How Extra Virgin Olive Oil can Preserve Memory
Updated November 6th 2020
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia according to News Medical, the U.S. Centre for Disease Control & Prevention. This neurodegenerative disease is progressive and cannot yet be cured or reversed. Researchers are looking at ways of preserving memory through diet and especially extra virgin olive oil.
As one of the main staples of the Mediterranean diet, Extra Virgin olive oil has already been praised by nutritionists for its ability to massage your cardiovascular system, especially when compared to other kitchen staples like butter or margarine. But Extra Virgin olive oil could also provide greater benefits for your mental health when compared to coconut or avocado oil, per new research published in the journal Aging Cell. New research has found that making Extra Virgin olive oil one of your diet’s staples could help keep your memory skills intact as you age and may also greatly reduce your risk of dementia in later years.
The research, which was published after conducting various tests on mice, suggests that the purest forms of olive oil can help break down the build-up of an abnormal protein in the brain. While the scientific community has failed to discover a singular cause of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, many experts regard the elevated presence of tau (a kind of protein) in the brain as a main marker for the disease, as they can interrupt important communication functions. The newly-published research found that diets high in Extra Virgin olive oil can effectively decrease the build-up of tau and possibly slow or stop advancing neurodegenerative diseases.
It is estimated to affect approximately 5 million people in the United States alone.
A study by researchers from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) in Philadelphia, reported that extra virgin olive oil, which is the most common component in the Mediterranean Diet, boosts cognitive performance and could aid in preventing Alzheimer’s.
The study involved mice models that have the three components present in Alzheimer’s disease, memory impairment, amyloid plaque build-up and neurofibrillary tangles.
Amyloid plaques are the result of the excess production and build-up of beta-amyloid, a fragment of the protein called “amyloid precursor protein.” In Alzheimer’s disease, these plaques build up in the spaces between neurons and cause loss of memory.
Neurofibrillary tangles are the result of twisted strands of a protein called tau. In a healthy brain, tau helps with the transportation of nutrients and other molecules that the brain cells need. In Alzheimer’s disease, this protein gets tangled up inside the brain cells, which happen to be dying because essential nutrients no longer reach them.
Alzheimer’s characteristics begin to develop in a rodents quite early on, so in this experiment, the oil was added to the diet when the mice were 6 months old, before any symptoms could have appeared.
The mice were separated into two groups. The first were fed a regular diet including extra virgin olive oil while the second group has no extra virgin olive oil added to their diet. The researchers evaluated the mice’s cognitive abilities by administering tests for their spatial memory, working memory, and learning skills.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil Preserves Brain Cell Health
In terms of general appearance, no differences were noted between the two animal groups.
But, when the mice were 9 months and 12 months old, the mice that had been fed the extra-virgin olive oil diet performed much better in the cognitive tests.
Lead investigator Dr. Dominica Praticò and his team also analyzed the brain tissue of these mice, and the studies revealed striking differences between the appearance and functioning of the nerve cells.
Firstly, the integrity of the synapses – which are the parts of the brain cell that facilitate communication among neurons – was preserved much better in the olive oil group. Secondly, the brain tissue in the mice fed olive oil revealed a “dramatic increase” in the autophagy activation of the nerve cells. Autophagy is a process that sees nerve cells disintegrate and eliminate the toxic debris that tends to accumulate between the cells. In this experiment, the increase in autophagy led to a decrease in the amyloid plaques and tau.
Dr. Praticò says, “This is an exciting finding for us. Thanks to the autophagy activation, memory, and synaptic integrity were preserved, and the pathological effects in animals otherwise destined to develop Alzheimer’s disease were significantly reduced. This is a very important discovery, since we suspect that a reduction in autophagy marks the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Simple Diet Tweaks That Could Cut Your Alzheimer’s Risk
Dubbed the “MIND” diet, short for Mediterranean-DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, this eating pattern recommends natural plant-based foods while limiting red meat, saturated fat and sweets. Observational studies suggest the diet can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 53 percent as well as slow cognitive decline and improve verbal memory.
Researchers developed the diet by looking at the Mediterranean and DASH diets, then focusing on the foods with the most compelling findings in dementia prevention. Vegetables, especially leafy greens, rose to the top and of course, the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, Extra Virgin olive oil.
Researchers then tracked detailed eating logs in an older adult population for an average of 4.5 years to uncover trends among the diets of those who developed dementia versus those who didn’t. Their discovery: Older adults whose diets most closely resembled the pattern laid out in the MIND diet had brains as sharp as people 7.5 years younger. That’s a substantial difference, since delaying dementia by just five years has been suggested to cut the cost and prevalence of the disease in half.