Avocado oil may have anti-ageing properties like those attributed to olive oil, say researchers.

Fat pressed from the exotic fruit could be a potent weapon against conditions such as heart disease and cancer, it is claimed.

Avocado oil is similar in composition to olive oil, consumption of which is associated with unusually low levels of chronic disease in some Mediterranean countries.

New research conducted in Mexico, the world's largest avocado producer, has now demonstrated its power to combat destructive rogue oxygen molecules.

These unstable "free radicals" wreak havoc in the body, triggering chain reactions that destroy cell membranes, proteins and even DNA.

The phenomenon is one of the prime drivers of ageing and believed to play a major role in damage to arteries and cancer.

Oxygen free radicals, or "reactive oxygen species", are natural waste products of metabolism but may be generated in greater numbers due to factors such as pollution, tobacco smoke and radiation.

One hotspot for free radicals is mitochondria, rod-like bodies in cells that act as energy powerplants.

Many "antioxidant" chemicals in vegetables and fruits such as carrots and tomatoes are known to neutralise free radicals. But according to Christopher Cortes-Rojo, who led the new research on avocado oil, they cannot reach the free radicals in mitochondria.

"The problem is that the antioxidants in those substances are unable to enter mitochondria," said Mr Cortes-Rojo, from the University Michoacana de San Nicolas de Hidalgo in Morelia, Mexico.

"So free radicals go on damaging mitochondria, causing energy production to stop and the cell to collapse and die. An analogy would be that, during an oil spill, if we cleaned only the spilled oil instead of fixing the perforation where oil is escaping, then the oil would go on spilling, and fish would die anyway."

Experiments on yeast showed that avocado oil was effective against mitochondrial free radicals. Yeast cells treated with the oil were able to survive high exposure to iron, which triggers production of huge numbers of the molecules.

"These results could be attributed to the fact that avocado oil caused accelerated respiration in mitochondria, which indicate that the use of nutrients for producing energy for cell functions remains effective even in cells attacked by free radicals," said Mr Cortes-Rojo.

The findings were presented today at the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in San Diego, California.

Previous research conducted at Morelia General Hospital had shown that avocado lowers blood levels of cholesterol, and certain fats linked to diabetes.

"Our results are promising because they indicate that avocado consumption could improve the health status of diabetic and other patients through an additional mechanism to the improvement of blood lipids (fats)," said Mr Cortes-Rojo.

"We'll need to confirm that what has been observed in yeasts could occur in higher organisms, such as humans. We hope this will be the case, because there are many vital processes conserved in organisms that seem very dissimilar to humans."

He added: "In some Mediterranean countries, low or almost no appearance of these kinds of diseases has been associated with the high olive oil consumption. Olive oil has a fat composition similar to that found in avocado oil. Therefore, avocado oil could eventually be referred to as the olive oil of the Americas."

  • Anti-Ageing Herbs That Protect Against Premature Ageing

  • Milk Thistle

    Milk thistle encourages the liver to make a powerful antioxidant, which aids the regeneration of new skin cells and helps to create a glowing, youthful complexion.

  • Ginseng

    Ginseng is a perennial herb and its root is used to help beat age-related problems such as high blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It also helps alleviate stress, stimulates physical and mental activity, which may slack in older age, and protects the body from severe, physical pain.

  • Rhodiola Rosea

    The Rhodiola Rosea is an 'adaptogen' herb which has long been used to enhance the body's ability to cope with mental stress. It is also believed that the herb could help protect the brain from age-related mental disorders such as Alzheimer's and enhance body stamina and strength.

  • Rosemary

    Rosemary helps to redress the skin's moisture balance, perfect for fending off sagging and wrinkles. It also helps protect the skin cells from environmental damage by aiding the development of collagen in the skin, leaving it plumper and more supple.

  • Ashwagandha

    Ashwagandha is thought to help with the prevention of dementia by restoring the neurotransmitters in the brain. Ashwagandha also helps the body build a resistance to stressand can be used as stimulant for a healthy immune system.

  • Ginkgo Biloba

    Gingko Biloba contains crucial antioxidants that help to improve blood flow to the brain which help the body's peripheries function - ideal for those with poor circulation in the fingers and toes.

  • Cat's Claw

    Also known as Uña de Gato in Spanish and Vilcacora in Indian, the Cat's Claw herb's super-immune-system qualities help battle age-related problems such as high blood pressure, bad circulation and high cholesterol levels.

  • Grape Seeds

    The seeds from the grape contain powerful antioxidants called procyanidins that neutralise damaging free radical in the joints.

  • Pine Bark

    Pine bark, also known as Pycnogenol, strengthens capillaries, arteries and veins and fights inflammation to improve joint flexibility. It also helps the body to circulate more blood during stressful conditions without increasing blood pressure or making the heart work harder.

  • Reishi

    Known as the 'mushroom of immortality' this colourful fungi has been a folk medicine in China for thousands of years. It is traditionally used to treat age-related conditions like hypertension, arthritis, insomnia and lung disorders. It is also a great anti-inflammatory agent and can be taken in the form of tea or tablets.