New research suggests that extra-virgin olive oil may help prevent dementia.
The Mediterranean diet, of which olive oil is a key component, has long been considered to have a wide range of health benefits and it seems as though preventing dementia could be one of them.
A recent study shows that consuming extra-virgin olive oil prohibits the formation of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangle in the brain, both of which are thought to cause dementia and Alzheimers.
The research was also able to discover why this was taking place.
Professor Domenico Pratico, of the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) in the United States, said: “We found that olive oil reduces brain inflammation but most importantly activates a process known as autophagy.”
Autophagy is the process of the breaking down of cells and removal of toxins, including tau tangles and amyloid plaques.
Professor Pratico said: “Brain cells from mice fed diets enriched with extra-virgin olive oil had higher levels of autophagy and reduced levels of amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau.”
Pratico said that phosphorylated tau causes the neurofibrillary tangles that are considered to cause Alzheimer’s disease.
The study saw mice divided into two groups, one of which received food enriched with extra-virgin olive oil while the other received food without it.
When tested between nine and 12 months later, the mice given the oil-enriched foods were able to perform to a higher standard in memory tests and there were clear differences in nerve cell appearance and function between the two groups.
Dr Pratico said: “One thing that stood out immediately was synaptic integrity.”
In the olive oil group, there was a large increase in nerve cell autophagy activation, which was responsible for lower levels of amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau.
Dr Pratico said: “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.”
The next phase of the research is to investigate the reaction caused by extra-virgin olive oil on mice that had already developed plaques and tangles.
“Usually when a patient sees a doctor for suspected symptoms of dementia, the disease is already present. We want to know whether olive oil added at a later time point in the diet can stop or reverse the disease,” he finished.
The study was published in the journal Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.