Olive oil has been touted for its cardiovascular, respiratory, and blood sugar benefits, as well as for weight balancing, and now new science shows us how it may be the longevity secret of the Mediterranean Diet.
Why the Mediterranean Diet is the Best
After decades of seesaw diets promoted as the way to get healthy quickly, the Mediterranean Diet still stands alone as the undisputed champion of health and longevity.
Besides being high in fruits, vegetables, whole grain bread and grains, beans and legumes, and nuts and seeds, the Mediterranean Diet recommends a liberal amount of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) as its secret ingredient. Numerous studies have confirmed olive oil’s benefits for cardiovascular, respiratory, and blood sugar health, as well as for weight balancing and helping resolve hypersensitivity to certain food and seasonal environmental changes.1
The More Olive Oil, the Better
Many studies have measured the effects of supplementing a Mediterranean Diet with even more olive oil–to see if more is better. In one study, 7,447 individuals (55-80 years old) were divided into three dietary groups: a low-fat group, a Mediterranean Diet group with an extra 40 ml of extra virgin olive oil a day (to create a 40% fat diet), and a Mediterranean Diet group with a daily allowance of 30 g of mixed nuts. After one year, the extra olive oil test group lost more unwanted body fat than a low-fat diet control group. After 4.8 years, the number of cardiovascular-related deaths were significantly less in the olive oil and mixed nut groups compared to the deaths in the low-fat control group.2
Hydroxytyrosol: An Olive Oil Polyphenol Found to Boost Longevity
The high volume of olive oil and olives consumed in the Mediterranean Diet delivers numerous antioxidant polyphenols that that are responsible for many of the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. For years, the health benefits of olive oil were attributed to its high content of oleic acid, which canola oil was modelled after. When the health benefits of canola oil failed to deliver, researchers started to look at some of the other active polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil.4
One of those polyphenols, hydroxytyrosol, has been getting attention from longevity researchers as a new “anti-aging” agent. Hydroxytyrosol is now being considered one of the more active antioxidant polyphenols responsible for olive oil’s heart and cardiovascular benefits.4,14 The highest amount of hydroxytyrosol is found in ripe olives just before pressing them into oil. The average intake of hydroxytyrosol in the Mediterranean Diet is about 30 mg per day (there are about 50-200 mg of hydroxytyrosol in a kilogram of olives).3
Olive Oil’s Hydroxytyrosol Boosts AMPK and Autophagy
Hydroxytyrosol has been found to increase levels of a health and longevity enzyme called adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase, or AMPK. AMPK, which commonly declines with age, is a major focus of longevity research.5 AMPK regulates the amount of energy made in the mitochondria found in every cell. When cellular energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, runs low, AMPK is responsible for flipping the metabolic switch to drive production and delivery more ATP to cells.5,6
As AMPK increases, so does the self-repair and recycling process of the body, called autophagy. Autophagy is now famous because it is the process triggered by fasting. But fasting isn’t the only way to activate autophagy.8Turmeric and ashwagandha, along with other Ayurvedic herbs, have been shown to be AMPK and autophagy activators.9,10
Extra virgin olive oil, by way of increasing AMPK, has been shown to also stimulate autophagy.7 The hydroxytyrosol found in olive oil can inhibit the Mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), which is involved in numerous aging and degenerative pathways,12 including blood sugar issues and cognitive decline. Blood sugar issues are linked to cognitive decline, with some studies showing that unbalanced blood sugar can increase the risk of cognitive and memory issues by 50-100%.11
Olive Oil’s Oleuropein Boosts AMPK and Autophagy
Oleuropein is the most abundant polyphenol in Olive Oil15 and can boost AMPK and trigger autophagy. One study concluded that the powerful antioxidant, oleuropein found in EVOO was a main player in healthy aging, neurodegeneration, cell replication, and blood sugar issues. Oleuropein countered the autophagy dysfunction that may underlie the majority of age-related, degenerative health concerns.12,14
John Douillard’s Olive Oil Recommendation
When a study came out from University of California-Davis Olive Center suggesting that 73% of the retail olive oil in America was adulterated13, we put about 50 EVOO brands from around the world to a blind taste test.
We were surprised to find that a small organic olive oil orchard in California called Fandango won our test unanimously. They have also won 95 medals in the past 9 years, not including ours—haha! We thought for sure the best would be from Italy, Spain, or Morocco but that was not true, in part because the California organic standards are the most stringent in the world hands down thanks to Proposition 65. Fandango also hand picks and immediately presses their olives in small batches.We’ve been regular customers ever since our taste test!