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Phenols in Extra Virgin Olive Oil Inhibit Colon Cancer Cell Growth and Protect Bone Mass

Phenols in olive oil help protect against colon cancer and osteoporosis

Research shows that estrogen receptor β has a protective effect on colon cancer and may inhibit proliferation of colon cancer cells. Estrogen receptor β is the main estrogen receptor expressed at a high level by normal human colon mucosa. In a cancerous colon, however, expression of estrogen receptor β decreases and is associated with progression of colorectal cancer.

Interest in phenols present in extra virgin olive oil as possible anti-carcinogenic agents for colon cancer stems from the fact that most phenols have a chemical structure similar to 17 β-estradiol (main form of estrogen in humans) and may be protective against colon cancer by acting as selective estrogen receptor modulators.

In a recent study carried out in the University of Florence and published in the Journal Nutrition and Cancer, researchers evaluated the effects of phenolic extracts from two different varieties of extra virgin olive oil on human colon cancer cell lines in vitro. They reported that the total polyphenol content of the EVOOs, was 12.69 and 8.43 milligrams per milliliter, respectively. Hydroxytyrosol, secoiridoids and lignans were the main phenolic extracts identified in these EVOOs.

The phenol extracts were tested on human colon cancer cell lines that were designed to overexpress estrogen receptor β. The authors reported that the EVOO extracts interacted with signals dependent on estrogen for growth of colorectal cancerous cells, thus providing an anti-proliferative effect on them. EVOO extracts also down regulated the expression of several genes, including BAG-1 that resulted in inhibition of cellular growth.

The researchers plan on conducting more studies to investigate the role of EVOO extracts in stopping colorectal cancer growth through the estrogen receptor β metabolic pathway.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

These latest findings add to the health benefits of consuming a Mediterranean diet, which provides many cancer-protective components because it is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, seafood, whole grains, and wine.

And, here’s yet another reason to add extra virgin olive oil to your diet. A recent article based on review of 37 scientific studies reports that the phenols in extra virgin olive oil may prevent loss of bone mass.

There is already evidence that populations who consume the Mediterranean diet have a lower incidence of osteoporosis and fractures. In 2013, a large cohort study of 188,795 subjects from eight European countries reported that subjects with a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of hip fractures.

The link between olive oil intake and bone health was investigated in another study that evaluated three groups of elderly men over a two-year period. Their Mediterranean diets included a daily intake of at least 50 milliliters of virgin olive or 30 grams of mixed nuts, while the third group consumed a low-fat Mediterranean diet. At the end of the study period, the researchers found that only the group with extra intake of olive oil had increased levels of serum osteocalcin and procollagen I N-terminal propeptide procollagen, both of which are associated with a protective effect on bone health.

Furthermore, there is a positive association between intake of monounsaturated fatty acids and bone mineral density. This is highlighted in a study that reports that incidence of fractures is lower in Greece, where olive oil is the main source of monounsaturated fatty acids, than in United States and North European countries.

In this 2014 review paper published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition, the researchers focused on literature from biomedical databases to determine if phenols present in virgin olive oil affected bone mass.

Extra virgin olive oil contains many phenols that provide health benefits including protection against cardiovascular disease, some cancers and the aging process. According to the findings of the review, virgin olive oil phenols may also play a role in the prevention of osteoporosis.

Oleuropein, a key phenolic component of olive oil, may prevent bone loss associated with osteoporosis and aging by increasing formation of osteoblasts (bone-forming cells) from bone marrow stem cells, and decreasing generation of fat cells. In animal studies, oleuropein protected against bone loss by preventing inflammation-induced osteopenia.

Experiments on human bone marrow stem cells found that oleuropein could prevent bone loss and osteoporosis caused by age. Another study on mouse bone marrow cells indicates that oleuropein and hydoxytyrosol may be effective in reducing symptoms of osteoporosis. Data also suggests that other phenols such as luteolin may prevent bone loss in postmenopausal osteoporosis by reducing the action and function of osteoclasts, which are cells that break down bone tissue.

The antioxidant properties of phenols, tyrosol and hydoxytyrosol, may increase bone formation, act as free radical scavengers and prevent oxidation-induced damage to bone cells. Hydroxytyrosol alone also stimulated deposition of calcium and inhibited formation of osteoclasts.

Although results of experimental models indicate the benefits of phenols in virgin olive oil in maintaining bone health, clinical research is necessary to confirm these findings.

It appears, however, that in addition to protecting against heart disease and cancer, regular intake of virgin olive oil may be a simple but effective solution to preventing osteoporosis, which the World Health Organization has designated as the “second most healthcare problem worldwide after cardiovascular disease.”

Adapted from:;


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