PHILADELPHIA — If extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is your oil of choice, your brain is receiving the health benefits of a lifetime. A new study on mice finds that the popular cooking oil protects against memory loss and learning ability, and reduces even more symptoms found in Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers at Temple University’s school of medicine discovered that mice with EVOO-enriched diets had better memories and learning abilities compared to the mice who didn’t consume the oil.
“We found that olive oil reduces brain inflammation but most importantly activates a process known as autophagy,” says senior investigator Dr. Domenico Praticò, in a university news release. Autophagy is the process of cells break-down to clear out intracellular debris and toxins, such as amyloid plaques and tau tangles.
The research team discovered that the oil increases levels of autophagy, which reduces the substances mentioned above: amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau. Praticò explains that this evidence is astounding because phosphorylated tau is a substance that is responsible for “neurofibrillary tangles,” which is linked to nerve cell dysfunction in a brain that is experiencing memory loss symptoms from Alzheimer’s.
To examine the connection between extra-virgin olive oil and dementia, Praticò and his fellow researchers put mice through a widely-used process that develops the three leading characteristics of Alzheimer’s in the rodents: memory deterioration, amyloid plagues and neurofibrillary tangles.
The mice were split into two groups: one group that was fed a mouse diet with extra virgin olive oil, and the other was fed a mouse diet without it. The test mice were fed olive oil when they were six months old, before the symptoms of Alzheimer’s made an appearance.
The mice were then tested at age nine months and twelve months. The mice with the EVOO diet tested significantly better, which evaluated working memory, spatial memory and learning abilities. The observations of the mice’s brain tissue also resulted in significant differences in the nerve cell appearance and function.
“One thing that stood out immediately was synaptic integrity,” says Praticò. The integrity of the connections between neurons, known as synapses, were preserved in animals on the extra-virgin olive oil diet.
“This is an exciting finding for us,” boasts Praticò. “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.”
Older studies have suggested that use of EVOO in the Mediterranean diet have been very beneficial. Olive oil is also known to have heart health and anti-flammatory benefits. Praticò and his research team have future plans to figure out if EVOO can stop, or even reverse Alzheimer’s when introduced into the diet at a later in life.
The study was published online in June and can be found in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.