A team of researchers from the Italian National Research Council (CNR) and the University of La Tuscia has identified the neuronal anti-aging role "in vivo" of a component of extra virgin olive oil, hydroxytyrosol, reporting beneficial effects, especially in the elderly. The results of this study have been published in "Faseb Journal".
According to the CNR, new neurons are produced in the brain of mammals, especially in the hippocampus, throughout life. This process called neurogenesis is indispensable for the formation of episodic memory, as recent research has shown: new neurons in the hippocampus are generated from stem cells and during aging there is a progressive decrease in both, which is at the origin of a drastic reduction in episodic memory. "Hydroxytyrosol, a compound naturally present in extra virgin olive oil, has strong antioxidant and protective properties in cells, and it is known that several factors, including diet, can stimulate adult neurogenesis", he adds.
Thus, a team of researchers - led by Felice Tirone in collaboration with Laura Micheli, Giorgio D'Andrea and Manuela Ceccarelli, from the Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology of the National Research Council (CNR-Ibbc) - has demonstrated in an elderly animal model that hydroxytyrosol reverses the neuronal aging process.
"The oral intake of hydroxytyrosol during one month keeps the new neurons produced during this period alive, both in adults and in the elderly, in which it also stimulates the proliferation of stem cells, from which neurons are generated", explained Tirone, who also specified that, thanks to its antioxidant activity, hydroxytyrosol is able to "cleanse the nerve cells, as it also leads to a reduction in some aging markers such as lipofuscines, which are waste accumulations in the neuronal cells".
"We then verified, thanks to a marker of neuronal activity (c-fos), that the new neurons produced in excess in the elderly are actually inserted into the neuronal circuits, indicating that the effect of hydroxytyrosol results in an increase in the functionality of the hippocampus", added Micheli, while detailing that "the dose taken daily during the trial is equivalent to the doses that a person could take with an enriched diet and/or with supplements (approximately 500 mg/day per person). However, the intake of hydroxytyrosol would be even more effective if it was produced by the consumption of a functional food such as olive oil".
These results confirm the beneficial effects of the Mediterranean Diet, in particular for the elderly, as well as a possible ecological aspect. "The residues from olive processing contain a large amount of hydroxytyrosol, so improving the procedures for separating the good components would make it possible to obtain hydroxytyrosol and reduce the harmful impact", concluded Felice Tirone.