The Mediterranean Diet is often touted by nutritionists, dietitians and even doctors as the healthiest diet for the largest number of people. Is it possible that one common element found in a Mediterranean Diet staple might be a proverbial “fountain of youth?”
In spite of it’s name, the Mediterranean Diet, like so many other organized nutrition plans, originated right here in the United States. During the 1980’s, some nutrition types noticed that people living in Italy and Greece during the 1960’s and 1970’s lived long, healthy lives. They also noticed the typical diet these people were eating.
Lots of vegetables, legumes and unrefined cereals. Lots of fish, some yogurt and cheese and even some wine. One thing, though, seemed to pervade virtually every dish they made: olive oil.
It’s this last element of the Mediterranean Diet that University of Minnesota Medical School researchers were interested in when they went looking for ways that diet influences age-related disease.
In past studies, red wine seemed to come out as the hero of the Mediterranean Diet. That’s because it contains resveratrol. This nifty compound activates a specific pathway in cells which is involved with preventing aging-related diseases and therefore extending lifespan. Hooray for red wine!
Doug Mashek, PhD and his band of merry researchers have now discovered another reason to love the Mediterranean Diet. Doug is a professor in the Departments of Medicine, Molecular Biology and Biophysics at U of M. Busy guy. But not too busy to lead his team to find that olive oil may just be the linchpin, or one of them, for putting a halt to aging-related diseases and helping people live longer lives.
The findings of their most recent study were published in the journal Molecular Cell.
It would seem that the fat in olive oil is where the life-extending magic lies. According to the research of Mashek & company, the pathway by which resveratrol does it’s thing is activate by the specific fat in olive oil.
But it’s not going to be enough to just eat the olive oil and drink the red wine. Sorry about that. The researchers study suggests that in order to get the special fat in olive oil to be most effective, fasting, restricting calories and/or exercise will be required.
“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 signaling and beneficial effects are realized,” Mashek said.
Next up for the University of Minnesota study team is to translate the research to humans. Their aim is to help discover new drug therapies or to further design nutrition regimens in order to improve human health in both the short- 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 aging-related diseases, so let’s treat aging.”
While it would be nice, in my opinion, to see some research like this done without the express purpose of supporting new drugs being created, it’s pretty awesome to know that mother nature has put some powerful life-extending and health-boosting elements right in some foods that lots of us can enjoy.
Let’s hear it for olive oil and red wine!
Keep the faith and keep after it!
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Material Source – University of Minnesota Medical School
Journal Reference – Charles P. Najt, Salmaan A. Khan, Timothy D. Heden, Bruce A. Witthuhn, Minervo Perez, Jason L. Heier, Linnea E. Mead, Mallory P. Franklin, Kenneth K. Karanja, Mark J. Graham, Mara T. Mashek, David A. Bernlohr, Laurie Parker, Lisa S. Chow, Douglas G. Mashek. Lipid Droplet-Derived Monounsaturated Fatty Acids Traffic via PLIN5 to Allosterically Activate SIRT1. Molecular Cell, 2020; 77 (4): 810 DOI: 10.1016/j.molcel.2019.12.003