Olive oil protects the brain against Alzheimer’s
The Mediterranean diet which consists of fruits, vegetables, seafood, wholegrains, legumes and nuts, replacing unhealthy fats with healthy ones, is associated with many health benefits.
This type of diet also lowers the incidence of dementia and now researchers have found the one specific ingredient which has this protective effect against cognitive decline – Its extra-virgin olive oil, a major component of the Mediterranean diet.
Olive oil, also known to enhance the cardio-protective benefits of good cholesterol in the heart, protects memory and learning ability and reduces the formation of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain which are all classic symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers also identified the mechanisms that underlie the protective effects of olive oil and found that olive oil reduces brain inflammation but most importantly activates a process known as autophagy.
For this study, mice were divided into two groups and were put on a diet of chow supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or given regular chow starting at six months of age for six months. They were then assessed for the effects of the diet. The diet is introduced at six months before symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease begin to emerge in the animal model.
Mice who received a diet enriched with extra virgin olive oil had higher levels of autophagy and reduced levels of amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau, a substance responsible for neurofibrillary tangles, which is suspected to cause nerve cell dysfunction in the brain and thus is responsible for Alzheimer’s memory symptoms.
There was no difference in overall appearance in the two groups of mice although at age nine months and 12 months, mice on extra virgin olive oil performed better on tests which evaluated working memory, spatial memory and learning abilities.
The researchers also identified the mechanisms that underlie the protective effects of olive oil and found that olive oil reduces brain inflammation but most importantly activates a process known as autophagy – a process by which cells break down and clear intracellular debris and toxins such as amyloid plaques and tau tangles.
Studies on brain tissue also revealed dramatic differences in nerve cell appearance and function.
The integrity of the connections between neurons, also known as synapses, were preserved in mice on olive oil compared to the mice on a regular diet – and this was due to increased levels of autophagy activation which preserves memory and synaptic integrity.
This is an important discovery as a reduction in autophagy marks the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers are now planning on investigating the effects of extra virgin oil on the disease if introduced at a later point in life and if it can stop or reverse the disease.
A splash or two of olive oil in your diet daily will do you a world of good by enriching your body with important nutrients and having a protective effect against many diseases including the risk of dementia.
Source: Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology