High quality olive oil contains a natural chemical that acts like the popular anti-inflammatory pain killer ibuprofen, scientists have revealed.
They believe it could help explain the well-known health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Ibuprofen, commonly sold as Nurofen, is taken by thousands of Britons every day to treat headaches and sore backs.
The researchers calculated that a 50 gram helping of extra-virgin olive oil was equivalent to about 10% of the ibuprofen dose recommended for adult pain relief.
Although it will not cure a headache, regular olive oil consumption may provide some of the long-term benefits of ibuprofen.
Inflammation has been linked to a wide range of human diseases, including heart disease and cancer, reports the Mail Online.
According to LA Times, only the freshest - and usually most expensive - olive oil has significant amounts of the pungent compound, called oleocanthal, the researchers said. Aging and cooking destroy it.
The irritating intensity of the taste of a fresh extra virgin olive oil turned out to be directly related to how much oleocanthal the oil contained.
The highest levels are found in the olives grown in Tuscany and the lowest in many California olive groves.
As gourmet estate oils have become a connoisseur's collectible in recent years, however, some Northern California growers have established groves of Italian olive trees that appear to yield high amounts of oleocanthal in their oil, the researchers said.
According to the research, oleocanthal inhibits the activity of cyclooxygenase enzymes, the same anti-inflammatory effect of ibuprofen.
Inflammation is believed to underpin a variety of chronic diseases, the researchers said.
"When we checked the pharmacology, it was identical to ibuprofen," said Monell researcher Paul Breslin, an expert in the psycho-physics of food who helped lead a team of scientists that spent two years investigating this chemical property of olive oil. The Monell center is an independent nonprofit research institute and the study was conducted without financial support from the food industry, importers or olive growers.