The sensory similarities between oleocanthal and ibuprofen led scientists at Monell and the University of the Sciences to investigate potential common pharmacological properties. Studies revealed that, like ibuprofen, oleocanthal inhibits activity of COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes. Because inhibition of COX activity underlies the anti-inflammatory actions of ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), the new findings suggest oleocanthal is a natural anti-inflammatory agent.
Monell sensory scientist Paul Breslin, PhD, who directed the research together with Beauchamp remarks, "The Mediterranean diet, of which olive oil is a central component, has long been associated with numerous health benefits, including decreased risk of stroke, heart disease, breast cancer, lung cancer, and some dementias. Similar benefits are associated with certain NSAIDs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Now that we know of oleocanthal's anti-inflammatory properties, it seems plausible that oleocanthal plays a causal role in the health benefits associated with diets where olive oil is the principal source of fat."
Beauchamp said future research will aim to identify how oleocanthal inhibits COX enzymes and how this is related to throat sting.
According to Breslin, "This study is the first to make the case for pharmacological activity based on irritation and furthers the idea originally proposed decades ago by Fischer that a compound's orosensory qualities might reflect its pharmacological potency."