Olive oil may actually prevent cancer, according to a study released earlier this year. The study showed that oleic acid, the main monounsaturated fatty acid in olive oil, can cripple a cancer gene responsible for 25 to 30 percent of all breast cancers.
The study found that oleic acid not only suppressed the levels of the gene, called Her-2/neu, but also improved the efficiency of the drug trastuzumab (sold under the brand name Herceptin), which is used to treat many women with breast cancer.
"Our findings underpin epidemiological studies that show that the Mediterranean diet has significant protective effects against cancer, heart disease, and aging," said one of the study's authors, Javier Menendez of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois.
Other studies have found that olive oil has a favorable effect on both ovarian cancer and bowel cancer. In addition, olive oil is well tolerated by the stomach. It appears to prevent the formation of gallstones as well as have a therapeutic effect on ulcers.
Despite all the apparent health benefits of olive oil, scientists do not consider it a miracle food.
There may be other reasons why Mediterranean populations have lower rates of cancer and heart disease.
While olive oil is a central characteristic of the Mediterranean diet, people in that region tend to eat far more vegetables, fruit, and fishand lower amounts of meat and dairythan the average American.
"It may be a healthier overall diet," Trichopoulos, the Harvard epidemiologist, said.
John Deane, a medical doctor and the editor of the Web site the Olive Oil Source, said that he gets inundated with e-mails every month from people asking about the health effects of olive oil.
"People ask how many teaspoons a day they must consume to cure a certain illness, as if it was some sort of medicine," Deane said. "But caution must be used in extrapolating these many studies in animal models or cell cultures to human diseases."
Deane says olive oil should be eaten and enjoyed along with other healthy fats and foods.
"The doctor in me likes the fact that it has been consumed and available over the counter for several thousand years with a great safety profile," he said.
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