentrations that are unlikely to be achieved in real life by consuming olive oil". However, they add that "These findings, together with the fact that that humans have safely been ingesting significant amounts of lignans and secoiridoids as long as they have been consuming olives and extra-virgin oil, strongly suggest that these polyphenols might provide an excellent and safe platform for the design of new anti breast-cancer drugs."

Life Extension Foundation          December 23, 2008

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