Olive Oil or Advil

by Dr. Leo Galland

Olive Oil or Advil


Could a traditional food have pain and inflammation reducing effects similar to over the counter pain medicine Advil (ibuprofen)?


New research indicates that extra virgin olive oil can provide significant health benefits, including the ability to help reduce pain and inflammation. This flavorful oil is an example of the food as medicine concept, that foods can have a powerful impact on health.


Extra virgin olive oil can contribute nutritional support in the fight against such health problems as arthritis, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, and in pain management. A research study from Spain has shown that higher olive oil consumption is associated with leaner body weight, an important factor in prevention of chronic conditions. (Get free healthy updates in your inbox, sign up for our newsletter below.)


Recent research has identified the antioxidant called oleocanthal, which is only found in extra-virgin olive oil. Oleocanthal is a natural inflammation fighting compound with potency strikingly similar to that of the drug ibuprofen in inhibiting an enzyme that causes pain and inflammation.


Consumption of olive oil has been associated with:


  • Reduction of total cholesterol and an increase in the high-density cholesterol (HDL-C), which has a protective effect on blood vessels.
  • Improved sensitivity of cells to insulin, which helps to prevent the Metabolic Syndrome. Preventing Metabolic Syndrome is important, because the syndrome increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
  • Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s disease.


The amount of extra virgin olive oil associated with protection against inflammation is approximately two teaspoons a day.


Research Abstracts on Olive Oil:


Nature. 2005 Sep 1;437(7055):45-6.

Phytochemistry: ibuprofen-like activity in extra-virgin olive oil.


Beauchamp GK, Keast RS, Morel D, Lin J, Pika J, Han Q, Lee CH, Smith AB, Breslin PA.


Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA.


Newly pressed extra-virgin olive oil contains oleocanthal–a compound whose pungency induces a strong stinging sensation in the throat, not unlike that caused by solutions of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen. We show here that this similar perception seems to be an indicator of a shared pharmacological activity, with oleocanthal acting as a natural anti-inflammatory compound that has a potency and profile strikingly similar to that of ibuprofen. Although structurally dissimilar, both these molecules inhibit the same cyclooxygenase enzymes in the prostaglandin-biosynthesis pathway.


Inflammopharmacology. 2009 Apr;17(2):76-84.


Phenolic compounds in olive oil: antioxidant, health and organoleptic activities according to their chemical structure.


Servili M, Esposto S, Fabiani R, Urbani S, Taticchi A, Mariucci F, Selvaggini R, Montedoro GF.


Dipartimento di Scienze Economico-estimative e degli Alimenti, Sezione di Tecnologie e Biotecnologie degli Alimenti, Università degli Studi di Perugia, Via S. Costanzo, 06126 Perugia, Italy.


Hydrophilic phenols are the most abundant natural antioxidants of virgin olive oil (VOO), in which, however, tocopherols and carotenes are also present. The prevalent classes of hydrophilic phenols found in VOO are phenolic alcohols and acids, flavonoids, lignans and secoiridoids. Among these substances the last two classes include the most concentrate phenols of VOO. Secoiridoids, like aglycone derivatives of oleuropein, demethyloleuropein and ligstroside, are present in olive fruit as most abundant VOO phenolic antioxidants. Several important biological properties (antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, chemopreventive and anti-cancer) and the characteristic pungent and bitter tasty properties have been attributed to VOO phenols. Relationships between polyphenols activities and their chemical structures are discussed in this paper.


Eur J Clin Invest. 2005 Jul;35(7):421-4.


International conference on the healthy effect of virgin olive oil.


Perez-Jimenez F, Alvarez de Cienfuegos G, Badimon L, Barja G, Battino M, Blanco A, Bonanome A, Colomer R, Corella-Piquer D, Covas I, Chamorro-Quiros J, Escrich E, Gaforio JJ, Garcia Luna PP, Hidalgo L, Kafatos A, Kris-Etherton PM, Lairon D, Lamuela-Raventos R, Lopez-Miranda J, Lopez-Segura F, Martinez-Gonzalez MA, Mata P, Mataix J, Ordovas J, Osada J, Pacheco-Reyes R, Perucho M, Pineda-Priego M, Quiles JL, Ramirez-Tortosa MC, Ruiz-Gutierrez V, Sanchez-Rovira P, Solfrizzi V, Soriguer-Escofet F, de la Torre-Fornell R, Trichopoulos A, Villalba-Montoro JM, Villar-Ortiz JR, Visioli F.


Lipid and Atherosclerosis Unit, Reina Sofia University Hospital, Cordoba, Spain. franperezjimenez@yahoo.com


1. Ageing represents a great concern in developed countries because the number of people involved and the pathologies related with it, like atherosclerosis, morbus Parkinson, Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, cognitive decline, diabetes and cancer.


2. Epidemiological studies suggest that a Mediterranean diet (which is rich in virgin olive oil) decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.


