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Extra virgin olive oil for brain health

Extra virgin olive oil for brain health

Traditionally, olive oil has been known as one of the main elements of the Mediterranean diet, which has become popular worldwide. Olive oil is well recognized for its beneficial effect on health. Several epidemiological and clinical studies have linked olive oil intake with lower total mortality and disease-specific mortality caused by cardiovascular, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases1.

Extra virgin olive oil constitutes two major components: monounsaturated fatty acids and bioactive phenolic compounds, which individually and collectively are responsible for its health-promoting properties. Several preclinical and clinical studies have reported the neuroprotective effects of olive oil, where its consumption has been linked to better memory, verbal fluency, and a decreased risk of developing dementia1,2.

The health benefits of extra virgin olive oil have been attributed to various mechanisms. Besides its lipid and blood glucose lowering effects, extra virgin olive oil possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects3-6. In addition, numerous in vitro and in vivo studies have revealed the beneficial effect of extra virgin olive oil and its phenolic compounds on brain vessels and neuronal function. Recent studies have shown that the phenolic compounds in extra virgin olive oil are antioxidant molecules that can scavenge the toxic effects of oxygen metabolism, such as free radical formation, thus protecting cells against oxidative damage and contributing significantly to human health4,5. In addition, findings from our preclinical studies have shown that extra virgin olive oil added to the diet of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) mouse models enhanced the blood-brain barrier (BBB) function, reduced AD-related pathology, oxidative stress, and neuroinflammation, which collectively led to improved memory7-9.  The BBB, a network of blood vessels and tissue made up of closely spaced cells, plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy brain by protecting the brain from exposure to blood-related neurotoxins and in the clearance of brain waste products. Thus, a functional BBB is vital for a healthy brain, and extra virgin olive oil improves the function of brain vessels.

In humans, when tested in individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), extra virgin olive oil improved brain health and memory10. In this study, 25 participants with MCI were asked to consume about three tablespoons of olive oil per day for six months. Thirteen participants consumed extra virgin olive oil (EVOO, rich in phenols), and 12 consumed refined olive oil (ROO, purified from phenols). The participants were subjected to MRI scans and cognitive tests before and after olive oil consumption. Findings showed that both EVOO and ROO improved cognitive function as determined by the improved clinical dementia rating and other behavioral scores. For the MRI scan results, while both EVOO and ROO demonstrated protective effects, the effect was different. EVOO enhanced the BBB function and the functional connectivity between different brain areas, while ROO increased the functional brain activation to a memory task in brain regions involved in cognition. These results suggest that olive oil’s two major components, the monounsaturated fatty acids, and bioactive phenolic compounds, contribute to its health benefits10.

Indeed, the consumption of extra virgin olive oil provides beneficial effects on a variety of aspects of health and disease. Thus, besides protecting the brain, adding extra virgin olive oil to our daily diet could reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias.

View article references

  1. Guasch-Ferré M, Li Y, Willett WC, Sun Q, Sampson L, Salas-Salvadó J, Martínez-González MA, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB. Consumption of Olive Oil and Risk of Total and Cause-Specific Mortality Among U.S. Adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2022 Jan 18;79(2):101-112.
  2. Nishi SK, Babio N, Gómez-Martínez C, Martínez-González MÁ, Ros E, Corella D, et al. Mediterranean, DASH, and MIND Dietary Patterns and Cognitive Function: The 2-Year Longitudinal Changes in an Older Spanish Cohort. Front Aging Neurosci. 2021 Dec 13;13:782067.
  3. Guasch-Ferré M, Li Y, Willett WC, Sun Q, Sampson L, Salas-Salvadó J, Martínez-González MA, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB. Consumption of Olive Oil and Risk of Total and Cause-Specific Mortality Among U.S. Adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2022 Jan 18;79(2):101-112.
  4. Rocha J, Borges N, Pinho O. Table olives and health: a review. J Nutr Sci. 2020 Dec 2;9:e57. doi: 10.1017/jns.2020.50.
  5. Vissers MN, Zock PL, Katan MB. Bioavailability and antioxidant effects of olive oil phenols in humans: a review. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2004 Jun;58(6):955-65.
  6. Abdallah IM, Al-Shami KM, Alkhalifa AE, Al-Ghraiybah NF, Guillaume C, Kaddoumi A. Comparison of Oleocanthal-Low EVOO and Oleocanthal against Amyloid-β and Related Pathology in a Mouse Model of Alzheimer's Disease. Molecules. 2023 Jan 27;28(3):1249. doi: 10.3390/molecules28031249.
  7. Al Rihani SB, Darakjian LI, Kaddoumi A. Oleocanthal-Rich Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Restores the Blood-Brain Barrier Function through NLRP3 Inflammasome Inhibition Simultaneously with Autophagy Induction in TgSwDI Mice. ACS Chem Neurosci. 2019 Aug 21;10(8):3543-3554.
  8. Qosa H, Mohamed LA, Batarseh YS, Alqahtani S, Ibrahim B, LeVine H 3rd, Keller JN, Kaddoumi A. Extra-virgin olive oil attenuates amyloid-β and tau pathologies in the brains of TgSwDI mice. J Nutr Biochem. 2015 Dec;26(12):1479-90.
  9. Batarseh YS, Kaddoumi A. Oleocanthal-rich extra-virgin olive oil enhances donepezil effect by reducing amyloid-β load and related toxicity in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. J Nutr Biochem. 2018 May;55:113-123.
  10. Kaddoumi A, Denney TS Jr, Deshpande G, Robinson JL, Beyers RJ, Redden DT, Praticò D, Kyriakides TC, Lu B, Kirby AN, Beck DT, Merner ND. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Enhances the Blood-Brain Barrier Function in Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2022 Dec 1;14(23):5102. doi: 10.3390/nu14235102.