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[Ryan Jones/The Daily Pennsylvanian] Monell Center researchers Paul Breslin (left) and Gary Beauchamp taste freshly pressed olive oil, which they studied for its anti-inflammatory properties.

While in Italy for a molecular gastronomy conference, Gary Beauchamp, a researcher and director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, felt a burning sensation in the back of his throat.

This sensation, he remembered, was similar to the one he felt after taking ibuprofen.

Since then, he's turned his gut feeling into a possible scientific breakthrough.

Over a three-year period, Beauchamp and fellow Monell Center researcher Paul Breslin were eventually able to isolate and synthesize the compound that caused the throat irritation.

Extra-virgin olive oil could reduce inflammation, his team says.

Researchers have found that an agent in olive oil is extremely similar to the chemical substance ibuprofen, found in popular pain medications such as Motrin and Advil.

They named this compound oleocanthal, meaning olive stinging aldehyde.

The compound had been identified before, but its connection to ibuprofen and its anti-inflammatory properties were not known.

Breslin noted the significance of such research in gaining some understanding of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet -- which is associated with the consumption of very little meat and an abundance of fresh fish, fresh fruits and olive oil.

Breslin said that people on such diets have reduced risks of cardiac disease, strokes, dementia and certain types of cancer.

Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen are associated with reductions of the same risks.

"The fact that the diet has many parallels suggest that [oleocanthal] may be [a] bridge between the two," Breslin said.

Matthew Mulholland, a College sophomore, thinks the consumption of olive oil is great idea.

"You can eat and relieve your headache simultaneously," he said.

But there's a caveat.

About half a liter of olive oil would have to be ingested to reach the dosage found in two regular-strength ibuprofen tablets.

"As a general thing to do, I just don't recommend it," Breslin said, adding that the anti-inflammatory benefits of olive oil are gained when it is consumed in a small dose.

It is unclear whether this finding will significantly impact the general popularity of olive oil.

College sophomore Shane Sabnani, for example, is not a frequent user of olive oil. Sabnani said that she did not feel that the new information would affect her current consumption level.

In terms of diet advice for Penn students, Breslin said that the Mediterranean diet is very healthy.

"Even though it involves consuming a fair amount of olive oil, it is not a high-calorie diet on the whole," he said.

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