Molecular mechanisms of inflammation. Anti-inflammatory benefits of virgin olive oil and the phenolic compound oleocanthal

Curr Pharm Des. 2011;17(8):754-68. doi: 10.2174/138161211795428911.


Chronic inflammation is a critical factor in the pathogenesis of many inflammatory disease states including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, degenerative joint diseases and neurodegenerative diseases. Chronic inflammatory states are poorly understood, however it is known that dietary habits can evoke or attenuate inflammatory responses. Popular methods to deal with inflammation and its associated symptoms involve the use of non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, however the use of these drugs are associated with severe side effects. Therefore, investigations concerned with natural methods of inflammatory control are warranted. A traditional Mediterranean diet has been shown to confer some protection against the pathology of chronic diseases through the attenuation of pro-inflammatory mediators and this has been partially attributed to the high intake of virgin olive oil accompanying this dietary regime. Virgin olive oil contains numerous phenolic compounds that exert potent anti-inflammatory actions. Of interest to this paper is the recently discovered phenolic compound oleocanthal. Oleocanthal is contained in virgin olive oil and possesses similar anti-inflammatory properties to ibuprofen. This pharmacological similarity has provoked interest in oleocanthal and the few studies conducted thus far have verified its anti-inflammatory and potential therapeutic actions. A review of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet and anti-inflammatory properties of virgin olive oil is presented with the additional emphasis on the pharmacological and anti-inflammatory properties of the phenolic compound oleocanthal.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aldehydes / pharmacology
  • Aldehydes / therapeutic use*
  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / diet therapy*
  • Cyclopentane Monoterpenes
  • Diet, Mediterranean
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / diet therapy*
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Models, Immunological
  • Neoplasms / diet therapy*
  • Olive Oil
  • Phenols / pharmacology
  • Phenols / therapeutic use*
  • Plant Oils / pharmacology
  • Plant Oils / therapeutic use*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*


  • Aldehydes
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Biomarkers
  • Cyclopentane Monoterpenes
  • Olive Oil
  • Phenols
  • Plant Oils
  • oleocanthal