A substance found in extra-virgin olive oil has anti-inflammatory effects similar to those of ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), reports a study in Nature (2005; 437:45–6). The presence of anti-inflammatory activity in olive oil might help explain why its use has been linked to heart disease prevention and improvements in people with arthritis.
Oleocanthol, the substance isolated from extra-virgin olive oil, inhibited two enzymes involved in the process of inflammation (COX-1 and COX-2) but had no effect on a third inflammation-inducing enzyme (lipoxygenase). This pattern of activity is identical to that of ibuprofen. It is interesting that, while oleocanthol and ibuprofen do not have similar chemical structures, both of these compounds cause a strong stinging sensation in the throat.
It has long been suspected that olive oil inhibits inflammation. In a study of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, supplementing with about 4 teaspoons per day of olive oil for 12 weeks reduced pain and morning stiffness and improved laboratory measures of disease activity. Eating a Mediterranean diet, which is high in olive oil, has also been found toimprove symptoms and reduce inflammation in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Other studies has shown that the combination of extra-virgin olive oil and fish oil was more effective than fish oil alone in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.