On May 30-31 on the island of Zakynthos in Greece a group of international olive oil experts from the world of science, academia, gastronomy and media gathered for a conference to establish the non-profit Oleocanthal International Society (OIS).
OIS is the brainchild of retired physician Jose Antonio Amerigo from Spain who has dedicated his time to promoting preventative medicine through nutrition as the best way to “cure” disease.
“My initial motivation was to promote the health benefits derived from Picual and Cornicabra, the two main varietals of olive trees found in the Jaén and La Mancha areas. They are both very rich in health-promoting phenolic compounds such as oleocanthal,” Amerigo said.
“Last year I created the Oleocanthal Society of Andalusia for this purpose and invited Gary Beauchamp to our inaugural event where we met for the first time,” Amerigo continued. “OIS, however, is a distinct and separate international multidisciplinary society with members with diverse interests in the field of research, gastronomy, and media. Our goal is to expand interdisciplinary collaboration and information exchange in the field of olive research. It is vital that we encourage the proper use of high phenolic olive products in our daily diet. OIS mission is to encourage scientific research and disseminate the results to the scientific community while making the health promoting aspects accessible to the general public, via a website, press releases, special events, videos and podcasts.”
Founding members of OIS are from Spain, Greece, and the United States. Experts from Italy, Australia, France, Tunisia, Croatia, and Portugal have expressed interest in joining, and it is expected the OIS will expand rapidly to include representatives from those countries and others.
Prokopios Magiatis and Eleni Melliou were invited to become members due to their extensive background in olive oil research and their discovery of the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), method of accurately measuring individual phenolic compounds. I asked Magiatis why Zakynthos was chosen for this event: “We decided to conduct our first meeting to establish OIS in Zakynthos Island situated in the Ionian Sea in Greece as an acknowledgement of the vibrant history of the olive tree and its cultural significance to the ancient Hellenic culture and Mediterranean civilizations. We also discovered some very high phenolic olive oils here in the Ionian islands of Zakynthos and Corfu. We are very happy to collaborate with such a diverse group of scientists and experts to further our research and enhance our ability to communicate our findings to the public.”
Paul Breslin recently made headlines with his success in using oleocanthal to kill cancer cells in a Petri dish. He flew in from Boston to participate because he sees OIS as a very positive development. “I hope the OIS will succeed in accessing more funds that are needed to help us continue to study the specific health benefits of oleocanthal and other compounds found in EVOO. All indications are very positive for the overall health benefits of consuming olive oil. The specific contribution of each phenolic compound found in EVOO in preventing or even healing disease requires a great deal more research. At present, we have discovered that oleocanthal has anti-inflammatory properties, interferes with amyloid forming Alzheimer’s plaques and can kill certain cancerous cells in a petri dish without harming healthy cells. Beyond the headlines and the enthusiasm this research has generated we need to conduct animal studies and eventually human trials. This requires research funds that we do not have right now. This is why I have decided to be a part of OIS.” Breslin is a professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, Rutgers University and a member of the Monell Chemical Senses Center.
Gary Beauchamp, the man who discovered the anti-inflammatory properties of oleocanthal, is another enthusiastic member of OIS and he gave an overview of why OIS is a significant achievement: “Ever since our discovery of the anti-inflammatory properties of oleocanthal ten years ago, research has been slow to examine its specific health benefits, particularly using in vivo methods with animal models and human clinical trials. We also have not been able to conduct proper utilization and toxicology studies using pure compounds. Bottlenecks have been a lack of sufficient material to conduct these studies, validated methods to measure oleocanthal and related compounds in oils and other olive constituents, and sufficient funds to make this needed research possible. With this new society, we will now be able to build on recent exciting progress in these areas. My hope is that international collaboration, now driven strongly by OIS, will promote programs that will document the positive physiological effects of oleocanthal and related compounds thereby enhancing human health.“ Beauchamp, is a Distinguished Member and Emeritus director and president of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia
For Li Li Ji, the director of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota and a professor and director for the Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene and Exercise Science, the interest in becoming a member of OIS stems from his extensive research on how proper diet and exercise can prevent many diseases. “We are also looking at certain food’s potential to alleviate symptoms or even cure disease. Oleocanthal is one of many such compounds found in high-quality olive oil.” He added.
The aspect of gastronomy is also another key element in the OIS platform and another way of communicating the benefits of phenolic compounds found in EVOO. Chef Danny Garcia Peinado, from Benalmádena, Málaga is excited to be on the cutting edge olive research and looks forward to translating the science into specially designed recipes: “I have a passion for making recipes using extra virgin olive oil with complex flavor characteristics. I experiment constantly with flavor combinations. I am eager to learn more about the specific health promoting compounds like oleocanthal found in extra virgin olive oil and create specific recipes for these unique high phenolic olive oils.”
This reporter was asked to attend this event in Zakynthos and I accepted thinking it would be a mini holiday. I had not visited the island in 40 years and after attending the conference I was expecting to have free time to enjoy the famous beaches of Zakynthos. To my surprise I was invited to become a member of OIS which meant I spent most of my time in meetings over policy and planning. All members of OIS participate on a volunteer basis. However membership does offer me more access to leading figures in olive research and I hope to gain more knowledge and understanding on the complex relationship between olive oil and health and be in a better position to write about it. I will be reporting this unfolding story from the inside.
My holiday plans did not materialize as I expected but we did have a wonderful lunch sponsored by ECO Zakynthos prepared by owner Dimitri Eleftherios and his family and a very memorable late dinner among the olive trees at the Eleon Grand Resort and Spa.
Terens Quick, the deputy Minister of State, was able to attend part of the dinner having missed the conference earlier in the day due to pressing government business. He expressed his support for OIS and was pleased to see so many world-renowned scientists and experts present and willing to donate their valuable time to expanding research and awareness on the health benefits of consuming EVOO. The OIS conference choice of location in Zakynthos was especially appreciated during this crucial time for the Greek economy.
OIS wished to thank the sponsors who supported the conference: The Region of Ionian Islands; the regional governor Theodoros Galiatsatos and the vice governor, Eleutherios Niotopoulos; Local politician Giorgis Sigouros; the president of the Agricultural Cooperatives Union of Zakynthos, Antonis Antiohos; ECO Zakynthos; Dimitris Therianos owner of Therianos organic EVOO; Spyros Dafnis, owner of The Governor; Hotel Zante Maris and Eleon Grand Resort and Spa.
The next meeting of the Oleocanthal International Society is scheduled to be held in October in Spain.