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Is Oleocanthal Bad For You?



Short answer

Oleocanthal, found in high-quality extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), is not bad for you. On the contrary, it has potential health benefits due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, resembling the effects of ibuprofen but without the side effects commonly associated with such medications. Consumed as part of a balanced diet, oleocanthal may contribute to the prevention of chronic diseases like Alzheimer's and certain cancers. Despite promising research, it's essential to note that findings are preliminary and further studies are needed to fully understand its effects.



Long answer

Oleocanthal: Nature, Sources, and Nutritional Profile

Oleocanthal is a naturally occurring polyphenolic compound found in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Its presence is associated with the characteristic peppery, throat-stinging sensation often experienced when one consumes high-quality EVOO. This phytochemical is gaining attention not only for its unique sensory attributes but also for its potential health benefits that contribute to the acclaimed Mediterranean diet.

Chemically, oleocanthal is a tyrosol ester and a derivative of hydroxytyrosol, sharing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties similar to the pain reliever ibuprofen, albeit without the side effects typically associated with pharmaceuticals. It functions in the human body by inhibiting the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes, specifically COX-1 and COX-2, which are targets of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Primary Sources:

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Oleocanthal is most abundantly found in extra virgin olive oil, particularly from olives harvested early in the season when the phenolic content is at its peak.
  • Olives: While most commonly associated with EVOO, oleocanthal is also naturally present in olives themselves, though in much lower concentrations.

Oleocanthal is not found in refined olive oils as the refining process removes many of the minor components, including polyphenols.

Nutritional Profile:

The nutritional value of oleocanthal comes from its potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions rather than traditional nutritional metrics like calories or vitamins. The concentration of oleocanthal in olive oil can vary widely depending on various factors, including olive variety, region of cultivation, growing conditions, and processing methods. Quantification is usually done through HPLC (high-performance liquid chromatography) and can range anywhere from 0 to over 400 mg/kg in different olive oil samples.

Oleocanthal, as part of a wider group of phenolic compounds in olive oil, contributes to the high antioxidant score of this culinary staple. Antioxidants are vital in combating oxidative stress, which can lead to chronic diseases and aging. While oleocanthal does not contain macronutrients, its pharmacological-like effects at a nutritional consumption level make it an important compound for consideration in a health-focused diet.

Studies highlighting the importance of oleocanthal include:

  • A study published in ACS Chemical Neuroscience suggested that oleocanthal may help prevent the formation of certain proteins that are implicated in Alzheimer's disease.
  • Research featured in Life Sciences indicated that oleocanthal exhibits anti-cancer activities by selectively killing cancer cells without harming non-cancerous cells.
  • A review in International Journal of Molecular Sciences explored the potential cardioprotective effects of oleocanthal due to its ability to modulate inflammatory pathways.

In summary, oleocanthal's nutritional profile is not evaluated through the typical lens of calorie or vitamin content but rather through its functional properties and bioactivity that could impart various health advantages when included as part of a balanced and nutritious diet.

Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant Properties of Oleocanthal

Oleocanthal, a naturally occurring phenolic compound found in extra-virgin olive oil, has garnered substantial attention for its potential health benefits. It mimics the action of ibuprofen, a well-known anti-inflammatory drug, by inhibiting the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes implicated in the inflammation process. Crucially, the therapeutic potential of oleocanthal doesn't just rest on anecdotal evidence; scientific research bolsters its role as an anti-inflammatory agent.

A study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences outlines oleocanthal's capability to inhibit both COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, akin to the mechanism of action of ibuprofen, potentially offering relief in inflammatory conditions without the side effects commonly associated with synthetic drugs. However, one must approach such comparisons cautiously, as the dosage and bioavailability differ significantly between oleocanthal in olive oil and pharmacological preparations of ibuprofen.

Beyond its anti-inflammatory prowess, oleocanthal exhibits potent antioxidant properties. Oxidative stress, a condition characterized by an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants, is implicated in the pathogenesis of numerous chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Oleocanthal has been shown to scavenge free radicals, thwarting oxidative damage to cellular components such as DNA, lipids, and proteins. This protective role may contribute to the longevity observed in populations consuming a Mediterranean diet, rich in high-quality, oleocanthal-containing olive oil.

In alignment with this, a review in the European Journal of Pharmacology highlights that oleocanthal may protect LDL particles from oxidative damage, a key step in the development of atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Indeed, its status as a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant emphasizes its potential for bolstering heart health and mitigating the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Oleocanthal's role in modulating inflammation and its antioxidant capacity may also have implications for neurodegenerative diseases. Preliminary research, including that published in the ACS Chemical Neuroscience journal, suggests that oleocanthal might impede the aggregation of tau proteins, a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease pathology. While these findings are preliminary and predominantly from in vitro or animal studies, they open an exciting avenue for future research on oleocanthal as a possible natural therapeutic compound for neurological conditions.

