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September 5, 2005
Volume 83, Number 36
p. 15


Olive Oil Compound Acts Like Ibuprofen

Steve Ritter

Freshly pressed extra-virgin olive oil contains a compound that has the same pharmacological activity as the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen (Nature 2005, 437, 45). The finding offers a possible explanation for the various health benefits attributed to a Mediterranean diet that typically is rich in olive oil.

The discovery was made serendipitously when biologist Gary K. Beauchamp of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, noticed that fresh extra-virgin olive oil leaves a unique stinging sensation in the back of the throat when tasted. He recalled experiencing the same sensation when swallowing ibuprofen solutions during a previous study.

Based on Beauchamp's cue, Paul A. S. Breslin at Monell, Amos B. Smith at Monell and the University of Pennsylvania, and their coworkers began to investigate. The researchers identified the responsible compound, which they named oleocanthal, by isolating it from different olive oils and measuring its intensity as a throat irritant. They then developed a synthesis for oleocanthal, carried out by Penn graduate student Qiang Han, and found that the synthetic version produces the same "throaty bite."

Lab assays showed that both oleocanthal enantiomers function like ibuprofen to inhibit the activity of cyclooxygenase enzymes. The team estimates that the amount of oleocanthal consumed per day in a typical Mediterranean diet is equivalent to about 10% of the ibuprofen dose recommended for headache relief.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2010 American Chemical Society