After a tasting experience at a molecular gastronomy meeting in Sicily, biologist Gary Beauchamp of Pennsylvania University decided to analyse freshly pressed extra-virgin olive oil and found a chemical that acted like ibuprofen in the oil.
He and his team named their discovery oleocanthal and found that, although it has a different chemistry, its effect is similar to that of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory compound in the commercial pain-killer.
This is a significant discovery because scientists believe to an increasing extent that inflammation plays an important part in a variety of chronic diseases like stroke, heart disease, and breast and lung cancer.
The researchers say their findings raise the possibility that long-term consumption of oleocanthal may help to protect against some diseases.
The findings may also help explain the health benefits long attributed to the olive-oil rich Mediterranean diet.
The research is published in the science journal Nature.