Olive oil could boost brain health in people with mild cognitive impairment

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We all know that olive oil is a healthy choice for cooking and salad dressings. But did you know it might also help people who are experiencing memory problems?

This is the fascinating discovery from a recent study led by Amal Kaddoumi at Auburn University’s Harrison College of Pharmacy.

Her findings suggest that certain compounds in olive oil can boost brain health and strengthen the blood-brain barrier, which plays a critical role in maintaining a healthy brain.

The Study: Olive Oil and Cognitive Health

In her study, Professor Kaddoumi asked 25 people with mild memory issues to consume about three tablespoons of olive oil each day for six months.

Some of the participants used extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), while others used refined olive oil (ROO).

The difference between the two? EVOO is rich in organic compounds called phenols, while ROO has been purified to remove them.

Before and after the six-month period, the participants took part in several tests to measure their cognitive abilities.

These tests included MRI scans, memory tests, and blood tests for markers related to Alzheimer’s disease, a severe form of dementia.

The results were fascinating: both types of olive oil improved cognitive function, as seen in improved clinical dementia rating and other behavioral scores.

A Peek into the Brain

The MRI scan results provided interesting insights. While EVOO improved the blood-brain barrier function and the communication between different brain areas, ROO increased brain activity related to a memory task in regions involved in cognition.

The blood-brain barrier, which is a network of blood vessels and tissue with closely spaced cells, acts like a filter to keep the brain safe from harmful substances in the blood and help clear out brain waste products.

A well-functioning blood-brain barrier is essential for a healthy brain.

The blood tests revealed that EVOO and ROO changed the way the body processes and clears out beta-amyloid, a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

These changes could have played a role in improving the blood-brain barrier and improving memory and function.

Kaddoumi’s results matched findings from previous studies on mice. However, this was the first time scientists looked at what happens directly in the human brain when we consume olive oil.

One surprise was that the participants who consumed ROO, which lacks the beneficial phenolic compounds in EVOO, also saw improvements.

Kaddoumi suggests that the primary monounsaturated fat present in both EVOO and ROO, called oleic acid, might contribute to these beneficial effects.

Looking Ahead

These results have made Kaddoumi excited about the potential of olive oil in helping people with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive problems.

“These results are exciting because they support the health benefits of olive oil against Alzheimer’s disease,” said Kaddoumi. “Adding olive oil to our diet could maintain a healthy brain and improve memory function.”

But she knows there’s still more to learn. Kaddoumi plans to conduct larger studies, including people without memory problems.

She’s also interested in studying the effects of different grades of olive oil, given the surprising results with ROO. Through further research, she hopes to uncover more about the power of olive oil on our brain health.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about low choline intake linked to higher dementia risk, and how eating nuts can affect your cognitive ability.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that blueberry supplements may prevent cognitive decline, and results showing higher magnesium intake could help benefit brain health.

The study was published in Nutrients.

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