Study finds fasting is key to triggering olive oil's health benefits

The popular Mediterranean diet, which is commonly referred to as a heart-healthy way of eating, has been linked to a number of potential health benefits, including lower risk of developing various diseases. According to a new study from the University of Minnesota Medical School, one particular ingredient found in this diet may be the key factor involved in reducing disease risk and increasing lifespan.

You may suspect the beneficial dietary element is red wine, but it turns out that olive oil may actually be the driving force behind these benefits. Past research has linked the oil to a number of health benefits, including, potentially, the ability to help protect the brain from dementia that develops in old age.

According to the new study, olive oil may be the ingredient activating cellular pathways linked to the prevention of age-related diseases and increased lifespan — ones previously attributed to red wine. However, the team found that consuming olive oil on its own may not be adequate enough to trigger these benefits.

Rather, olive oil's beneficial effects were at their greatest when the ingredient was combined with exercise and either lowered caloric intake or fasting. The study's lead Doug Mashek, Ph.D., explained:

We found that the way this fat works is it first has to get stored in microscopic things called lipid droplets, which is how our cells store fat. And then, when the fat is broken down during exercising or fasting, for example, is when the signaling and beneficial effects are realized ... We want to understand the biology, and then translate it to humans, hopefully changing the paradigm of healthcare from someone going to eight different doctors to treat his or her eight different disorders.