’ve only ever had one wrinkle…and I’m sitting on it’, was one of the more memorable quotes of Jeanne Calment, the longest-living person on record, who died in 1997 at the age of 122.
Calment was a Frenchwoman who first rose to fame on the centenary of the death of Vincent Van Gogh who, she said, she had met a hundred years earlier, when she was thirteen. She took up fencing at the age of 85, rode a bicycle until she was 100, and remained mentally alert until the end. J’ai jamais eté malade, jamais, jamais, she said – ‘I have never been ill, never, ever.’
Two of Calment’s dietary staples were wine and chocolate, but the secret of her wonderful health and youthful skin, she said, was olive oil, locally-produced in her native Arles. She added it to all her food, and rubbed it into her skin.
Calment is officially the longest-lived person, but she may have been outlived by another woman – Mariam Amash of Israel, who, according to local records, was 124 when she died in 2012. Amash loved her vegetables, but, like Calment, she consumed copious amounts of olive oil – a glass a day, she said.
This is hardly surprising since olive oil has been shown in studies to increase longevity. Amongst other things, it has anti-cancer properties, it improves vascular health, it lowers LDL cholesterol, it balances blood sugar, and it is high in powerful antioxidants. You are unlikely to find the elixir of eternal youth in a chemist’s – but it may well be in a bottle of olive oil or a pot of olives.1
By our resident nutritionalist Sally Beare
- Trichopoulou A, Dilis V (2007). Olive oil and longevity. Mol Nutr Food Res. 51(10):1275-8..