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Olive Oil: Powerful Protection Against Aging And Mortality

August 2014

By Michael Downey

Olive Oil: Powerful Protection Against Aging And Mortality  

Researchers continue to confirm that the Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil, is one of the best ways to lower the risk of all-cause mortality.1 Those who adhere to a Mediterranean diet have a longer life expectancy and a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.1-3

Olive oil is a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids, along with various phenolic compounds such as oleocanthal, oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, and tyrosol.4 These substances are believed to modulate nearly 100 human genes5 and in turn, cell signaling6 and age-associated processes.4

Olive oil has built a strong reputation for defending against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and other diseases. But newly released studies demonstrate that by incorporating olive oil into your daily diet, you may also protect against other age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, skin aging—even premature death.4-11

Two 2013 studies found that these benefits are even greater when extra-virgin olive oil is substituted for regular olive oil12—and that many of the health effects of the Mediterranean diet can be ascribed largely to the nutraceutical properties of extra-virgin olive oil.4

Staving Off Alzheimer’s Disease

Scientists recently linked oleocanthal, a natural phenylethanoid found in extra-virgin olive oil, to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, the sixth leading cause of death in America.13 Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the accumulation of amyloid-beta and tau proteins in the brain.14

A study published in 2013 showed that oleocanthal enhances the clearance of amyloid-beta from the brain by increasing two major amyloid-beta transport proteins at the blood-brain barrier.7

Additionally, this study demonstrated that oleocanthal treatment significantly increased the degradation of amyloid-beta through its upregulation of amyloid-beta-degrading enzymes.7

This finding may lead to the development of a novel olive-oil-based Alzheimer’s therapy.

Selecting, Storing, And Using Olive Oil

Most of the world’s olive oil is produced in the Mediterranean regions of Greece, Spain, France, and Italy.35,36 The highest quality—and most healthful—olive oil has a low acid content, which is expressed as oleic acid.37,38

Virgin olive oils come from the first pressing of the olives and contain no more than 2% free acidity.37,38 They are considered to have a superior taste compared to refined olive oils. True virgin olive oil contains no refined oil at all. Because high-quality, extra-virgin olive oil contains a greater abundance of potent compounds, it is well worth the higher cost.39

Exposure to light and heat can cause olive oil to turn rancid. Be sure to store it in an opaque bottle kept in a cool, dark place.40,41

Consider using olive oil in soups, sauces, stews, and vegetable dishes. Coat cooked pasta with it. Olive oil makes a great dip for bread, especially when embellished with herbs.

Inhibiting Osteoporosis

In a recent report, researchers found that eating a Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil for two years robustly increased serum concentrations of osteocalcin and procollagen type I N-terminal propeptide (P1NP), which in turn suggests potent protective effects against osteoporosis.8

Osteocalcin is produced by the body and is bone-building, by nature.15 (In addition to its role as a bone marker, osteocalcin has been related to blood sugar stability). Enhanced P1NP is a strong indication of increased bone collagen synthesis and bone formation rate.8

These results confirm a previous experimental report that associates the consumption of olive oil with the prevention of bone-mass loss in animal models of osteoporosis,10 which affects 55% of Americans aged 50 and over.16

Preventing Skin Aging

Skin aging is due to intrinsic as well as external factors; especially UV exposure.17 Sun exposure, otherwise known as photoaging, causes pigmentation abnormalities, wrinkling, and tissue slackening.18

In a study published in 2012, scientists surveyed 1,264 women and 1,655 men, aged 45 to 60, and analyzed their monounsaturated fatty acid intakes from dietary sources over the first 2.5 years of the follow-up period. Severity of facial skin photoaging was graded over this period by investigators using a 6-grade scale illustrated by photographs.11

The team found significantly lower risk of severe photoaging, for both sexes, among those with higher intakes of monounsaturated fatty acids, specifically olive oil. Interestingly, photoaging protection was not associated with the intake of monounsaturated fatty acids from animal sources (including meat, processed meat, or dairy sources).11

Reducing Mortality Risk

The Mediterranean diet has long been shown to have pro-longevity effects, but the degree to which its greater use of olive oil contributes to this effect has not been established. However, a recent study focused on the specific, individual role that olive oil plays in this association.19

Scientists analyzed data from a large, prospective study that followed 40,622 participants aged 29 to 69 for a combined total of over 550,000 person-years.

