Fad diets promise weight loss and a long healthy life. But, no diet follows through like the Mediterranean diet does.
When you look at places with the highest proportion of centenarians — no, not centaurs the mythical man horse combo; rather, people that live to be over 100-years-old — the small island of Sardinia nestled in the Mediterranean has the third highest population in the world right behind the US and Japan.
Scientists know that the high levels of olive oil in Sardinian diets explains why they live so long. But they didn’t know why until now.
Here’s a crash course on fats: olive oil is made of different kinds of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids -- bad and good fat, respectively. Unsaturated fats have one or more double bonds while saturated fats have none. Olive oil is thought to be healthy because it has a lot of oleic acid, an unsaturated fat.
So how can olive oil help you live to 100? Besides fuel for the body, fats tell cells how to behave and turn on important genes. For example, fats turn on genes needed to break them down, including the enzyme ATGL. Recently, it was found that fats turn another set of genes that will make you live longer.
Researchers from the Mashek Lab at the University of Minnesota discovered that olive oil turns on a group of enzymes known as sirtuins. They combat obesity and slow down aging by turning on genes that control metabolism, promote weight loss, and strengthen the immune system. They published their findings in Molecular Cell.
The team also found that the higher sirtuin activity is not limited to oleic acid. In fact, they discovered that mono-unsaturated fats -- fats that only have one double bond -- also activate sirtuins. So this means that any oil with mono-unsaturated fats can help you live longer -- like avocado oil! (Another win for avocados.)
Why does this matter? Understanding how the food we eat impacts our bodies helps scientists discover new medicines.
Unfortunately, many people in the US don’t have access to healthier foods. Now that we know how sirtuins are controlled by unsaturated fats, we can design molecules that mimic how the unsaturated fats work without having to change someone’s diet.
Najt CP, Khan SA, Heden TD, Witthuhn BA, Perez M, Heier JL, Mead LE, Franklin MP, Karanja KK, Graham MJ, Mashek MT, Bernlohr DA, Parker L, Chow LS, Mashek DG. Lipid Droplet-Derived Monounsaturated Fatty Acids Traffic via PLIN5 to Allosterically Activate SIRT1. Mol Cell. 2020 Feb 20;77(4):810-824.e8. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2019.12.003. Epub 2019 Dec 31. PMID: 31901447; PMCID: PMC7036014.