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expert reaction to study looking at dietary fat and lifespan in nematode worms

Researchers investigate whether dietary mono-unsaturated fatty acids can extend lifespan in nematode worms in a new study published in Nature.


Ms Catherine Collins, Registered Dietitian, and Spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, said:

“At first glance there’s little similarity between the small roundworm C. elegans and us humans, but at cellular level around 35% of their genetic makeup is closely related to ours.  Whether human or roundworm, genetic profile is an important influence in health and risk of disease and premature death.  How savvy our genes are at tweaking the way we respond to diet or environment changes can keep us in robust health, or lead to ill-health which ultimately ends our life.

“In this study, researchers evaluated the effect of dietary fats on one particular chromatin gene known to lengthen roundworm lifespan.  They were particularly interested in how different fats in their diet affected metabolism and lifespan.

“They found that being a pudgy roundworm with intestinal fat stores rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFA) from oleic acid rather than polyunsaturates or saturates increased worm lifespan by a couple of days – not insignificant if your lifespan is only a fortnight.

“They concluded that genetic differences and type of fat in the roundworm diet appears to be associated with longevity, and that the reason roundworms lived longer with MUFA might relate to less oxidative stress, or alteration in signalling pathways at cell level that improved their longevity.

“From other research, a Mediterranean-style diet, richer in MUFA (from olive or rapeseed oils) and other unsaturated oils at the expense of saturated fats, appears protective of heart disease and cancer in humans – even in overweight (but not obese) subjects.  We also know that adopting a more healthful diet can moderate disease severity, too.  In humans, dietary fat has many roles, including moderating how our cells communicate with each other and as a carrier for vitamins and phytochemicals such as lycopene, known to have a positive effect on health.

“Taking this research on roundworms together with other previous research in people, it suggests that whether human or roundworm, unsaturated fats can have a positive effect on health.  From research in human populations, we know that the Mediterranean style diet, rich in unsaturated fats from nuts, olives and olive oils, and rich in fruits and vegetables, is the ‘nutritional blueprint’ for a healthy diet.”


* ‘Mono-unsaturated fatty acids link H3K4me3 modifiers to C. elegans lifespan’ by Shuo Han et al. published in Nature Wednesday 5 April 2017.

Declared interests

Ms Catherine Collins: “No conflicts of interest.”

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