Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet and might explain why this region has one of the longest human lifespans in the world.
Regularly consuming olive oil is linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and age-related cognitive decline including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease1.
Olive oil contains a healthy fat called monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) as well as many powerful antioxidants called phenols1. It is even more abundant in Virgin and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
How does it benefit ageing? Olive oil reduces inflammation, activates metabolic pathways associated with longevity, and protects cells and DNA against damage. Some studies suggest that olive oil may protect against cancer (mainly breast, prostate and colorectal)2 and sun-induced skin ageing3.
Polyphenols are naturally produced by plants to fight against fungi, bacteria and insects. They are another well-studied and highly recommended ingredient to include in every diet. This is because they have many anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
The polyphenols quercetin, myricetin, piceatannol, and resveratrol are known as SIRT1 agonists. That is, they each enhance the activation of the ‘human longevity gene’ called SIRT1.
Many studies demonstrate that polyphenol consumption can help to prevent cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, and obesity4.
The subclasses of polyphenols and some examples are shown below4:
- Catechin: green tea, cacao, apple, peaches, barley
- Quercetin: capers, red onion, cranberry
- Apigenin, luteolin: broccoli, celery, green pepper, parsley, thyme, chamomile tea
- Naringin, hespertin: grapefruit, citrus fruits
- Daidzein, genistein: lupin, fava beans, soybeans
- Pinoresinol, matairesinol, secoisolariciresinol: sesame seeds, grains, Brassica vegetables
- Resveratrol: grapes, blueberries, raspberry, mulberry
- Hydroxycinnamic acid: coffee, olive oil, prunes
- Hydroxbenzoic acid: berries, onions, horseradish, pomegranate
- Coumarin: curcumin
- Anthocyanins: berries, black grape, plum, cherry
So much choice is a good thing. But if you’re wanting to get a good balance of polyphenols, it’s recommended to have fruits (grapes, apples, berries, pears and cherries), green tea, red wine, coffee and dark chocolate. Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries are often mentioned as a superfood as they have the most polyphenols.
Of course, be mindful that excessive consumption can be harmful too (binging on wine, coffee and dark chocolate is not recommended).
Vitamin D also influences many aspects of ageing. It acts on DNA to help correct free radical damage and enhances the clearance of old, damaged cells and proteins5.
Vitamin D is a hormone that is naturally produced in our skin after sun exposure. However, vitamin D deficiency is a common problem worldwide6.
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with reduced cognitive function, loss of muscle mass, and fragile bones – a condition called osteoporosis7. Furthermore, low levels of vitamin D are also linked to a higher risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin D also boosts immune function and has also been reported to protect against respiratory infections8-10 and cancer.
However, most evidence comes from observation studies, which can only show that an association exists. Data from clinical trials would help to show a causation effect of vitamin D on ageing and diseases, but these are lacking.
The recommended intake of vitamin D varies according to age, weight and ethnicity, but for adults is generally 1000 to 4000 IU/day. Taking 4000 IU/day would correlate to an average blood level of 125 nmol/L in a healthy person, which is considered the normal upper limit11.
Foods rich in vitamin D include fish like salmon and mackerel, eggs, milk and soy.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are another healthy fat which could help us age slower as well as lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Some of its dietary sources are fatty fish and fish oils, flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts. The two important omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
For anti-ageing, having more omega-3 fatty acid and having a lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid is beneficial. Omega-6 comes from vegetable oils.
One study of older adults found that those who had higher levels of omega-3 in their blood had 18% lower risk of unhealthy ageing 12. These adults over 65 years old didn’t develop chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, cognitive or physical dysfunction. In another study, researchers found that overweight middle and older-aged adults who took 1.25-2.5g/day of omega-3 supplements had longer telomeres, reduced oxidative stress, and lower inflammation13.
Our gut (digestive tract) is filled with over a trillion organisms consisting of over 300 species of bacteria, viruses and yeasts. Collectively, they’re known as the gut microbiota. It is essentially a living ecosystem within our body that influences everything from gene expression, metabolism to immune system. Unsurprisingly, it has a huge impact on our overall health and longevity.
The good news is, we can influence the proportion of ‘good organisms’ in our gut to delay ageing and lower our risk of developing disease. Antibiotics, nutrition and lifestyle factors affect the composition of our microbiota.
Probiotics contain a high amount of the ‘good bacteria’ such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus and are a good dietary supplement to sustain a healthy gut microbiota. However, we don’t know yet what is the optimum or safe dose.
In a study of centenarians (individuals older than 100 years), it was found that their gut contained higher amounts of bacteria called Proteobacteria and Eubacterium limosum14. Also, it was found that genes which controlled short-chain fatty acids were reduced, and those promoting protein recycling were increased15.
Another recent finding is that of faecal microbiota transplantation. Transplanting faeces (yes, poop) from healthy individuals to sick individuals was found to treat age-related diseases like diabetes, metabolic syndrome and neurodegeneration15. It’s also used to treat Clostridium difficile infection, a severe and life-threatening gut infection. However, more needs to be researched regarding the safety and acceptability of this intervention.
- Fernández del Río L, et al. Olive Oil and the Hallmarks of Aging. Molecules. 2016;21(2):163.
- López-Miranda J, et al. Olive oil and health: summary of the II international conference on olive oil and health consensus report, Jaén and Córdoba (Spain) 2008. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2010;20(4):284-94.
- Latreille J, et al. Dietary monounsaturated fatty acids intake and risk of skin photoaging. PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e44490.
- Meccariello R, D’Angelo S. Impact of Polyphenolic-Food on Longevity: An Elixir of Life. An Overview. Antioxidants (Basel). 2021;10(4).
- Berridge MJ. Vitamin D deficiency accelerates ageing and age-related diseases: a novel hypothesis. The Journal of Physiology. 2017;595(22):6825-36.
- Mithal A, et al. Global vitamin D status and determinants of hypovitaminosis D. Osteoporos Int. 2009;20(11):1807-20.
- Meehan M, Penckofer S. The Role of Vitamin D in the Aging Adult. J Aging Gerontol. 2014;2(2):60-71.
- Zittermann A, et al. Vitamin D and airway infections: a European perspective. Eur J Med Res. 2016;21:14.
- Esposito S, Lelii M. Vitamin D and respiratory tract infections in childhood. BMC Infect Dis. 2015;15:487.
- Zisi D, et al. The association between vitamin D status and infectious diseases of the respiratory system in infancy and childhood. Hormones (Athens). 2019;18(4):353-63.
- Giustina A, et al. Consensus statement from 2(nd) International Conference on Controversies in Vitamin D. Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2020;21(1):89-116.
- Lai HT, et al. Serial circulating omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and healthy ageing among older adults in the Cardiovascular Health Study: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2018;363:k4067.
- Kiecolt-Glaser JK, et al. Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation in healthy middle-aged and older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun. 2012;26(6):988-95.
- Rondanelli M, et al. Review on microbiota and effectiveness of probiotics use in older. World J Clin Cases. 2015;3(2):156-62.
- Son DH, et al. Recent Advances in Anti-Aging Medicine. Korean J Fam Med. 2019;40(5):289-96.
This article was written by Dr Alvin Lim (MD.FRACGP.BBiomed).
Updated by Sharon on 20th September 2022