They observed an impressive 26% reduction in mortality among healthy adults in the upper quartile of olive oil consumption compared to non-consumers. Even a relatively small increase in olive oil consumption was shown to have a beneficial effect. The impact on the risk of death was similar for the use of both regular olive oil and virgin olive oil.19

The pathway by which olive oil reduces mortality is unclear. However, it may flow from its protective effect on the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.19

Let’s review olive oil’s established protection against these age-related disorders.

Promoting Cardiovascular Health

Promoting Cardiovascular Health 

Olive oil regulates nearly 100 genes, many of which modulate inflammation—and inflammation can cause numerous detrimental effects, including cardiovascular disease.5

It has long been known that olive oil helps decrease total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels,20 but later research has shed light on additional cardiovascular benefits.

A controlled study measured the effect of consuming virgin versus refined olive oil on inflammatory markers in 28 heart disease patients. Each subject consumed 50 mL (almost two ounces) of virgin olive oil for three weeks and 50 mL of refined olive oil for another three weeks.21 Virgin olive oil produced significant reductions in interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein—inflammatory markers associated with increased heart disease risk—suggesting it represents a potent, additional intervention to pharmacological treatment.21

Scientists then tested three classes of olive oil—containing low, medium, or high content of polyphenols—on plasma lipid levels and oxidative stress. This study randomly assigned 200 healthy men to consume 25 mL of each type of olive oil daily for three weeks per type. While triglyceride levels decreased similarly with all three kinds of olive oil, the most polyphenol-rich olive oil produced the greatest improvements in HDL levels and the most dramatic decreases in oxidative stress markers. It is worth noting that extra-virgin olive oil has richer polyphenol content than refined olive oil.22

In 2011, scientists concluded that, compared to those who never use olive oil, those with highest olive oil consumption have a 41% reduced risk of stroke.2 And in a 2012 study, participants whose olive oil intake ranked in the top quarter had a 44% lower risk of dying from heart disease compared to those who consumed no olive oil.9

Suppressing Cancer

A Mediterranean-style diet rich in olive oil is associated with a decreased risk of many types of cancer. Several constituents of olive oil appear to be responsible for its anticancer effects, including polyphenols and oleic acid.23 Oleic acid suppresses over expression of a cancer-triggering gene that plays a key role in the invasive progression and metastasis of several human cancers; a finding that could lead to an olive oil-based cancer therapy.24

Evidence of olive oil’s potency against breast cancer has been accumulating quickly. Researchers separated phenolic compounds in olive oil into “fractions,” each of which was tested against breast cancer cells. The major polyphenols found in extra-virgin olive oil suppressed the breast cancer-promoting gene HER2. Cells with overactive HER2 reacted to the extra-virgin olive oil compounds by self-destructing.25

Other scientists determined that olive oil attacks breast cancer tumors in several potent ways: Olive oil suppresses the oncogene that drives tumor growth; it switches off the proteins that cancer cells rely on to survive and multiply, and it protects DNA against damage that can eventually lead to cancer.26

Quelling Inflammation

Quelling Inflammation  

Extra-virgin olive oil reduces the expression of multiple inflammatory genes27 and does not activate inflammatory pathways (in contrast to other dietary fats, such as butter)28 and decreases inflammatory markers.29 Increased olive oil consumption is linked to a decreased risk of rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation and pain.6

Scientists conducted a clinical trial on rheumatoid arthritis patients. Olive oil and fish oil produced greater improvements in clinical measurements of the disease than fish oil alone.30 This suggests olive oil may help prevent rheumatoid arthritis and may restore mobility and function in those already afflicted.

Protecting Stomach Health

Helicobacter pylori are bacteria linked to peptic ulcers and some strains are linked with gastric (stomach) cancer.31 Researchers have reported that virgin olive oil compounds exert “strong bactericidal activity against eight strains of H. pylori, three of them resistant to some antibiotics. These results open the possibility of considering virgin olive oil a chemopreventive agent for peptic ulcer or gastric cancer.”32

Another study found those with the highest intakes of oleic acid, abundant in olive oil, had a 90% lower risk of developing ulcerative colitis. Dr. Andrew Hart, who along with his colleagues performed the study, stated “half of the cases of ulcerative colitis could be prevented if [2 to 3 daily tablespoons of olive oil] were consumed.”33,34

Summary

Olive oil’s potent compounds have long been known to defend against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. But new research demonstrates extra-virgin olive oil modulates nearly 100 genes that protect against other aging-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, peptic ulcers, and even aging skin.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Health Advisor at 1-866-864-3027.

References

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