In their search to find the cause of aging and possible ways to decrease, stop or even reverse aging, scientists have identified nine “hallmarks” that contribute to the normal aging process.
These processes include genetic instability, telomere attrition, epigenetic alteration, loss of proteostasis, deregulated nutrient sensing, mitochondrial dysfunction, cellular senescence, stem cell exhaustion and altered intracellular communication.
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The aging process encompasses several changes that occur at the cellular and molecular levels that bring about a progressive decline in physiological functions.
Of the several approaches taken to deter the aging process, the role of diet has been extensively investigated. It is no wonder that the EVOO-rich Mediterranean diet, which has been associated with increased longevity as well as to lowered risk to diseases such as cancer, heart, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s is of special interest.
A review article, published on January 29, 2016 in the journal Molecules, looks specifically at the role of monounsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols in EVOO on the aging process at the cellular and molecular levels.
According to the paper, EVOO components may have a direct effect on human cells due to their antioxidant properties or indirectly, by their ability to modulate gene expression.
Oxidative damage to the DNA can be brought on by external physical, chemical, and biological agents, or by internal processes, such as DNA replication errors, that can cause genetic instability. In an animal study, the level of DNA damage in the group fed with virgin olive oil (VOO) was one-half of the damage in the sunflower oil-fed group.
Olive oil phenol extracts may be effective in preventing DNA damage caused by hydrogen peroxide in human cells, according to some studies. This could be due to the metal ion chelating and free radical-scavenging properties of olive oil phenol extract. However, other studies propose that VOO phenols could protect APEX1, a DNA repair gene.
The length of telomeres, which are nucleoprotein structures that protect ends of chromosomes, shortens during the normal aging process. A short telomere is associated with decreased life expectancy and increased susceptibility to age-related chronic diseases.
Although largely influenced by genetic factors, environmental and lifestyle factors such as diet, cigarette smoking, and age also influence telomeres. While a positive relationship between leukocyte telomere length and adherence to the Mediterranean diet was reported in one study, the effect was not observed across all population groups as it was found to be effective in whites but not in Hispanics and African Americans.
Age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s diseases and Parkinson’s disease are caused when protein homeostasis or proteostasis is disturbed, resulting in unfolding, misfolding or aggregation of proteins. In vitro studies show that EVOO phenols may regulate protein homeostasis and could be used to prevent or treat these diseases.
EVOO phenols can also cause epigenetic changes, regulate nutrient sensing alterations and stem cell function associated with aging. Additionally, olive oil phenols have anti-inflammatory properties that may be beneficial in preventing diseases such as atherosclerosis.
Based on a review of the literature, the authors of the paper concluded that olive oil has a beneficial effect on all the hallmarks of aging at the cellular and molecular levels and suggest further research in this area.