Olive Oil Compound Tyrosol May Be Beneficial Against Parkinson’s, Worm Study Suggests

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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A compound found in extra virgin olive oil may have beneficial effects in Parkinson’s disease, a study in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans shows.

Researchers say the compound Tyrosol reduced oxidative stress and induced the expression of different protective genes in a model of Parkinsonism.

Titled “Tyrosol, a simple phenol from EVOO, targets multiple pathogenic mechanisms of neurodegeneration in a C. elegans model of Parkinson’s disease,” the study was published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

Tyrosol, found in extra virgin olive oil and argan oil, is a phenol, a class of organic molecules. Some have been shown to have beneficial effects against neurodegenerative diseases — disorders in which brain nerve cells, or neurons, eventually die. Tyrosol, in particular, has antioxidant properties.

In previous publications, the researchers behind this new study had shown that tyrosol delayed aging and reduced markers of cellular stress in wild-type Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) —smooth-skinned, unsegmented worms. This made them wonder whether tyrosol might be beneficial in neurodegenerative diseases, specifically Parkinson’s.

To find out, the researchers used a C. elegans model of Parkinson’s called the NL5901 strain.

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They found that, compared with untreated worms, treatment with tyrosol significantly increased the lifespan (18.67 vs. 21.33 days) of these animals. Motility — the organism’s ability to move independently — was significantly increased at the ninth day of the worm’s life (7.7 vs. 20.9 activity counts per half hour). However, it was similar at all other time points, with both treated and untreated worms developing paralysis by 11 days of age.

This treatment also significantly reduced the number of aggregates, or clumps, of the protein alpha-synuclein (58.72 vs. 22.63 aggregates per worm), which are a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease. The tyrosol also significantly decreased the levels of molecules that can damage cellular structures and DNA, called reactive oxygen species (124.5 vs. 12.06 arbitrary fluorescence units).

The results suggest that tyrosol treatment has an effective antioxidant effect in these animals.

Researchers note that oxidative stress results from an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of cells to detoxify them. These reactive oxygen species are harmful to the cells and are associated with a number of diseases, including Parkinson’s.

Tyrosol treatment significantly increased the expression of a few proteins that are known to help cells protect themselves from damage, like heat shock proteins.

The researchers then turned to another C. elegans strain, UA44, to examine the effects of tyrosol on dopaminergic neurons — neurons that produce the chemical messenger dopamine — that are mainly lost in Parkinson’s disease.

At two weeks of age, significantly more of the tyrosol-treated worms had their dopaminergic neurons intact compared with untreated worms (80% vs. 45.33%). That suggests that tyrosol treatment reduced neurodegeneration — likely, at least in part, through the same mechanisms.

Based on these results, the researchers concluded that tyrosol might be “a suitable candidate as a nutraceutical compound” for Parkinson’s disease. A nutraceutical is a food or part of a food that provides medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease.