New research shows olive oil contains an anti-inflammatory ingredient similar to that of some common painkillers, but could it replace your meds the next time you get a headache?

According to a study in the journal Nature, researchers have found a previously unknown compound in extra-virgin olive oil that they say acts in a manner similar to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ASA (acetylsalicylic acid) and ibuprofen. They call this ingredient oleocanthal.

The researchers decided to isolate this compound after noticing that freshly pressed extra-virgin olive oil produces a stinging sensation in the throat, similar to the sensation ibuprofen can cause.

"I had considerable experience swallowing and being stung in the throat by ibuprofen from previous studies on its sensory properties. So when I tasted newly-pressed olive oil while attending a meeting on molecular gastronomy in Sicily, I was startled to notice that the throat sensations were virtually identical," said the study's lead author, Dr. Gary Beauchamp, a biologist at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, in a news release.

The researchers determined that oleocanthal was responsible after producing a synthetic form of the compound, which produced the same throat-tingling effects.

After further testing, Beauchamp and colleagues found that, like ibuprofen, oleocanthal appears to inhibit the activity of COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, which play a role in pain and swelling.

So could a drizzle of olive oil on your salad be a recipe for relief when a headache kicks in? Not so fast. The effects of oleocanthal from 50 grams (1.75 ounces) of olive oil appear to amount to just 10% of that of the recommended dose of ibuprofen. But the researchers believe that even at that level, oleocanthal could have big benefits over the long term.

"It is known that regular low doses of ASA, for example, another COX inhibitor, confer cardiovascular health benefits," write the researchers. In fact, they say that oleocanthal could be behind some of the many benefits touted by the Mediterranean diet.

"The Mediterranean diet, of which olive oil is a central component, has long been associated with numerous health benefits, including decreased risk of stroke, heart disease, breast cancer, lung cancer, and some dementias," said sensory scientist Dr. Paul Breslin, also from Monell Chemical Sciences Center. "Similar benefits are associated with certain NSAIDs, such as ASA and ibuprofen. Now that we know of oleocanthal's anti-inflammatory properties, it seems plausible that oleocanthal plays a causal role in the health benefits associated with diets where olive oil is the principal source of fat."