Olives are known to be a healthy food. The high concentration of unsaturated fat has been shown in the past to improve cardiac health by moderating cholesterol levels. However, their ability to cure cancer is a far-flung claim that warrants tremendous scrutiny — scrutiny that seems all but absent in media reporting.
Rajasthan Olive Cultivation Ltd, a state government-run firm, plans to patent a home-brewed olive wine which it claims has medicinal value. The title of the Economic Times article covering the announcement; “Rajasthan brews medicinal Olive wine, claims to cure diabetes, cancer” – may, however, be misleading, depending on the interpretation of quotes from the company.
Curing cancer: A misinterpreted statement, or outrageous claim?
“Research shows that the wine is nutraceutical in nature curing various ailments naturally. The polyphenols found in the leaves have been known to play an important protective role in cancer and other inflammation related diseases,” said the company’s chief operating officer, Yogesh Kumar Verma. This does not stand as a claim to have found a cure for cancer as Verma is not necessarily discussing the same diseases in this quote.
Research backs up the second statement. Polyphenols are well known to reduce inflammation, with epidemiological studies suggesting that regions with traditional diets rich in polyphenols — such as mediteranean countries like Greece and Italy — have a lower risk of many types of cancer.
The mechanisms behind this are well-documented, though not yet attributed to a single aspect. This is due to the wide variety of cellular functions affected by the presence of polyphenols. Among others, the chemical is known to have antioxidant properties and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as known interactions with the molecular events involved in carcinogenesis.
Health Issues India reached out to Mr Verma for a comment clarifying his comments; at the time of publication, we have not received a response. An assertion about a cure for cancer does not, however, appear to be have made on the face of it. The same cannot be said for what Mr Verma stated concerning diabetes.
Curing diabetes: A misleading statement
While the claim of a cure may be jumping the gun, there is evidence that olives and the antioxidants and polyphenols they contain can have a preventative effect as part of a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Claiming to cure the disease, however, sets a dangerous precedent of misinformation – one that further statements made by Verma enforce.
“It is rich in [anti]oxidants delaying the ageing of cells and cures diabetes,” says Verma “Being light on heart, it has all the other benefits of olive oil including reducing cholesterol and excess fat from the body. We are going for the patent only after verification of claims.”
This statement leaves no room for misinterpretation, representing an outright claim to have found a cure for diabetes. While potentially a powerful tool to employ in symptom management, antioxidants cannot cure the disease.
Type-1 diabetes, for example, occurs as a result of the immune system attacking the cells of the pancreas, over time leading to the inability to produce insulin. While anti-inflammatory compounds may be able to slow this process, a cure would necessitate the partial or complete regeneration of the pancreas, a process beyond the capabilities of antioxidants.
In the case of type-2 diabetes, antioxidants will not offer a cure but can play a significant role in symptom management. Studies have found that, in addition to obesity and physical inactivity, oxidative stress plays a role in the development of type-2 diabetes. As such, a diet rich in antioxidants could play a preventative role against developing the condition.
It is also known that antioxidants alleviate some of the damage caused by hyperglycemia in peripheral blood vessels. Where blood glucose becomes mismanaged in diabetes patients, oxidative stress increases in peripheral blood vessels. This in turn causes nerve damage, resulting in conditions such as retinopathy, nephropathy, and neuropathy. Antioxidants, therefore, would not cure diabetes itself, but play a role in preventing some of the more harmful effects of the condition such as sight loss and damage in the extremities.
Olives do have health benefits, but misleading people to the extent of these could be life threatening
In this lies the issue of the statement. Olive oil, and other olive-based products, do have health benefits. The abundance of healthy fats play a major role in keeping a healthy heart. Ample amounts of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds can also help to stave off many conditions.
However, claiming to cure diseases as life-threatening as cancer and diabetes is not only misleading, but could place lives in danger. The claims that the olive wine can cure these diseases in a natural manner could sway many to try the drink as a replacement for medical treatment for these diseases. This could result in lives lost.
In some cases, opting for natural remedies for cancer in its early stages delays proper treatment. Should the person then opt for allopathic treatment later on, the cancer may already have metastasised, creating a far more difficult condition to treat, as well as far lower survival outcomes.
The language used when describing these products is therefore of the utmost importance. Outright statements such as “the product cures diabetes”, without any published evidence, is misleading in the most dangerous sense. Even vague terms such as “may cure diabetes” gives a false hope and a potential for people to forego proper treatment.
Research institutions including Tripura University, Jiwaji University and Manipal University have agreed to conduct studies on the therapeutic effects of the Olive wine. Though as of yet Verma has declined to divulge the ingredients of the wine to the media, fearing a risk to the company’s patent. Alleviating some concerns of the potential for the product to hit the market with no proven benefits, Verma stated “We are going for the patent only after verification of claims.” One does question, however, whether asserting such extreme medical benefits as curing diabetes should have been left until after “verification of claims” too.