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Mona Lisa Smile . . . or Grimace

Mar. 13, 2012
Tara Vassiliou

Recent News

The most talked about fea­ture of the world’s most famous paint­ing is that enig­matic smile. But is it a smile or per­haps just a phys­i­o­log­i­cal quirk?

According to Dr. Vito Franco, pro­fes­sor of patho­log­i­cal anatomy at Palermo University in Italy, the area around the mouth and jaw of the Mona Lisa shows clear signs of a build-up of fatty acids under the skin, caused by too much cho­les­terol.“

Heart dis­ease is in part caused by free rad­i­cals react­ing with bad’ cho­les­terol to harden the arter­ies. Portuguese sci­en­tists from the University of Porto iden­ti­fied the com­po­nent of olive oil that pro­vides the great­est pro­tec­tion from heart attack and stroke. By ana­lyz­ing the antiox­i­dants in olive oil, the researchers demon­strated that one in par­tic­u­lar, known as DHPEA-EDA, pro­tects red blood cells from dam­age more than any other. The researchers believed their find­ings could result in the cre­ation of oils specif­i­cally designed’ to aid in com­bat­ing cho­les­terol and reduc­ing the risk of heart dis­ease.

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Whilst con­cepts like polyphe­no­lic com­pounds, antiox­i­dants and cho­les­terol were quite alien to the peo­ple of Florence in the 1500s, one could sur­mise that the Mona Lisa (oth­er­wise known as Lisa Gherardini who mar­ried up’ to become the wife of a rich Florentine silk mer­chant, Francesco del Giocondo, which is why the paint­ing is also known as La Joconde in French, or La Gioconda in Italian) came to later dis­cover the delights of extra vir­gin olive oil from the hills of Tuscany.

Why? Because Lisa sat for Leonardo da Vinci at the ten­der age of 24 and is believed to have died almost 50 years later. Given the era (not to men­tion her ele­vated cho­les­terol lev­els ear­lier in life …) this rep­re­sents a remark­ably long lifes­pan and whilst there are no records as to her diet, per­haps, just per­haps, such longevity was the result of the ample quan­ti­ties of extra vir­gin olive oil found in such famous Florentine dishes as tonno e fagi­oliand pap­pardelle sulla lepre.



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