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Olive Oil's Main Ingredient Shows Brain Cancer-Fighting Potential

New research from the University of Edinburgh suggests that oleic acid might someday be used to develop treatments to protect against brain tumors.

Published On 06/03/2017
1:00 PM EDT
O O live oil might just be nature’s superhero. It’s good for your skin, good for your hair, and now it may be good for your brain as well. A compound in the fatty oil, long touted for its beauty benefits, has recently been found to help prevent cancerous cells from developing in the brain.
New research from the University of Edinburgh shows how oleic acid, the main ingredient in olive oil, can help stimulate production of a key tumor-suppressing molecule.
The molecule, called microRNA-7 (or miR-7), is found in brain tissue and has been shown to help suppress tumors in different parts of the body. Within the brain specifically, miR-7 targets proteins that are necessary for tumor growth and maturation.
MiR-7 is a powerful molecule. It has even been effective at stopping the growth of glioblastomas, one of the most fast-growing and lethal brain tumors. Aggressive glioblastomas have a two-year survival rate of just 30 percent, and the American Brain Tumor Association has predicted that there will be over 12,000 new cases of glioblastomas in 2017.
While miR-7 can suppress tumors, it doesn’t always get the chance to do its job. MiR-7 production can be stopped inside the body by a cell protein called MS12. And this is where olive oil might save the day.
Oleic acid, which the researchers noted is “the most abundant and widely distributed fatty acid in nature,” blocks the MSI2 from interfering with miR-7 production and growth. In this way, oleic acid “rescues” miR-7 and allows it to continue its natural cancer-fighting abilities.
But don’t adopt the Mediterranean diet for the sake of staving off brain tumors just yet. The researchers were quick to note that although their findings looked promising, they still don’t know if just consuming more olive oil from the supermarket can help stimulate miR-7 production. It’s more likely that this work can someday be used to develop treatments based on the oil to protect the brain from tumors.
“While we cannot yet say that olive oil in the diet helps prevent brain cancer,” said lead author Dr. Gracjan Michlewski in a press statement, “our findings do suggest that oleic acid can support the production of tumor-suppressing molecules in cells grown in the lab.”
The next step, the researchers said, is to create further studies that will help determine how olive oil as we normally consume it might help brain health. This research could also lead to more targeted therapies in the fight against brain cancer.
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