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Could olive oil be latest weapon against cancer?


Ingredient dressing kills tumour cells without hurting healthy ones 

FOLLOWING a Mediterranean diet has long been regarded as the key to a long and healthy life. And now scientists may have found one of the key reasons why.

    An ingredient in extra virgin olive oil, oleocanthal, kills human cancer cells without harming healthy ones, researchers found.

    The oleocanthal works by rupturing a part of the cancer cell called the lysosome, which acts as the cell’s waste dump, releasing proteins that cause it to die.

    When the scientists applied it to cancer cells in the lab, the cells died very quickly – within 30 minutes to an hour.

     “The lysosome is the garbage dump, or the recycling centre, of the cell,” said researcher Paul Breslin, from Rutgers University in the U.S. “Once you open one of those things, all hell breaks loose.

     “The lysosome is isolated in the cell because it’s so toxic. If you rupture the membrane that’s compartmentalising the lysosome, the inside of it leaks out into the cell.

    “It’s full of aggressive enzymes that can tear apart anything that it comes into contact with.”

     However, oleocanthal does not harm healthy cells – it merely suspends their life cycles temporarily, the researchers said.

     “It put them to sleep,” said Professor Breslin, whose study was published in the journal Molecular and Cellular Oncology.

     “After a day, the healthy cells resumed their cycles. Cancer cells have much larger and much more active lysosomes and there’s something about that that makes them more vulnerable than healthy cells – but we don’t yet know why.”

    The researchers said the next step is to go beyond laboratory conditions and show that oleocanthal can kill cancer cells and shrink tumours in living animals.

    A Harvard University study of 26,000 people, who were followed over a period of eight years, found that eating good fats such as those found in olive oil, can reduce the risk of developing cancer by nine per cent.

    Last month, a study found eating fish, salads and olive oil, and enjoying the odd glass of wine, could transform the lives of men suffering from impotence.

    Healthy foods clean out the blood vessels, especially in the penis, meaning men can make lifestyle choices rather than relying on Viagra, researchers found.

    Other studies have shown that adopting a Mediterranean diet can also reduce the chances of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and even Alzheimer’s disease.

    One such study – published in the BMJ – last year found eating a Mediterranean diet increases life expectancy by protecting the DNA from damage.

    Harvard academics studied 4,676 middle-aged women comparing their typical eating habits with the make-up of their cells.

    Importantly, they looked at their telomeres – biological caps which are found at the ends of chromosomes that protect the DNA inside. 

    As we get older, our telomeres get progressively shorter, causing the DNA to become damaged and raising the odds of age-related illnesses such as Alzheimer’ s, diabetes and heart disease.

     The research found that women whose diets were generally low in fat and high in fruit and vegetables had longer telomeres.

But this was even more pronounced for those who followed a Mediterranean diet rich in fruit, vegetables nuts and pulses.

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