Antitumor effect of oleic acid; mechanisms of action: a review

Nutr Hosp. 2012 Nov-Dec;27(6):1860-5. doi: 10.3305/nh.2012.27.6.6010.


Introduction: The beneficial effects of oleic acid in cancer processes can no longer be doubted, but little is known about the mechanisms of action behind this phenomenon.

Aim: The aim of the present review is to clarify whether oleic acid has an effect on important mechanisms related to the carcinogenic processes.

Methods: We searched electronic databases and bibliographies of selected articles were inspected for further reference. We focused our research on two cellular transformations characterizing cancer development: proliferation and cell death or apoptosis.

Results: Numerous studies have reported an inhibition in cell proliferation induced by oleic acid in different tumor cell lines. Herein, oleic acid could suppress the over-expression of HER2 (erbB-2), a well-characterized oncogene which plays a key role in the etiology, invasive progression and metastasis in several human cancers. In addition, oleic acid could play a role in intracellular calcium signaling pathways linked to the proliferation event. Regarding cell death, oleic acid has been shown to induce apoptosis in carcinoma cells. The mechanisms behind the apoptotic event induced by oleic acid could be related to an increase in intracellular ROS production or caspase 3 activity. Several unsaturated fatty acids have been reported to induce apoptosis through a release of calcium from intracellular stores. However, evidence regarding such a role in oleic acid is lacking.

Conclusions: Oleic acid plays a role in the activation of different intracellular pathways involved in carcinoma cell development. Such a role could be the root of its antitumoral effects reported in clinical studies.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticarcinogenic Agents*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Oleic Acid / pharmacology*


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Oleic Acid