I just read an article citing a recent study published in the open access journal BMC Cancer on olive oil and cancer. The article, which can be found at http://www.freshnews.in/olive-oil-may-help-fight-cancer-105470 quotes Javier Menendez from the Catalan Institute of Oncology as saying "Our findings reveal for the first time that all the major complex phenols present in extra-virgin olive oil drastically suppress overexpression of the cancer gene HER2 in human breast cancer cells." It then goes on to say that "although these findings provide new insights on the mechanisms by which good quality oil, i.e. polyphenol-rich extra-virgin olive oil, might contribute to a lowering of breast cancer risk in a HER2-dependent manner, extreme caution must be applied when applying the lab results to the human situation. The active phytochemicals (i.e. lignans and secoiridoids) exhibited tumoricidal effects against cultured breast cancer cells at concentrations that are unlikely to be achieved in real life by consuming olive oil" The conclusion the researches came to was that "these findings, together with the fact that humans have safely been ingesting significant amounts of lignans and secoiridoids as long as they have been consuming olives and extra-virgin oil, strongly suggest that these polyphenols might provide an excellent and safe platform for the design of new anti breast-cancer drugs." When I read this information, three questions came to mind: (1) If I already have cancer, should my diet include olive oil and if so how much and how often?; (2) Should I make sure to include olive oil in my family's diet as a preventative measure and if so how much and how often?; (3) If adding olive oil to my diet is a good thing, what's the best way to introduce it into my diet?
To answer these questions I turned to Carolyn Lammersfeld, National Director of Nutrition for Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Carolyn explained to me that olive oil is a healthy oil for people with cancer to use in their diets. It is a monounsaturated fat and as this study mentions also contains bioactive compounds that may be beneficial for people with cancer. We would certainly prefer people with cancer use olive oil over saturated fats like butter or polyunsaturated fats like corn oil. Even though it is a healthy fat, it should be used in limited quantities to keep the percentage of calories coming from fat in the diet to less than or equal to 30% Some literature suggests that obtaining more than 30% of your calories from fat may lead to immune suppression. Considering most individuals also get fat from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, dairy, etc. we usually recommend limiting added oils in the diet to 1 to 2 Tablespoons/day. Even this study recommends caution that it may be unlikely to achieve concentrations of these bioactive compounds by consuming olive oil. The take away appears to be that these findings may lead to the development of new anti breast-cancer drugs.
Carolyn offered the same recommendations for cancer prevention, saying that olive oil is a good choice for use in limited amounts. One of the things we know as far as cancer prevention, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research is that achieving and maintaining a healthy weight may be one of the most important ways to protect against cancer. Limiting consumption of calorie dense foods may help with weight control. A Tablespoon of any oil in addition to adding flavor adds 135 calories to the diet. One can see how easily calories would add up using even a healthy oil like olive oil. Therefore, the recommendation would be to use no more than 1 to 2 Tablespoons/day as part of an overall healthy diet.
Carolyn’s advice on the best way to use olive oil is to sauté vegetables. Greens are particularly good sautéed in olive oil with a little garlic and perhaps some soy sauce or flavored vinegar. Olive oil is also good for dressings for salads, cold grain or bean salads, etc. Combine with a flavored vinegar, some Dijon mustard, & maybe a citrus juice, and some onion, and you have a very flavorful addition to the diet. A note of caution is to avoid heating olive oil to high temperatures, as it breaks down at high temperatures and may cause the production of free radicals, which can damage healthy cells in the body.
The author of this post is Adam Lefton. Adam is Director of Online Development for Cancer Treatment Centers of America and has been advocating on behalf of cancer patients since 1999. Questions and comments for Adam can be posted directly on this blog.
Adam is not a trained medical professional and the information provided in this blog is for information purposes only. Every person has their own unique medical situation and those reading this blog should seek the advice of their own medical professional.