Given these promising attributes, it's vital to evaluate the current state of research and ensure an evidence-backed understanding of oleocanthal's role in health. It's important to note that while the benefits of oleocanthal are clear in laboratory settings, extrapolating these effects to daily consumption in humans requires more comprehensive clinical trials. For those seeking to maximize their intake of oleocanthal, it's worth consulting both the quality of olive oil consumed, as higher quality oils typically contain greater concentrations of this valuable phenolic compound.

Potential Therapeutic Effects in Chronic Diseases

Oleocanthal, a phenolic compound found in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), has garnered attention in the scientific community for its potential therapeutic properties. This natural substance exhibits anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective activities akin to ibuprofen—a well-known nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Let's dissect the potential therapeutic effects of oleocanthal in the management and prevention of chronic diseases, keeping an eye on the strength of available evidence.

Inflammatory Diseases:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Oleocanthal may have a role in reducing inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. A study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry (2015) suggests that regular consumption of oleocanthal-rich EVOO could reduce the need for NSAIDs in patients with this condition.
  • Cardiovascular Diseases: Inflammation is a key player in cardiovascular diseases. Research, including a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (2006), indicates that oleocanthal may help lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases by improving lipid profiles and exerting anti-inflammatory effects.

Neurodegenerative Diseases:

  • Alzheimer's Disease: Oleocanthal has been observed to interfere with the aggregation of beta-amyloid proteins in laboratory studies, as detailed in a publication in ACS Chemical Neuroscience (2013). These beta-amyloid plaques are characteristic of Alzheimer's Disease, and oleocanthal's ability to disrupt their formation may herald important protective effects against the progression of this condition.
  • Other Neurological Conditions: Considering its neuroprotective capabilities, researchers postulate that oleocanthal could be beneficial in a range of neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson's disease. Although more clinical research is needed, the potential of oleocanthal in these areas remains a subject of keen interest.


  • Antiproliferative Effects: Oleocanthal has demonstrated potential in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. Studies, such as one published in Molecular and Cellular Oncology (2015), reveal that oleocanthal can induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells, suggesting a promise for future cancer therapies.
  • Research in Cell Lines and Animal Models: Much of the research surrounding oleocanthal's effects on cancer has been executed in cell lines and animal models. While these findings are promising, it's crucial to exercise caution in translating these results to human outcomes without further research.

Metabolic Syndrome:

  • Insulin Sensitivity and Type 2 Diabetes: Several studies suggest that oleocanthal could improve insulin sensitivity, potentially offering benefits to individuals with metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes. For instance, a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (2010) highlighted EVOO's role in improving insulin levels, partly attributed to compounds like oleocanthal.

Oleocanthal's pharmacological properties resemble those of many drugs prescribed for chronic diseases. However, it's essential to emphasize the nascent stage of much of this research. Until comprehensive clinical trials validate these findings, oleocanthal should not replace conventional treatments but may serve as a complementary approach in a holistic health regimen.

Keep in mind, as we explore the vast terrains of the supplement industry, that natural does not always mean infallibly safe and effective. The potential benefits of oleocanthal may be significant, but we must tread with the light of evidence, waiting for more rigorous scientific corroboration to illuminate the path ahead.

Oleocanthal Interaction with Medications and Health Conditions

Oleocanthal, a phenolic compound found in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), has piqued the interest of researchers due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. But here's the critical question: How does this compound fare when it comes to interactions with medications and underlying health conditions? Let's dive into the research.

Impact on Blood Thinners: Oleocanthal possesses properties similar to ibuprofen, a well-known nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). For individuals on blood-thinning medications like warfarin, this could potentially increase the risk of bleeding. A cautionary approach would be recommended, and it is imperative to consult with a healthcare provider before integrating high doses of EVOO or oleocanthal supplements into a routine that includes anticoagulants.

Effect on Blood Pressure Medications: Oleocanthal's positive influence on blood pressure could, theoretically, interact with antihypertensive drugs. If you're using ACE inhibitors or beta-blockers, adding high amounts of oleocanthal could result in blood pressure dipping too low. This interaction hasn't been distinctly outlined in clinical studies, but the potential exists, advocating for close medical supervision.

Interactions with Diabetes Medication: EVOO, rich in oleocanthal, is often lauded for its potential benefits in glycemic control. However, for those on diabetes medications, particularly those that lower blood glucose, there may be an enhanced effect that could cause hypoglycemia. Regular monitoring of blood glucose levels is essential to avoid any adverse events.

Concerns with Inflammatory Bowel Disease: While anti-inflammatory properties are generally beneficial, they can sometimes conflict with the management of certain conditions. People with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis should approach oleocanthal with caution due to the possible interaction with IBD medications and the complex nature of inflammatory responses in these conditions.

Consideration for Allergies: Olive oil polyphenols have been linked to allergic reactions in rare cases. Although oleocanthal-specific allergies haven't been reported, individuals with sensitivities to olives or other NSAIDs should be wary of possible cross-reactions.

In summary, while oleocanthal holds promising therapeutic properties, it must be approached carefully when it intersects with medication use and pre-existing health conditions. It's not just about what the compound can do alone, but also how it plays along with other biochemical actors in the vast stage of the human body. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any significant changes to your supplement regimen, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are on medication.

Remember to keep a watchful eye on evolving research to stay informed about the nuances of oleocanthal's interactions, for awareness and cautious application are key to harnessing its benefits without falling prey to unintended side effects.

Recommended Oleocanthal Intake and Possible Side Effects

Oleocanthal is a natural polyphenolic compound found predominantly in extra-virgin olive oil. It's been hailed for its anti-inflammatory properties which are comparable to ibuprofen, a commonly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). However, when it comes to recommended intake and possible side effects, there's a nuanced landscape to navigate.

Recommended Intake

As of now, there are no official guidelines for the optimal consumption of oleocanthal due to the variability of oleocanthal content in different olive oils and the lack of extensive research. However, enthusiasm for its health benefits based on the Mediterranean diet, which includes regular consumption of olive oil, suggests that oleocanthal is likely to be beneficial when included as part of a balanced diet. Preliminary studies suggest that daily intake of olive oil with high levels of oleocanthal may offer protective benefits against a variety of conditions. It's estimated that about 3.4 tablespoons (50 ml) of extra-virgin olive oil daily can provide around 5-10 mg of oleocanthal, a dose comparable to the adult low-dose ibuprofen regime for pain relief. Still, this is a guesstimate and should not be rigidly adhered to without further research.

Possible Side Effects

Despite its natural occurrence and the beneficial health claims, it is crucial to recognize that even natural compounds can have side effects, especially when consumed in large quantities. Some possible side effects of oleocanthal include:

  • Throat Irritation: A notably peppery sensation in the throat is a common experience when consuming high-oleocanthal olive oil and is a sign of the compound's potency. This is typically harmless but can be uncomfortable for some individuals.
  • Medication Interference: Given its similarity to ibuprofen, oleocanthal might interact with certain medications, especially anticoagulants or blood thinners. It's advisable to consult a healthcare provider if you are on any medication.
  • Stomach Issues: As with many NSAIDs, consuming large amounts of oleocanthal may potentially irritate the stomach lining, which could lead to digestive issues or exacerbate pre-existing conditions such as ulcers or gastritis.
  • Allergic Reactions: Although rare, some individuals may have an allergy to olive oil or components within it, including oleocanthal.

Oleocanthal is still undergoing research to fully understand its impacts on human health. Summarily, moderate consumption within the context of a balanced diet is unlikely to cause adverse effects for most people, and could indeed hold beneficial properties. Caution should be taken with high consumption, and those with medical conditions or on medication should consult healthcare professionals before making any significant changes to their diet that includes high amounts of oleocanthal.

References to scientific studies and expert opinions help bolster our understanding of oleocanthal. A study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences highlighted oleocanthal's potential in treating chronic inflammatory diseases. Moreover, the pharmacological activity of oleocanthal has been the subject of reviews in sources like the European Journal of Pharmacology, lending credibility to the compound's NSAID-like effects. However, these studies also call attention to the need for more clinical research to establish definitive intake recommendations and side effect profiles.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, individuals who are on anticoagulant therapy or other blood-thinning medications should exercise caution with high levels of oleocanthal due to its potential blood-thinning properties. Additionally, those with known allergies to olives or NSAIDs, or with pre-existing conditions like inflammatory bowel disease or stomach ulcers, should consult healthcare professionals before increasing their intake of oleocanthal-rich foods like extra virgin olive oil.

While oleocanthal is primarily consumed through extra virgin olive oil, there are indeed oleocanthal supplements available on the market. However, the concentration of oleocanthal in these supplements can vary, and they may not provide the same sensory or potential health benefits as consuming it in its natural oil form. If you are considering oleocanthal supplements, it's important to choose products from reputable sources and check for third-party certification to ensure quality and potency.

Oleocanthal shares anti-inflammatory properties with ibuprofen, but they are not equivalent in dosing. The oleocanthal content in olive oil is much lower than the typical ibuprofen dose used for pain relief. For instance, around 3.4 tablespoons (50 ml) of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil may contain approximately 5-10 mg of oleocanthal, whereas a standard adult dose of ibuprofen for pain relief is usually 200-400 mg. Olive oil should not be used as a replacement for ibuprofen or other NSAIDs prescribed by a healthcare provider.

There is no specific time of day that has been proven to be most beneficial for consuming extra virgin olive oil to obtain oleocanthal benefits. The important factor is consistent inclusion in your diet, such as incorporating olive oil into meals as a dressing or cooking oil. Regular consumption within the diet is in line with the Mediterranean dietary pattern, which is associated with various health benefits.

Ask a question about Oleocanthal and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • throat irritation
  • medication interference
  • stomach issues
  • allergic reactions

Possible long-term side effects

  • potential increased risk of bleeding with blood thinners
  • possible hypoglycemia with diabetes medications
  • exacerbation of ibd symptoms

Commonly found in


  • anti-inflammatory
  • antioxidant
  • neuroprotective
  • potential improvement in cardiovascular health
  • antiproliferative effects on cancer cells
  • can improve insulin sensitivity

Healthier alternatives

  • high-quality extra virgin olive oil
  • olives

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 03-06-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 03-06-2024

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