Health

Animal Study Finds Monounsaturated Fats in Olive Oil May Extend Life

A study that originated for another purpose discovered more evidence that the type of fat consumed rather than the quantity is a determining factor for health and longevity.

Apr. 18, 2017
By Mary West

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Researchers at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity found that feed­ing round­worms the monoun­sat­u­rated fat in olive oil pro­longed their lifes­pan. Given the sim­i­lar­i­ties in monoun­sat­u­rated fat metab­o­lism between round­worms and humans, they believe it’s pos­si­ble the longevity effect could extend to peo­ple.

Fat com­po­si­tion rather than fat level is impor­tant for longevity and that not all fatty acids have the same effect on health.- Anne Brunet, Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity

The authors were sur­prised the monoun­sat­u­rated fat that extended life also caused the round­worms to gain weight. As calo­rie restric­tion is asso­ci­ated with longevity, they didn’t antic­i­pate that an accu­mu­la­tion of this par­tic­u­lar kind of fat would be ben­e­fi­cial in that regard. How­ever, since the pudgy round­worms fed the monoun­sat­u­rated fat lived longer than their thin­ner coun­ter­parts, it indi­cated a cer­tain type of fat buildup could be health­ful.

We have known for some time that meta­bolic changes can affect lifes­pan, but we expected the long-lived ani­mals in our study would be thin­ner,” said senior author Anne Brunet, pro­fes­sor of genet­ics. Instead, they turned out to be fat­ter. This was quite a sur­prise.”

The study orig­i­nated as an inves­ti­ga­tion into the role of epi­ge­net­ics in lifes­pan reg­u­la­tion. Epi­ge­net­ics is the process by which gene expres­sion changes in response to envi­ron­men­tal stim­uli. The researchers’ objec­tive was to deter­mine how epi­ge­netic com­plexes, which mod­ify the pro­teins that pack­age DNA (also known as his­tones), might influ­ence round­worm meta­bolic changes in a man­ner that affects lifes­pan.

With this intent, Brunet and lead author Grad­u­ate stu­dent Shuo Han eval­u­ated the effect of block­ing the expres­sion of an epi­ge­netic com­plex called COMPASS on the metab­o­lism of round­worms. The COMPASS pro­teins are known to change the chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion of pro­teins that pack­age DNA (his­tones) in a way that can affect whether or not genes are expressed. After they blocked the expres­sion of COMPASS pro­teins, the worms lived 30 per­cent longer. Han wanted to under­stand why.

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We thought that this epi­ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tion change caused by COMPASS defi­ciency might mimic dietary restric­tion,” Brunet said. So we began look­ing at the metab­o­lism and fat con­tent of the worms defi­cient for COMPASS.”

Anne Brunet

Han observed that the round­worms with the blocked COMPASS pro­teins not only lived longer, but they also accu­mu­lated fat in their intestines. Analy­sis of the fat revealed it was pri­mar­ily com­posed of monoun­sat­u­rated fatty acids, which is the type of fat con­tained within olive oil, avo­ca­dos, and nuts. Han found that sup­press­ing the COMPASS pro­teins caused a rise in the expres­sion of enzymes that change sat­u­rated fats into monoun­sat­u­rated fat in the intestines. Because monoun­sat­u­rated fats have been linked to a lower risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease and dia­betes, the find­ing was intrigu­ing.

In an effort to ascer­tain if the accu­mu­la­tion of monoun­sat­u­rated fats affected lifes­pan, the researchers fed both monoun­sat­u­rated and polyun­sat­u­rated fats to the worms. We found that the monoun­sat­u­rated fats accu­mu­lated in the worms’ guts and increased their life span even when COMPASS was not mutated. In con­trast, polyun­sat­u­rated fats did not have the same effect,” said Brunet.

Prior research shows the type of fat con­sumed has a much greater influ­ence on health than the quan­tity, and the recent exper­i­ment builds upon what is known on the topic. Our study sug­gests that fat com­po­si­tion rather than fat level is impor­tant for longevity and that not all fatty acids have the same effect on health,” Brunet told Olive Oil Times.

Cur­rently, the research team is seek­ing the answer to why monoun­sat­u­rated fat buildup appears to extend life. While they have yet to learn the mech­a­nism of action that under­lies the ben­e­fit, this recent dis­cov­ery pro­vides more evi­dence that the fat in extra vir­gin olive oil is most health­ful.

The study was pub­lished in the jour­nal Nature.



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