Olive Oil May Lower Dementia Risk

We have written many blogs about the benefits of different oils. While it used to be that olive oil was the health world’s darling and praised above all other cooking oils, it’s not perfect for all situations. However, like all things in health, it’s a balancing act. Different oils can aid different aspects of health.

A new study has found that olive oil can help the brain. In fact, daily consumption of olive oil may lower the risk of dying from a dementia-related cause by up to 28 percent. Just half a tablespoon of olive oil a day may prevent or slow the progression of illnesses like Alzheimer’s.

Our study reinforces dietary guidelines recommending vegetable oils such as olive oil and suggests that these recommendations not only support heart health but potentially brain health, as well,” said Dr. Anne-Julie Tessier, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard. “Opting for olive oil, a natural product, instead of fats such as margarine and commercial mayonnaise is a safe choice and may reduce the risk of fatal dementia.”

The study examined diet questionnaires and death records from 90,000 Americans collected over three decades. During that time, 4,749 people died from a dementia-related disease. The researchers found that people who had half a tablespoon of olive oil daily were 28 percent less likely to die from dementia. They also found that substituting one teaspoon of olive oil for the same amount of margarine or mayo was linked to an eight to 14 percent lower risk. The relationship between olive oil and dementia risk remained even if people had a poor diet overall. It wasn’t that people who ate more olive oil had healthier diets.

Some antioxidant compounds in olive oil can cross the blood-brain barrier, potentially having a direct effect on the brain,” said Dr. Tessier. “It is also possible that olive oil has an indirect effect on brain health by benefiting cardiovascular health.”

A study from last year found that olive oil aided memory and reduced Alzheimer’s biomarkers. That study never looked at deaths from dementia but did suggest that oleic acid in olive oil protected the brain. Olive oil improved activity in brain regions connected to memory tasks.

EVOO [extra-virgin olive oil] enhanced the blood-brain barrier function and functional connectivity between different brain areas in individuals with mild cognitive impairment, which could emphasize EVOO-phenolics’ effect,” said Dr. Amal Khalil Kaddoumi, a professor at Auburn Univ. who led the research.

Dr. Tessier admitted that there is a price difference between margarine and olive oil. She also said that, as the study was observational, they can’t say why there is a link between olive oil and brain health. A controlled study would have to be performed to show how olive oil impacts the brain.

If it’s a matter of preference rather than cost, you can make your own mayo using olive oil. Be sure to use a light olive oil with minimal flavor — the same kind you would use for baking. By doing that, you can still enjoy mayo while getting the benefits of olive oil.

And remember, half a tablespoon is where the research saw the health benefits for the brain. But, doctors believe that more is better in the case of olive oil. “I advise my patients to aim for at least three tablespoons a day for brain health,” said registered dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick.

Dr. Tessier said her team didn’t see a limit where olive oil stopped being beneficial. So, add more of it to your day in the form of dressing and a healthy cooking fat!

Banner image: Polina Tankilevitch via Pexels

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