The free radical theory of aging argues that free radicals produced by the mitochondria are responsible for the damage that affects all biological tissues and leads to the aging phenotype. High olive oil intake is related to lower mitochondrial oxidative stress, including that which happens during aging. The degree of fatty acid unsaturation of mammalian tissues is also negatively correlated with greater longevity, and olive oil leads to less polyunsaturated biological membranes. Finally, monounsaturated fatty acids (such as those of olive oil) have been associated with greater longevity and a high degree of protection against age-related cognitive decline in humans


Nutritional factors may play a role in the etiology of chronic diseases and probably in longevity. Important evidence suggests that olive oil plays a role in the prevention of coronary artery disease, several types of cancer, and high blood pressure. During the past 15 years, we have accumulated a good deal of evidence on the effectiveness of dietary virgin olive oil in strengthening membranes by increasing their resistance to free radical-induced modifications following xenobiotic uptake, physical training, and the ingestion of fried fats. Unsaturated fatty acids are the cellular macromolecules most sensitive to oxygen radical damage due to the presence of highly unstable electrons near their double bonds. A low level of fatty acid unsaturation decreases cellular oxidative stress.

Detailed studies have shown that the degree of fatty acid unsaturation of mammalian tissues is negatively correlated with maximum longevity, and that virgin olive oil may attenuate oxidative stress related to aging. High MUFA intake has been significantly associated with better cognitive performance over time. This evidence confirms very recent findings showing that high intake of monounsaturated fatty acids may protect against Alzheimer's disease, whereas intake of saturated or trans-unsaturated fats may increase risk. On the other hand, in a recent study, higher monounsaturated fatty acid intake was associated with increased survival, and a higher ratio of unsaturated fatty acids to saturated fatty acids increased total mortality only marginally, while no effects of other selected food groups were found. Although these findings are promising, further studies are needed in larger samples of elderly subjects to determine the role of monounsaturated fatty acids in age-related cognitive decline. Of particular importance will be the development of experiments with humans designed to confirm the promising finding on mitochondrial oxidative stress found in animals.

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