Health experts have recommended the Mediterranean diet for its favorable effects on heart health, but researchers from the University of Minnesota say that one of its main staples could be even more beneficial than previously thought.
In a recent study, the researchers found that consuming more olive oil was linked to lower risk of developing certain age-related diseases and conditions. Study leader Dr. Dough Mashek says that the finding could allow medical professionals to change how they treat patients in old age by giving them a narrower target.
"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," he said. "These are all aging-related diseases, so let's treat aging."
From red wine to olive oil
Oddly enough, the inspiration for these findings don’t start with olive oil -- they start with another Mediterranean diet staple: red wine. In previous studies, researchers had noticed that consuming red wine was able to activate certain cell pathways that have been linked to longer lifespans and less disease incidence.
However, Mashek and his team found that the fat present in olive oil was the main culprit responsible for activating this cell pathway. The researchers say that combining olive oil consumption with other healthy habits like a proper diet and exercise can unlock the true potential behind the Mediterranean diet.
"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 explained.
The full study has been published in the journal Molecular Cell.