More and more scientific evidence supports the numerous health benefits of following an eating pattern inspired by the principles of the Mediterranean Diet (DieMed), and the use of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) as the main fat.

The ‘V International Congress on Olive Oils, Olive Grove and Health’ held from 8 to 11 May in Jaén, organised by the University Institute of Research on Olive Oils and Olive Grove of the University of Jaén and subsidised by the Provincial Council of Jaén, places the province of Jaén at the epicentre of research in such an important field as health. Numerous experts participated presenting the latest research results on the benefits of olive oil consumption and its components for human and planetary health. This congress dealt with important topics such as the role of olive oils in the prevention of diseases, nutrition, sustainability and the challenges of olive groves related to climate change.

Many scientific evidences have proven that the use of EVOO as a main source of fat is associated with better general health. During the congress, the potential of high quality olive oil as a preventive factor in diseases with the highest cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, such as cardiovascular diseases (CVD), neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, cancer or diabetes, was confirmed.

The 20th century saw the rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the consolidation of CVD as the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, a trend that has continued into the 21st century.

The Mediterranean Diet supplemented with Extra Virgin Olive Oil has been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular events. Different studies have shown that adherence to the DM supplemented with extra EVOO reduces the possibility of developing type 2 diabetes, reduces abdominal obesity, lowers blood pressure and changes in the metabolome, which could be some of the mechanisms that explain its effect on the prevention and reversal of the disease.

On the other hand, the ageing of the world’s population is a unique demographic phenomenon of the last 150 years. It is important to bear in mind that ageing is conditioned by lifestyle and that most of the risks can be modified by following healthy recommendations. The adoption of a Mediterranean-type diet, i.e. a plant-based diet with occasional consumption of fish and dairy products, where Olive oil is the main dietary fat, is associated with a slower decline in cognitive performance and a lower risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Accumulating evidence from cellular, animal and human models supports that EVOO also has a potential protective role and represents a promising option for the prevention of age-related chronic non-communicable diseases and cognitive decline, and has been associated with a lower risk of developing physical decline, falls, frailty and sleep disorders. Following this dietary pattern, together with other healthy lifestyle habits, appear to be effective interventions and could be supported in clinical practice or in public health strategies for the promotion of brain health in general.

Cancer is another public health problem, with an increasing number of cases expected to reach 28 million cases worldwide by 2040. Cancer is a multifactorial disease, mostly related to environmental causes such as healthy lifestyle and diet. There is also evidence of the protective role of Extra Virgin Olive Oil against colon and breast cancer.  This evidence confirms that a high adherence to the Mediterranean Diet enriched with EVOO is related to a lower risk of developing these cancers, slows cancer progression, and tumours have a lower histopathological degree of malignancy.

On the other hand, changes in lifestyle and the use of drugs in recent decades have had an impact on the composition and number of bacteria that inhabit our gut. This change in the biodiversity of the microbiome has been linked to the origin of some contemporary diseases such as obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and even mental illnesses such as autism. Some of the solutions studied for these diseases are based on inducing changes in the gut microbiota. Several scientific studies have demonstrated the beneficial role of the Mediterranean Diet in shaping the gut microbiota. The MD increases the diversity of the microbiome and modulates the microbiota towards a healthier profile.

The beneficial effects of EVOO consumption can be explained by both its monounsaturated fatty acid profile and the health-promoting properties of its minor bioactive compounds. The polyphenol content of olive oil may play an important role in explaining the health benefits of EVOO and the Mediterranean Diet. Epidemiological studies and clinical trials have shown remarkably consistent results that, taken together, suggest a beneficial role of these polyphenols in the prevention and treatment of cardiometabolic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. In addition, polyphenols have many other positive actions, such as anti-inflammation, modulation of the microbiota, epigenetics, etc. Studies presented conclude that EVOO and its phenolic compounds can regulate gene expression by modifying epigenetic mechanisms that have an impact on human physiopathology.

During the congress, the challenge facing the olive grove in the face of Climate Change was also analysed, as it is a key element in the reversion or reduction of its effects. Climate change is a global threat that affects society and the environment as a whole, especially the Mediterranean area, which is one of the areas most affected by the increase in average temperature. Currently, the olive sector faces three major challenges: to promote and increase the consumption of Virgin Olive Oils in the world, to inculcate in society the benefits of the consumption of Virgin Olive Oils for human health; and, finally, to inform society that the olive grove provides an environmental service to humanity, as it is a brake on the increase in the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and its contribution reduces the effects of Climate Change.

Moreover, sustainable food production is indispensable and unavoidable to feed the world’s growing population. Better agronomic practices are urgently needed to ensure nutritious food that is accessible to everyone, environmentally friendly, as well as adapted to the changing conditions of climate change. There is a close relationship between science, scientific knowledge and the market. However, it is desirable to bring scientists closer to the agents in the olive oil value chain and end consumers. To this end, scientific dissemination must be taken on as a task for researchers and also for public institutions, as well as carrying out political and sectoral actions to transfer the health benefits of this foodstuff, backed by science, to the labelling of Extra Virgin Olive Oils.

Based on the latest scientific advances presented at the Congress, a more extensive summary of the meeting has been drawn up in which we can conclude that Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the healthiest fat from the point of view of human health and sustainable agriculture. The fact of being able to count on researchers of such international relevance demonstrates the interest in the Mediterranean Diet and, in particular, in Extra Virgin Olive Oil beyond the Mediterranean area. The internationally renowned researchers and experts who have taken part in this congress make the relevant conclusions drawn fruitful for both the present and the future.

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