A compound found in olive oil may help prevent brain cancer, a study by the University of Edinburgh shows.
Research into oleic acid, the oil’s primary ingredient, has revealed it can help prevent cancer-causing genes functioning in cells.
The oily substance - one of a group of nutrients known as fatty acids - stimulates the production of a cell molecule whose function is to prevent cancer-causing proteins from forming.
While scientists say it is to soon to say whether consuming olive oil could prevent brain cancer, their findings point towards possible therapies based on the oil to prevent brain cancer occurring.
Scientists from the university analysed the effect of oleic acid on a cell molecule, known as miR-7, which is active in the brain and is known to suppress the formation of tumours.
They found that oleic acid prevents a cell protein, known as MSI2, from stopping production of miR-7. In this way, the olive oil component supports the production of miR-7, which helps prevent tumours from forming.
Researchers made their discoveries in tests on human cell extracts and in living cells in the lab.
Dr Gracjan Michlewski of the university’s school of biological sciences, who led the study, said the research suggested that oleic acid could help the production of molecules suppressing tumours,
“While we cannot yet say that olive oil in the diet helps prevent brain cancer, our findings do suggest that oleic acid can support the production of tumour-suppressing molecules in cells grown in the lab.
“Further studies could help determine the role that olive oil might have in brain health.”
The study, published in the Journal of Molecular Biology, was funded by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.
Last year statistics showed that patients in Scotland faced the worst five-year brain cancer survival rates across the UK.
Only 13.5 per cent of people with brain tumours north of the border survive more than five years of being diagnosed, compared with 20 per cent in England.
The total number of brain cancer cases in Scotland grew from 375 in 2002 to 443 in 2014, with deaths rising from 335 to 388.
Campaigners say that a more successful survival rate is being held back by the lack of research into the disease.
Around 73 per cent of people with breast cancer and 49 per cent of those with leukaemia survive for at least five years.