BOSTON — Adding olive oil to your menu on a regular basis can decrease the risk of dementia-related deaths by as much as 28 percent, a new study reveals. Researchers in Boston believe this oil, a popular addition to many culinary dishes and a staple of the Mediterranean diet, could potentially play a crucial role in brain health.
A common ingredient in everything from salad dressing to fried food, this research proposes that by incorporating just half a tablespoon of olive oil into your daily diet, you may be able to reduce the risk of dying from dementia. Given the increasing global rates of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, these findings could be significant. The team suggests that a healthy lifestyle, including dietary factors, might help to prevent or slow down the progression of these debilitating conditions.
“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,” says Anne-Julie Tessier, RD, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“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.”
This is the first study to explore the relationship between dietary habits and dementia-related death. The research team analyzed dietary questionnaires and death records collected from over 90,000 Americans over a span of three decades. Within this period, 4,749 participants passed away from dementia.
The study found that individuals who consumed more than half a tablespoon of olive oil per day had a 28-percent lower risk of dying from dementia compared to those who rarely or never consumed it. Furthermore, substituting just one teaspoon of margarine or mayonnaise with an equivalent amount of olive oil daily displayed a link to an eight to 14-percent lower risk of dying from dementia.
Prior research indicates that those who regularly use olive oil instead of processed or animal fats tend to maintain healthier diets overall. However, Dr. Tessier pointed out that the relationship between olive oil consumption and a reduced risk of dementia death in this study remained consistent, regardless of overall diet quality. This suggests that olive oil might have unique properties beneficial for brain health.
“Some antioxidant compounds in olive oil can cross the blood-brain barrier, potentially having a direct effect on the brain,” Tessier continues in a media release. “It is also possible that olive oil has an indirect effect on brain health by benefiting cardiovascular health.”
Prior studies have associated a higher intake of olive oil with a lower risk of heart disease, and incorporating olive oil as part of a Mediterranean diet pattern has been shown to help protect against cognitive decline.
Dr. Tessier noted that while the study’s findings are significant, they are observational, and therefore, don’t prove a direct cause-effect relationship between olive oil consumption and reduced risk of fatal dementia. She stated that further research is necessary to confirm these effects and to determine the optimal quantity of olive oil consumption for the greatest health benefits.
The findings were presented at Nutrition 2023, the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition in Boston.
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South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.