Named oleocanthal by the researchers, the compound inhibits activity of cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes, a pharmacological action shared by ibuprofen.
The finding is significant because inflammation increasingly is believed to play a key role in a variety of chronic diseases. "Some of the healthrelated effects of the Mediterranean diet may be due to the natural anti-COX activity of oleocanthal from premium olive oils," observes Monell biologist Gary Beauchamp, PhD.
The findings are described in the September 1 issue of the journal Nature.
The scientists were led to the discovery by the serendipitous observation that fresh extra-virgin olive oil irritates the back of the throat in a unique and unusual manner. "I had considerable experience swallowing and being stung in the throat by ibuprofen from previous studies on its sensory properties," explains Beauchamp. "So when I tasted newly-pressed olive oil while attending a meeting on molecular gastronomy in Sicily, I was startled to notice that the throat sensations were virtually identical."
Taking their lead from the cues provided by olive oil's throaty bite, the scientists systematically evaluated the sensory properties of an unnamed chemical compound thought to be responsible for the throat irritating property of premium olive oils. When results confirmed that the irritating intensity of a given extra-virgin olive oil was directly related to how much of the chemical it contained, the researchers named the compound oleocanthal (oleo=olive; canth=sting; al=aldehyde).
To rule out the possibility that any other compound was involved, chemists at Monell and Penn created a synt
Contact: Leslie Stein
Monell Chemical Senses Center