Oleocanthal is one of at least 30 natural phenolic compounds (a phenol) found only in Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO).
Phenols are part of a larger group of nutrients found in plants known as Polyphenols. They give plants their vibrant colours, bitter taste and protect them against UV-radiation, pathogens, oxidative damage and harsh climate.
Polyphenols are associated with many of the health benefits attributed to fruits and vegetables. (e.g. Apples, Strawberies, Red Wine)
Olive oil has been associated with health benefits since Ancient Greece and Hippocrates. However, the actual phenol Oleocanthal was discovered in 1993 and defined in 2005. This resulted in the discovery that it has similar anti-inflammatory properties to ibuprofen.
In 2012 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) approved a health claim regarding Olive Oil Polyphenols and their protection of blood lipids from oxidative stress. Oleocanthal is not directly stated as the source of these benefits. The claim relates the benefits to all of the Olive Oil Polyphenols and the daily consumption of 20g of olive oil containing at least 250mg/kg of them.
As research continues we see that high-phenolic olive oils (particularly those high in Oleocanthal, Oleacein and Lignans) have anti-inflammatory effects like ibuprofen, can help clear amyloid-β from the brain (associated with a host of neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s) and has even been shown to rapidly and selectively kill cancer cells. Read our Health Benefits section for more.
With current research focusing on EVOO we are really excited about what comes out of the research and clinical trials in the near future.
The History of Oleocanthal
The compound decarboxymethyl ligstroside aglycon was first isolated by researchers at the University of Puglia, Italy in 1993. Unilever R&D, Netherlands soon understood this compound to be responsible for the bitterness, pungency and astringency causing the “throat burn” sensation in Extra Virgin Olive Oils (EVOO).
In 2005, researchers in Pennsylvania determined the absolute stereochemistry of the compound and gave it the more convenient name: Oleocanthal.
Based on the idea that bitterness is often associated with pharmacological activity, they predicted that like ibuprofen, Oleocanthal would have anti-inflammatory effects.
They discovered that not only did Oleocanthal inhibit Cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and COX-2, but that is was significantly more active than ibuprofen. COX-1 and COX-2 are enzymes which produce prostaglandins that promote inflammation, pain and fever. COX-2 is associated with a number of inflammatory diseases and cancers as well as neurodegenerative diseases.
Drugs that target COX-1 and COX-2 are used in most over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain killers.
Since 2005, research in Oleocanthal has focused primarily on neurodegenerative diseases, inflammatory diseases and cancer. This has resulted in research spilling into other conditions and diseases, as well as the other phenols found in olive oil.
Where to find Oleocanthal
Oleocanthal is only found in Olive Oil, specifically Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO). Oleocanthal is created when the olives are crushed in the mill. It is not found in other olive based products (edible olives, leaf extracts etc). Not all EVOOs contain Oleocanthal. Of those that do, few contain them in significant enough numbers to offer substantial health benefits.
In 2016, Professors Magiatis & Melliou showed their findings from measuring over 2500 olive oil samples using the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) method they developed. As part of the study, they gave an average of 135mg/kg of Oleocanthal. Oleocanthal in olive oil ranges depending on harvesting and milling practices as well as specific varieties.
They found that samples from the Olympia variety produced under varying conditions gave numbers consistently higher than other varieties. This showed that although producer and milling practices are crucially important. Some varieties start with higher numbers. In honour of their findings, they named the awards they developed and our variety Olympia
One of those samples was our Drop of Life – Limited Reserve which that year contained over 3000mg/kg Polyphenols with about 400mg/kg being Oleocanthal. Since then we have improved further. As have other producers.
Since the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) approved the health claim regarding Olive Oil Polyphenols, high-phenolic olive oils have become more available to consumers. The EU Health Claim can only be used on products sold in Europe. Look for EVOOs with high Polyphenols (or high-phenolic) in other places like the USA & Asia.
If you’re an academic or health practitioner doing research into the health benefits. Contact Us! We would love to help.
The information here was gathered from a number of sources as well as research papers available in our website.
Sources include: European Bioinformatics Institute, Oliveoiltimes.com, Scientific Journals, Wikipedia, Unilever,