Olive Oil Boosts Brain Health – Linked to 28% Lower Risk of Fatal Dementia

Olive Oil Concept Illustration

Olive oil consumption may reduce the risk of dementia-related death, according to a new study. Despite needing further research, the findings support dietary recommendations promoting olive oil for its potential brain and heart health benefits.

Regular olive oil consumption is associated with a 28% lower risk of fatal dementia.

A recent study suggests that incorporating olive oil into one’s diet could help reduce the risk of death from dementia. With many countries witnessing rising rates of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, the study provides hope that diet, among other healthy lifestyle factors, can aid in preventing or slowing 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,” said 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.”

Tessier presented the findings at NUTRITION 2023, the flagship annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition held July 22–25 in Boston.

Anne-Julie Tessier

Anne-Julie Tessier, RD, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Credit: Anne-Julie Tessier

Dementia and Its Impact

Dementia encompasses a range of conditions that result in impairments in thinking or memory, affecting a person’s daily activities. Alzheimer’s disease, which is progressive and fatal, is the most common form of dementia and affects an estimated 5.7 million Americans.

Study Parameters and Results

The study is unique as it is the first to examine the relationship between diet and death related to dementia. Scientists analyzed dietary questionnaires and death records from over 90,000 Americans spanning three decades, during which 4,749 study participants died from dementia.

The results indicated that people who consumed more than half a tablespoon of olive oil per day had a 28% lower risk of dying from dementia compared with those who never or rarely consumed olive oil. In addition, replacing just one teaspoon of margarine and mayonnaise with the equivalent amount of olive oil per day was associated with an 8-14% lower risk of dying from dementia.

Olive Oil and Health

Research suggests that people who regularly use olive oil instead of processed or animal fats tend to have healthier diets overall. However, Tessier noted that the relationship between olive oil and dementia mortality risk in this study was independent of overall diet quality. This may suggest that olive oil has properties that are uniquely beneficial for brain health.

“Some antioxidant compounds in olive oil can cross the blood-brain barrier, potentially having a direct effect on the brain,” said Tessier. “It is also possible that olive oil has an indirect effect on brain health by benefiting cardiovascular health.”

Previous Studies and Future Implications

Past research has associated higher olive oil consumption with a lower risk of heart disease. Using olive oil as part of a Mediterranean dietary pattern has also been demonstrated to protect against cognitive decline.

Tessier cautioned that the research is observational and does not prove that olive oil is the cause of the reduced risk of fatal dementia. Additional studies such as randomized controlled trials would be needed to confirm the effects and determine the optimal quantity of olive oil to consume in order to reap these benefits. Overall, however, the study aligns with dietary recommendations and bolsters the evidence that using olive oil in place of margarine or mayonnaise can help to support a healthy diet.

Tessier presented this research on Monday, July 24, during the Nutrition-related Factors in Aging and Chronic Disease Poster Theater Flash Session in the Sheraton Boston, Fairfax.

Please note that abstracts presented at NUTRITION 2023 were evaluated and selected by a committee of experts but have not generally undergone the same peer review process required for publication in a scientific journal. As such, the findings presented should be considered preliminary until a peer-reviewed publication is available.

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