The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of olives make them a natural for protection against cancer because chronic oxidative stress and chronic inflammation can be key factors in the development of cancer. If our cells get overwhelmed by oxidative stress (damage to cell structure and cell function by overly reactive oxygen-containing molecules) and chronic excessive inflammation, our risk of cell cancer is increased. By providing us with rich supplies of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, olives can help us avoid this dangerous combination of chronic oxidative stress and chronic inflammation.
Research on whole olives and cancer has often focused on two cancer types: breast cancer and stomach (gastric) cancer. In the case of breast cancer, special attention has been paid to the triterpene phytonutrients in olives, including erythrodiol, uvaol and oleanolic acid. These olive phytonutrients have been shown to help interrupt the life cycle of breast cancer cells. Interruption of cell cycles has also been shown in the case of gastric cancer, but with this second type of cancer, the exact olive phytonutrients involved are less clear.
One of the mechanisms linking olive intake to cancer protection may involve our genes. Antioxidant phytonutrients in olives may have a special ability to protect DNA (deoxyribonucleic acids)—the key chemical component of genetic material in our cells—from oxygen damage. DNA protection from unwanted oxidative stress means better cell function in wide variety of ways and provides cells with decreased risk of cancer development.