3. The Mediterranean diet, rich in virgin olive oil, improves the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as the lipoprotein profile, blood pressure, glucose metabolism and antithrombotic profile. Endothelial function, inflammation and oxidative stress are also positively modulated. Some of these effects are attributed to minor components of virgin olive oil. Therefore, the definition of the Mediterranean diet should include virgin olive oil.


4. Different observational studies conducted in humans have shown that the intake of monounsaturated fat may be protective against age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.


5. Microconstituents from virgin olive oil are bioavailable in humans and have shown antioxidant properties and capacity to improve endothelial function. Furthermore they are also able to modify the haemostasis, showing antithrombotic properties.


6. In countries where the populations fulfilled a typical Mediterranean diet, such as Spain, Greece and Italy, where virgin olive oil is the principal source of fat, cancer incidence rates are lower than in northern European countries.


7. The protective effect of virgin olive oil can be most important in the first decades of life, which suggests that the dietetic benefit of virgin olive oil intake should be initiated before puberty, and maintained through life.


8. The more recent studies consistently support that the Mediterranean diet, based in virgin olive oil, is compatible with a healthier ageing and increased longevity. However, despite the significant advances of the recent years, the final proof about the specific mechanisms and contributing role of the different components of virgin olive oil to its beneficial effects requires further investigations.


Public Health Nutr. 2009 Sep;12(9A):1607-17.


Mediterranean diet and metabolic syndrome: the evidence.


Babio N, Bulló M, Salas-Salvadó J.


Human Nutrition Unit, Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology, Hospital Universitari de Sant Joan de Reus, IISPV, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Rovira i Virgili University, Spain.


BACKGROUND: The Mediterranean diet has long been related to a lower cardiovascular disease risk; however, more recent evidences also indicate that it has a favourable effect on adiposity and type 2 diabetes.


DESIGN: Review of the available literature in relation to Mediterranean diet and metabolic syndrome.


RESULTS: Several components of Mediterranean diet patterns have been inversely related with body mass index. They are considered to be modulators of insulin resistance, can exert beneficial effects on blood pressure, improve atherogenic dyslipidemia or attenuate the inflammatory burden associated with metabolic syndrome. Furthermore, a lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome has been associated with dietary patterns rich in fruits and vegetables, nuts, olive oil, legumes and fish, moderate in alcohol and low in red meat, processed meat, refined carbohydrates and whole-fat dairy products.


CONCLUSIONS: There is much evidence suggesting that the Mediterranean diet could serve as an anti-inflammatory dietary pattern, which could help to fight diseases related to chronic inflammation, including metabolic syndrome.


J Nutr Biochem. 2002 Nov;13(11):636-644.


Major phenolic compounds in olive oil: metabolism and health effects.


Tuck KL, Hayball PJ.


Centre for Pharmaceutical Research, School of Pharmaceutical, Molecular and Biomedical Sciences, University of South Australia, 5000, Adelaide, Australia


It has been postulated that the components in olive oil in the Mediterranean diet, a diet which is largely vegetarian in nature, can contribute to the lower incidence of coronary heart disease and prostate and colon cancers. The Mediterranean diet includes the consumption of large amounts of olive oil. Olive oil is a source of at least 30 phenolic compounds. The major phenolic compounds in olive oil are oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol. Recently there has been a surge in the number of publications that has investigated their biological properties. The phenolic compounds present in olive oil are strong antioxidants and radical scavengers. Olive "waste water" also possesses compounds which are strong antioxidant and radical scavengers. Typically, hydroxytyrosol is a superior antioxidant and radical scavenger to oleuropein and tyrosol. Hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein have antimicrobial activity against ATTC bacterial strains and clinical bacterial strains. Recent syntheses of labeled and unlabelled hydroxytyrosol coupled with superior analytical techniques have enabled its absorption and metabolism to be studied. It has recently been found that hydroxytyosol is renally excreted unchanged and as the following metabolites as its glucuronide conjugate, sulfate conjugate, homovanillic acid, homovanillic alcohol, 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid and 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetaldehyde. Studies with tyrosol have shown that it is excreted unchanged and as its conjugates. This review summarizes the antioxidant abilities; the scavenging abilities and the biological fates of hydroxytyrosol, oleuropein and tyrosol which have been published in recent years.


4 thoughts on “Olive Oil or Advil

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  3. Ody Deans

    I found this information on olive oil very interesting, but no mention has been made as to how much olive oil would be necessary to act as an anti-inflammatory against arthritis. Could you please let me know how much per day I would need to help me with excruciating pain due to arthritis?

  4. Dave Rich

    Ody—The article by Dr. Leo Galland says, “The amount of extra virgin olive oil associated with protection against inflammation is approximately two teaspoons a day.”- See more at: http://pilladvised.com/2010/07/olive-oil-or-advil/#sthash.ArY7B0Pu.dpuf I’m not a doctor so I don’t know whether two teaspoons would be sufficient for you. Perhaps you could start with that amount and, if it’s not helpful, try 3 teaspoons. Or four. I doubt that it will harm you, except maybe add to your weight. Good luck!

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