Scientists in the US say they have discovered one reason why olive oil appears to be beneficial to heart health – it contains a natural anti-inflammatory.

The researchers, reporting in the 1 September issue of Nature, detected the presence of oleocanthal, which they say has the same anti-inflammatory effect as ibuprofen and aspirin, reported the New York Times. The scientists say this may explain why certain cardiovascular health benefits are associated with a Mediterranean diet.

“There is ample evidence that chronic low-dose anti-inflammatories have multiple health benefits that may range from reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke and certain cancers – breast, lung, colon – to reducing the risk of terminal dementias such as Alzheimer’s,” Paul A. S. Breslin, co-author of the report and a researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

“Olive oil contains an ibuprofen-like anti-inflammatory that may turn out to convey similar benefits,” he added.