Affiliation: School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Victoria 3125 Australia.
Recent research on the olive oil phenolic oleocanthal has led to speculation that it may confer some of the health benefits associated with a traditional Mediterranean diet. Oleocanthal produces a peppery, stinging sensation at the back of the throat similar to that of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), ibuprofen. This led to the hypothesis that the perceptual similarity between oleocanthal and ibuprofen may indicate similar pharmacological properties. Subsequent studies have proved the hypothesis and oleocanthal was shown not only to inhibit inflammation in the same way as ibuprofen does, but on equi-molar basis it was found to be more potent than ibuprofen. It is important to note that inflammation has been demonstrated to play a significant role in the development of a number of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease (CVD) and certain types of cancers. Therefore, as a result of dietary intake of olive oil, a reduction in inflammation produced by oleocanthal is speculated to be the mechanism that is partially responsible for the health benefits associated with the traditional Mediterranean diet. This review summarizes the current knowledge on oleocanthal, in terms of its physiological and sensory properties, as well as a discussion on the factors that have the ability to affect oleocanthal concentrations in extra virgin olive oils (EVOOs).