The benefits of eating olive oil have been lauded by health professionals for years, but a recent study could provide a new incentive for us to add it into our diet.

A study at the Houston Methodist hospital in Texas is to focus on a major component of olive oil, hydroxytyrosol, and its potential to prevent breast cancer.

The study, which is the first of its kind in the US, will monitor the breast density of 50 pre-menopausal and 50 post-menopausal women who have been identified as having a higher than average risk of developing breast cancer. Each patient will be given 25 mg hydroxytyrosol capsule for 12 months and their breast density levels will then be assessed at three monthly intervals.

Breast density has been recognized in recent studies as a significant factor in the development of breast cancer, so anything that can significantly decrease this is being treated very seriously by oncologists. Hydroxytyrosol’s properties have already been studied both humans and in laboratory experiments showing it to be a powerful antioxidant with low toxicity, even at high doses, though potential side effects of the substance will also be examined.

The research project is being led by oncologist Tejal Patel M.D., who is very encouraged by its potential:

"We know there is a correlation between breast density and breast cancer," said Patel, who leads a high-risk clinic at Houston Methodist Cancer Center. "A decrease in density of one percent can potentially translate into a nearly two percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer. "

Olive oil is a mono-unsaturated fat which is obtained from pressing the olive fruit of the Olea europaea(olive tree), a native of the Mediterranean region, and so the oil forms a large part of the Mediterranean diet. Studies on the populations of that region have indicated that, compared to North Americans and North Europeans, they have longer life expectancies and fewer incidences of heart disease, hypertension and stroke, and olive oil is thought to contribute to these positive health benefits.

A review of numerous studies that focused on the biological and clinical effects of olive oil was carried out by Maria-Isabel Covas, at the Parc de Recerca Biomèdica de Barcelona, Spain, and the findings were published in Pharmacological Research. The review of the evidence concluded that regular consumption of olive oil was likely to reduce an individual’s risk of cardiovascular diseases and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), and it also determined that the oil could improve carbohydrate metabolism, endothelial dysfunction and reduce inflammation.

A statement from the report read thus:"The wide range of *anti-atherogenic effects associated with olive oil consumption could contribute to explain the low rate of cardiovascular mortality found in Southern European Mediterranean countries, in comparison with other western countries, despite a high prevalence of coronary heart disease risk factors."

Other research has previously been conducted to investigate olive oil’s potential to prevent breast cancer; a project conducted by a team of scientists at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain found that the oil contains a key mechanism to prevent the development of tumors compared to other vegetable oils, such as corn oil, which seemed to make tumors more aggressive.

It was determined that a cascade of signals resulting in apoptosis, or cell death, was triggered in tumors by virgin olive oil, which appeared to reduce the activity of an oncogene, p21Ras, preventing DNA damage and prompting tumor cell death.

It is no secret that our diet can be one of our most powerful tools in our quest for good health, and the discovery of a naturally-derived supplement with few or no side effects and of benefit to those at risk of breast cancer has to be a major step forward in preventative healthcare. Other studies have found that olive oil can help to prevent pancreatitis, improve ulcerative colitis, protect the liver from oxidative stress and that it may even help fend off Alzheimer’s disease. Ideally, it is best to find a good quality, extra-virgin, cold-pressed, unfiltered organic version as some of the nutrients could be lost during processing. The oil can be used in cooking, poured over soups, stews or pasta dishes or used in salad dressings.

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