This past March, my colleagues of the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology (IBMC) of the Miguel Hernández University (UMH) in Elche issued a press release to unveil the public of their progress in the research of bioactive compounds extracted from olive leaves in delaying the growth of breast cancer tumor cells. On many occasions I have spoken in my blog about the importance of science diffusion to stop marginalizing science. And here’s one of the best examples! When I told my friends and family about the press release, most people didn´t know the scientific studies carried out in the University. And I must say that until I have been enrolled in the Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals specialized professional course coordinated by CIDAF of the University of Granada, neither I was aware of these studies such important for our basic understanding as well as for future industrial applications in the public health sector. Indeed, after several years of research on the antioxidant and anticancer effects of various bioactive compounds contained in olive leaves, IBMC team is proud of its progress in the development of an extraction method that respects the strict pharmaceutical requirements without altering the bioactive properties of these active substances.
In recent years, science has been interested in studying the antioxidant power of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, based on historical knowledge of medicinal plants and their uses in oriental medicinal therapies. Scientists have investigated the role of various natural bioactive compounds in various cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disorders, including many cancers and other diseases directly associated with the aging process (cataracts or nervous system disorders). Today, several scientific reports show the antioxidant potential of various bioactive compounds contained in red fruits, citrus, vegetables from the nightshade family and brassica, green and black teas, as well as compounds from various condiments (ginger or cinnamon) or some ornamental plants (Aloe vera or Hibiscus).
Today the plant antioxidant molecules are booming in the food industry and nutricosmetics. But do we know what are their roles in the body? Do we need an additional contribution of these antioxidants or a balanced diet is enough to stay healthy?
An antioxidant molecule is able to prevent or retard cells oxidation. The oxidation process leads to the formation of free radicals and reactive oxygen species ROS very unstable and which start to damage the cells (mostly proteins, DNA, RNA, and lipids) by chain reactions causing the cell damage and in many cases, the dysfunction irreversible. These reactive molecules are naturally formed during the cell cycle in the presence of oxygen, although this element is essential for cellular respiration in all aerobic organisms, also induce the formation of these molecules harmful to cells. Fortunately, the body has enough reserves of antioxidant molecules with antioxidant nutrients and enzymes to balance these oxidation processes and prevent the accelerated deterioration of the cells.
This mechanism of oxidation and antioxidant action is a completely normal process in the human cell cycle, but with the passage of time, we sometimes observed an excess of oxidation of biological tissue that arises from an imbalance between the production of these reactive molecules and antioxidant defenses: this is the oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is generated in the presence of an excess of reactive molecules and is often associated with the appearance on the body of many diseases.
In recent years, several research groups have investigated the antioxidant power of various bioactive compounds extracted from plants, shedding light on their potential for possible therapeutic applications related to oxidative stress. Studies of these past 20 years have focused mainly on the antioxidant action of phenolic compounds, anthocyanins, flavonoids, vitamin C and vitamin E. .. and the relationship between these antioxidants and delay the development of cancer and cellular aging is now in full swing.
Some primary antioxidant can not be synthesized naturally in the human body and therefore must be supplied by the diet. Epidemiological studies clearly show a correlation between increased consumption of foods rich in antioxidants and slowing the onset of disease. Therefore, a higher intake of fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins and antioxidants, may be recommended to maintain or increase tissue levels of antioxidants as dietary and physiological needs of the organism.
Pillar of the mediterranean diet, olive oil contains several antioxidants of great interest to researchers of new anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer therapies. A multidisciplinary team of Spanish researchers (1) has focused on analyzing the biological actions of olive oil´s phenolic compounds on the development of breast cancer cells. This study is generated great expectations since breast cancer is the most common malignancy in women and the leading cause of cancer death in women worldwide.
The team has analyzed 11 phenolic compounds of olive oil trademarks and confirmed that the profiles of bioactive compounds in olive oils vary depending on the variety of olive cultivation, climate and location of crops. And as expected, the anti-cancer response is affected by the phenolic composition of the oils. With the tuning of the extraction method from leaves and research on oil about enhancing absorption of these phenolic compounds, it appears that the products of the oil industry are excellent candidates for the design of a new anticancer drug.
Although there is still much work to do, for a decade, scientific studies have been intensified demonstrating the relationship between bioactive compounds and their functional effects on human health. Science especially promises to increase the quality of life for those groups of highest risk such as young children, the elderly and individuals practicing elite sport. Many scientific studies have provided sustenance for drafting the European Union Regulation that dictates a list of permitted health claims made on foods related to the reduction of disease risk and its benefit to children´s development and health.
Living longer and better is on the minds of most people in our society, and natural antioxidants represent the ante with greater acceptance by consumers. However, caution should be exercised because the over intake of these compounds could cause a molecular imbalance with the risk of toxicity. Do not forget that equilibrium prevails, and that the bioactive supplements should complement a balanced and healthy diet, not replace it.
(1) A multidisciplinary team of Spanish researchers: Instituto Catalán de Oncología (ICO); L’Institut d’Investigació Biomèdica de Girona (IdIbGi); Departamento de Química Analítica de la Universidad de Granada; Centre de Recerca Biomèdica, Hospital Universitari Sant Joan de Reus (CRBReus); Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular de la Universidad Miguel Hernández de Elche (IBMC).