Q: I know I should stay away from over the counter medications like ibuprofen. But what else can I try for pain relief?
Dr. Wright: Scientists at the Monell Chemical Center in Philadelphia found that a compound called oleocanthanol that’s found in freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil works just like ibuprofen in its ability to inhibit pain. According to the scientists, even though oleocanthanol and ibuprofen are structurally different, they both work by blocking COX (cyclo-oxygenase) enzymes in the prostaglandin-biosynthesis pathway. In other words, they should both relieve pain equally well.
Here’s the catch: You’d have to swallow 10 times the amount of olive oil to achieve the same pain-relieving effects of just one dose of ibuprofen. That could add up to as many as 45 tablespoons of olive oil daily. I don’t know if its humanly possible to swallow that much extra virgin olive oil daily, especially considering it causes a strong stinging sensation in the throat, and would likely cause gastro-intestinal upset, too. And I’m certainly not suggesting that you do so.
So what’s my point in telling you all of this? Well, for starters, this research suggests that, as a COX inhibitor, extra virgin olive oil could have long-term health benefits (with none of the side effects that go along with ibuprofen). So, basically, this just adds one more reason (in an already long list) to consider following a Mediterranean-style diet.
This diet is rich in olive oil, fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and fish. Olive oil is an especially important part of this diet because it’s a great source of monounsaturated fats. Dairy is included as well, but on a much smaller scale. People who follow this diet are generally healthier: They have lower rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and they tend to live longer, as well.
Hopefully, there are a few natural products companies racing to bring oleocanthanol itself to market as yet another relatively safe natural pain reliever. Until then, if you have unsolved pain and you’d rather not take patent or formerly patent medications to alleviate it, it can’t hurt to try some extra virgin olive oil in your cooking and on your salads and vegetables to observe whether it helps your pain.