Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Brain Health

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Globally, lifespan has increased significantly over the past couple centuries due to advancements in medicine and technology. We are able to keep our bodies alive for longer, but as is the case for many people, the brain may deteriorate more quickly, seen in the increasing frequency of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. It stands to reason that we should also be looking for ways to keep our brains in tip-top shape in order to preserve their function for longer. But how exactly do we go about doing that? 

Brain Food 

You've likely heard about the link between "good fats" and a healthy brain. By good fats, we mean monounsaturated fatty acids and the omega fatty acids. Fats in general are a critical part of our diet, but the omega fatty acids are particularly important to deliberately incorporate into the diet as our bodies cannot synthesize these fats themselves. There is a wealth of evidence for how essential fatty acids from sources such as these aid in nurturing and preserving our brain health. One stellar choice for a dietary fat source is extra virgin olive oil, which is chock full of monounsaturated fatty acids and anti-inflammatory biophenols. 

Chronic inflammation is a contributor to a whole host of diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s Disease, among others. Unsurprisingly, concentrations of people whose cognition is preserved for longer can be found in Mediterranean countries. One proposed hypothesis for this phenomenon is the high consumption of EVOO in these areas, and the neuroprotective benefits afforded by compounds in the oil.  

A health care professional looks a a variety of brain scans in a hospital

Current Research

A study published in May of 2024 showed that just 7g per day of dietary EVOO was associated with a 28% reduction in dementia mortality.* These results were found in American adults; outside of the Mediterranean regions where other lifestyle factors may play into reduced disease mortality. It is suggested that the effects of extra virgin olive oil on vascular health is a great contributor to the lower rates of dementia mortality. 

Reinforcing how important the biophenols in extra virgin olive oil are was a 2020 study that showed the positive effect of high biophenol olive oil supplementation on cognitive performance. Recall that biophenols are secondary compounds in olive oil that lend to its range of health benefits, primarily due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity of many of these compounds. The improved cognitive performance was also noted in those who consumed an EVOO moderately high in biophenols compared to those who did not supplement with EVOO at all.** 

Another promising research avenue currently being explored relates to Alzheimer’s disease and the potential role of extra virgin olive oil and its components for treatment and prevention. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive dementia which, in its early stages, typically shows up as memory loss. In the past few years, some researchers have focused on ADDLs and their role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. ADDLs, or amyloid-beta derived diffusible ligands, are toxic protein byproducts that are typically accumulated in the brain of those affected by Alzheimer’s disease. These build-ups are neurologically disruptive, but have been shown to be diminished in studies from some of the antioxidants found in EVOO.***

Fortunately, incorporating EVOO into your diet is a relatively easy thing to do. Try swapping other oils for EVOO when frying and roasting. Incorporate it into dressings and marinades. Even a simple spoonful every day in a breakfast smoothie- however works best for you! It is one of the easiest- and most delicious - ways you can help protect your brain and body long term. 


* Tessier AJ, Cortese M, Yuan C, Bjornevik K, Ascherio A, Wang DD, Chavarro JE, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB, Willett WC, Guasch-Ferré M. Consumption of Olive Oil and Diet Quality and Risk of Dementia-Related Death. JAMA Netw Open. 2024 May 1;7(5):e2410021. 

**  Tsolaki, Magda et al. ‘A Randomized Clinical Trial of Greek High Phenolic Early Harvest Extra Virgin Olive Oil in Mild Cognitive Impairment: The MICOIL Pilot Study’. 1 Jan. 2020 : 801 – 817. 

***  Pang, K. L., & Chin, K. Y. (2018). The Biological Activities of Oleocanthal from a Molecular Perspective. Nutrients, 10(5), 570. 

1 comment

  • Barry

    Incredible results from these studies on extra virgin olive oil – a form of preventative medicine.

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