Paul Breslin, professor of nutritional sciences in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, and David Foster and Onica LeGendre of Hunter College, report that oleocanthal kills cancerous cells in the laboratory by rupturing vesicles that store the cell’s waste.
Olive oil compounds are unlike chemotherapeutic pharmaceuticals that ravage healthy cells along with cancer cells, the therapeutic compounds found in olive oil kills cancer while avoiding healthy cells. This programmed cell death is known as “apoptosis,” and usually takes approximately 16-24 hours, but this dynamic new research has blown scientists away, as the cancerous cells died within 30 minutes to an hour when exposed to the oleocanthal found in olive oil.
This happens because Oleocanthal, a polyphenolic, therapeutic compound found in extra-virgin olive oil kills a variety of human cancer cells without harming healthy cells, and is now the subject of an anti-cancer study performed by nutritional science and cancer biology researchers at Rutgers and Hunter’s College in New York City.
Researchers found that the oleocanthal destroys the cancer cells’ “waste centers” or “lysosomes,” which are larger than healthy cells, but are also more fragile. Lysosomes serve as a recycling center for a cells waste with cancer cells. Oleocanthal was said to “puncture” the lysosome vesicles causing the cancerous cell’s own enzymes to kill it.
Once the oleocanthal does its damage, critical functions begin to suffer and the cancer cells die, but the healthy cells stay intact and are put to sleep. After the oleocanthal puts the healthy cells to sleep for a day, they rebound like nothing happened.
While researchers previously understood that compounds in olive oil were capable of killing cancer cells, this rapid apoptosis had not been noticed. Even more fascinating was when the team looked very closely to assess why apoptosis was occurring under such swift circumstances, they discovered that cancer cells were being killed by their own enzymes. This did not work for only one isolated type of cancerous cell, but all of the cancerous cells they were examining.
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