Review: Components of EVOO Hold Therapeutic Potential for Treatment of Neuroblastoma


Phenolic compounds in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) hold promise as an avenue of treatment for the childhood cancer, neuroblastoma, but more research is needed.

Young patients diagnosed with neuroblastoma (NB), a rare form of pediatric cancer that accounts for between 6 and 10 percent of childhood cancers, often face post-treatment challenges including relapse and drug resistance, as well as toxic side effects from chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Neuroblastoma, an extracranial solid tumor, has its start very early in life—in the immature nerve cells of a developing fetus—and diagnosis is usually made during infancy or the first few years of life.

Although survival rates for children with neuroblastoma have increased dramatically over the past few decades, a number of significant post-treatment challenges remain prompting some researchers to explore the use of plant-based antioxidants in cancer treatment.

One recent review, published in the March 13 edition of Nutrients, by a team of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian researchers, examined the role of two specific phenolic compounds found in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) for their potential preventative and therapeutic effect on neuroblastoma.

The research team examined the antioxidant effect of oleuropein (OLE), the main phenolic compound found in olive oil, and its related phenol hydroxytyrosol (HT), on neuroblastoma cells, using in vitro and animal models. Since tumor cells produce increased amounts of reactive oxygen species (ROS—oxygen-containing free radicals which, at elevated levels, can damage biomolecules such as DNA), the authors wanted to study the antioxidant abilities of OLE and HT to mitigate or reverse the damage caused by ROS.

Promising Findings

The study authors noted that previous research had established that “Both OLE and its metabolite, HT, have shown remarkable anticancer activity in different tumours, such as colorectal, breast, bladder, blood, brain, gastric, hepatic, skin, prostate, lung, cervical, and thyroid cancers. Furthermore, these compounds can cross the blood–brain barrier and do not possess toxic effects.” However, there are significant differences between childhood cancers and adult cancers. Could the known anti-cancer effects of OLE and HT extend to neuroblastoma? What they found is promising.

The researchers examined the effect of OLE and HT on cell viability and proliferation of neuroblastoma using various cell lines. They found that “both phenolic compounds demonstrate significant potential in inhibiting tumour growth and decreasing cell survival through the induction of apoptosis and cell cycle arrest … In summary, OLE and HT present a noteworthy capability of protecting cells against oxidative damage through both anti-apoptotic and antioxidant properties.”

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Using animal models of neuroblastoma, the researchers discovered that levels of ROS were unusually high, particularly in the early stages of the cancer’s development. Also, chemotherapy treatments and ionizing radiation can result in adverse side effects which include generating high levels of free radicals. In light of this, the authors speculate that “While further research is needed, it is reasonable to assume that antioxidants can have beneficial effects for cancer therapy, particularly in NB treatment, since they are able to balance ROS levels to prevent them from harmful activities and to possibly mitigate the side effects caused by certain conventional treatments.”

It is important to note that the results were dose-dependent and that questions remain about the effects of high concentrations of oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol on healthy tissue. Still, the available research is promising and more is needed to examine the potential benefits for pediatric patients.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

This research places a spotlight on the benefits of olive oil—and EVOO in particular. Olive oil is the main dietary fat consumed in the Mediterranean diet—long touted for its anti-cancer benefits. A large body of research has demonstrated an inverse relationship between close adherence to a Mediterranean diet, and the risk of a variety of cancers. In general, the greater the adherence to the Mediterranean diet, the lower the risk of cancer.

The Mediterranean diet is also characterized by its extensive use of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, moderate consumption of eggs, dairy, red wine, fish, poultry, and red meats, and minimal added sugars and processed foods.


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