According to scientists, the Mediterranean diet is most likely the best diet for preventing disease and aging. It is characterized by a high vegetable intake, a moderate fish and wine consumption, a low-moderate dairy consumption, and most importantly, significant amounts of olive oil, which is extracted from the fruits of the olive tree (Olea europaea L.), a species abundant in the Mediterranean basin.
Although the health benefits of olive oil are commonly attributed to its minor components such as polyphenols, less attention has been paid to oleic acid, which represents 70 to 80 percent of its composition. Now, a team of researchers led by the University of Seville has investigated oleic acid’s beneficial properties.
The experts found that the main function of this monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) is that of an energy molecule and a component of cell membranes. Since it directly regulates both the synthesis and the activity of antioxidant enzymes, it has strong antioxidant properties, thus benefiting both physical and mental health.
In the brain, oleic acid is a major component of membrane phospholipids, abounding in the neuronal myelin sheets, and thus contributing to proper cognitive functioning. In fact, studies observed a significantly decreased level of oleic acid in the brains of patients suffering from major depressive disorders and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Moreover, oleic acid also has a powerful hypocholesterolaemic effect, by inhibiting the expression of various proteins associated with cholesterol transport, and thus reducing cholesterol absorption and preventing atherosclerosis. In addition, this acid is recognized as an anti-cancer molecule due to its inhibitory effects on the overexpression of oncogenes and their effects on programmed cell death.
Finally, the scientists discovered that oleoylethanolamide – a derivative of oleic acid – has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and has recently been proposed as a potent therapeutic agent to treat conditions such as obesity.
Emerging research suggest that oleic acid may influence epigenetic mechanisms – direct modifications of DNA and DNA-associated proteins – while also modulating the immune system, particularly by regulating cells that are involved in inflammatory processes.
However, since most of the studies on olive oil have been conducted on animals, further research is needed to assess its properties and potential health effects in humans.
The study is published in the journal Nutrients.
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