The Mediterran-ean diet, which is commonly referred to as a heart-healthy way of eating, has been linked to a number of potential health benefits, now researchers have found that olive oil in this diet may hold the key to improving lifespan and mitigating ageing-related diseases.
Early studies on the diet suggested red wine was a major contributor to the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet because it contains a compound called resveratrol, which activated a certain pathway in cells known to increase lifespan and prevent ageing-related diseases.
However, the study, published in the journal Molecular Cell, suggests that it is the fat in olive oil, another component of the Mediterranean diet, that is actually activating this pathway.
“We found that the way this fat works is it first has to get stored in microscopic things called lipid droplets, which is how our cells store fat. And then, when the fat is broken down during exercising or fasting, for example, is when the signalling and beneficial effects are realised,” said study researcher Doug Mashek from University of Minnesota.
According to the researchers, merely consuming olive oil is not enough to elicit all of the health benefits.
The study suggested that when coupled with fasting, limiting caloric intake and exercising, the effects of consuming olive oil will be most pronounced.
The next steps for their research are to translate it to humans with the goal of discovering new drugs or to further tailor dietary regimens that improve health, both short-term and long-term.
“We want to understand the biology, and then translate it to humans, hopefully changing the paradigm of healthcare from someone going to eight different doctors to treat his or her eight different disorders,” Mashek said.
“These are all ageing-related diseases, so let’s treat ageing,” Mashek added.
Another study, published in the journal Gut showed that following a Mediterranean diet boosts the types of gut bacteria linked to “healthy’’ ageing, while reducing those associated with harmful inflammation in older people.
The study found that following a Mediterranean diet for a year could help keep the mind sharp and reduce frailty in old age.