New research from Temple University and published on June 21 in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, shows that extra-virgin olive oil offers protection against memory loss, preserves a person's ability to learn, and reduces conditions associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Researchers at the university's Lewis Katz School of Medicine found that mice whose diets were enriched with extra-virgin olive oil had better learning ability and memories than those whose diets lacked the oil.
The mice who consumed extra-virgin olive oil had better-preserved neurons than the other mice, as well.
One of the markers of Alzheimer's disease is the presence of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain. Olive oil may fight this by activating the autophagy process and reducing brain inflammation.
The traditional Mediterranean diet, often praised for its health benefits, is also high in olive oil.
Six-month-old micmice were tested at 9 and twelve months on their respective diets. Those consuming the olive oil did better on the spatial and working memory tests, and had better learning abilities.
Senior researcher and Lewis Klein School of Medicine Professor Domenico Pratico said, "We found that olive oil reduces brain inflammation but most importantly activates a process known as autophagy. 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.
"The thinking is that extra-virgin olive oil is better than fruits and vegetables alone. As a monounsaturated vegetable fat, it is healthier than saturated animal fats."
"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.
"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."
According to the Alzheimer's Association, one in 10 people over age 65 has Alzheimer's, and 5.3 million out of the 5.5. million Alzheimer's sufferers are over age 65.