Rome: New research has pinned down why extra-virgin olive oil, a staple of Italian cuisine, helps the nation’s inhabitants avoid tumours and other diseases in their later years.
The results of a nine-year study of Italians living in the olive-rich southern region of Puglia showed recently that they were statistically less prone to cancer and other ailments because they consumed the oil all their lives .
Now researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia have discovered precisely why this is the case .
They have identified in extra-virgin olive oil a molecule which is similar to ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory agent contained in several over-the-counter painkillers .
They believe that the molecule, which they have called ‘oleocantale’, is the key element which gives olive oil its legendary properties .
If assimilated over a long period of time, it can mean a person is protected from tumours and other problems that regularly crop up when a person becomes old, they say .
The research, which finally offers scientific support for what doctors and nutritionists have said for years, appears in the September edition of the journal Nature .
The discovery comes just five months after scientists at Bari University’s Geriatrics Department offered convincing statistical evidence that olive oil is a real ‘elixir of life’ .
Unveiling a nine-year study of over 700 people in Puglia aged 65-84, they said extra-virgin olive oil clearly has a string of health benefits such as its ability to combat chronic diseases and, above all, guard against tumours .
The survey aimed to assess the role of diet, and in particular intake of monosaturated and polysaturated fatty acids, on ageing and death .
The 704 Puglians ate a typical Mediterranean diet in which fat (17.6% monosaturated fatty acids, 3% polysaturated and 8.4% saturated) accounted for 29% of total energy intake .
Extra-virgin olive oil provided 85% of the monosaturated fatty acids .
The latter were associated with reduced mortality, for all causes, the study said. In particular, 15 grammes a day of monosaturated fatty acids cut deaths among over-65s by a fifth .
“This is proof that not only is olive oil a healthy food product but a splash of it a day helps prevent tumours,” said Professor Giorgio Calabrese of the National Authority for Food Safety .
An Athens University study also showed recently that the mortality rate among the elderly was significantly lower in Mediterranean countries like Greece, Spain and Italy .
Nutritionist Antonio Migliaccio commented: “Extra-virgin olive oil has great anti-oxidant powers and is therefore recommended in low-calory diets. It also increases so-called good cholesterol and lowers bad cholesterol.”