Have you ever wondered if you could slow down aging through your diet? Here, I delve into the question of how a diet rich in extra virgin olive oil can potentially increase your lifespan, with a specific focus on telomeres.
Telomeres measure how old are cells are – our cells’ “biological” ages1,2. Each time a cell divides, its telomeres, or both ends of our chromosomes, get shorter, like a candle that is burning on both ends. Telomere length is therefore a key biomarker in research studies on how people age. People that are biologically older – people with shorter telomeres – have shorter life expectancies and higher risks of chronic diseases5,6,7. Telomere length can vary significantly among people8 and among cells within people – in fact, some cells that are “immortal”, like stem cells and some cancer cells, can regenerate their telomeres, using a special enzyme called “telomerase”9. While most healthy cells can’t achieve immortality, research suggests that the rate of telomere shortening can be slowed by environmental and lifestyle factors10, 11, 12, including diet13. In fact, people’s biological ages can be pretty different from their chronological ages14,15,16, which could be partially explained by lifestyle practices like dietary patterns.
Researchers are asking if following a Mediterranean diet (MeDiet), whose primary source of fat is extra virgin olive oil, can affect telomere length and telomerase activity in human populations and potentially slow biological aging. The MeDiet contains many anti-aging and anti-inflammatory compounds, which can help slow telomere shortening17. So far, a number of studies have revealed a beneficial effect of the MeDiet on telomeres18,19,20,21,22. For example, 20 elderly people that followed an olive oil-rich MeDiet for four weeks showed slower telomere shortening in endothelial cells18. In another study, 217 elderly Italians that followed a MeDiet had longer telomeres and higher telomerase activity19. Here in the U.S., 4,676 women on the MeDiet that participated in the Nurses’ Health Study, one of the largest investigations into the risk factors for major chronic diseases in women, had longer telomeres than women not on the diet20. On the chronic disease front, data from a large clinical trial in Spain to evaluate the effects of the MeDiet on cardiovascular disease showed that following a MeDiet was linked with slowed telomere shortening in people with genetically high cardiovascular risk21, especially in women22. So diet matters for heart disease risk, even if heart disease runs in your family!
Collectively, these studies suggest that eating a MeDiet rich in extra virgin olive oil can have a positive effect on telomere length and telomerase activity, at least in certain individuals. A few studies have focused on olive oil alone, without the rest of the MeDiet. The phenolic compounds oleacein and oleuropein found in extra virgin olive oil increased telomerase activity and decreased the percentage of aging cells23. Oleacein and oleuropein are known to possess anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties24, and they may be responsible for olive oil’s beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system. In fact, the authors of this study argue that the level of oleacein used in their experiments correlates with the daily consumption of 50 g of extra virgin olive oil, an amount previously shown to decrease cardiovascular mortality23,25.
As a scientist myself, I wonder whether the consumption of extra virgin olive oil itself can directly increase telomere length and telomerase activity in people, and if these changes can enhance lifespan and reduce chronic disease risk. In the meantime, the message is clear: Eat a diet rich in high quality, early harvest extra virgin olive oil, like KARMIRI, loaded with anti-aging antioxidants, phenolic compounds, phytonutrients and healthy fats, as this can only aid in the process of increasing longevity and lifespan in the long run.