Scientists have discovered that extra virgin olive oil contains a molecule that works in exactly the same fashion as ibuprofen at inhibiting two inflammation-inducing enzymes (COX-1 and COX-2). Ibuprofen, of course, is a widely used over-the-counter pain medication.
While on a recent trip to Italy, a U.S. scientist noticed a stinging sensation after consuming extra virgin olive oil. He recognized it as the same sensation he had experienced during his studies of liquid ibuprofen. Subsequent analysis revealed that a compound called oleocanthal isolated from the olive oil was responsible.
This compound helps further explain some of the many health benefits associated with a Mediterranean diet (which is rich in olive oil). However, I don’t think you could effectively treat acute pain and inflammation strictly through the use of olive oil since the concentration of oleocanthal is quite low.
Based on the research, if 1¾ ounces of extra virgin olive oil were consumed a day, the oleocanthal content would be equivalent to only about 10 percent of the adult recommended dosage of ibuprofen for pain relief—not nearly enough to treat, for example, a headache.
On the other hand, regular consumption of extra-virgin olive oil would provide a continuous dose of this anti-inflammatory compound, which could have profound results over a period of time.
The key once again, as in exercise and supplement use, appears to be consistent, routine use. Oleocanthal is only one of the many beneficial compounds in olive oil—and I'm sure many more have yet to be discovered.