The Olive Wellness Institute is a science repository on the nutrition,
health and wellness benefits of olives and olive products, which is
all subject to extensive peer review.

Extra virgin olive oil and brain health – new study shows olive oil could reduce risk of death from dementia

Extra virgin olive oil and brain health – new study shows olive oil could reduce risk of death from dementia

An exciting new study from the Harvard School of Public Health has recently been published, and it adds to the pool of evidence on the brain health benefits of extra virgin olive oil. The study showed that consuming just half a tablespoon of olive oil each day could reduce the risk of death from dementia by 28%1.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a term used for several diseases that affect memory, thinking and the ability to perform daily activities2. It is the second leading cause of death for all Australians, and the leading cause of death for women3. Some data suggests it will soon be the number 1 leading cause of death4.  Dementia is more common in people over the age of 65, and unfortunately there is currently no cure5.

What was the study?

The study was published in the JAMA journal in May 2024, with lead researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health. It analysed data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow Up Study, which included over 92,000 U.S. adults.  Participants food intake was assessed every 4 years, including how much olive oil they consumed – ranging from none/rarely through to over 7g/day.  Researchers also tested for the presence of a specific gene that is known to increase the risk of dementia (APOE ε4).

Results of the study

The main finding of the study was that those who consumed the most olive oil (over 7g/day) had a 28% lower risk of dying from dementia compared to those who consumed the least.  Interestingly, these results remained significant regardless of diet quality and after adjusting for the presence or absence of the APOE ε4 gene.  This indicates that the olive oil itself has an impact on dementia-mortality.

The researchers also modelled substitution of other fats like mayonnaise and margarine and found that swapping 5g of these with the equivalent amount of olive oil led to an 8% reduced risk of dementia mortality.

What does this all mean?

The findings of this study are exciting, because while the benefits of EVOO for other diseases like cardiovascular disease are well researched, the evidence for EVOO and brain health is less robust.   There have been several smaller scale studies investigating the role EVOO plays in cognition – such as a 2022 study that showed consuming EVOO could improve brain health and memory7, however this new paper is the first to show that consuming olive oil can lead to reduced dementia mortality.  

The researchers from this study believe that the monounsaturated fats and bioactive compounds found in EVOO are likely responsible for the positive effects on dementia mortality. In particular, the bioactive compounds in EVOO have been shown to have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity8,9, which could contribute towards brain health.

Overall, this study reinforces that health professionals should be recommending extra virgin olive oil as part of a healthy dietary pattern. While this paper found benefits at just ½ tablespoon of olive oil per day, most research recommends between 2-3 tablespoons for maximum health benefits10.

View article references

 
  1. Tessier A, Cortese M, Yuan C, et al. Consumption of Olive Oil and Diet Quality and Risk of Dementia-Related Death. JAMA Netw Open.2024;7(5):e2410021. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2024.10021
  2. World Health Organization. Dementia [Internet]. World Health Organization [updated 15 Mar 2023, cited 23 May 2024]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia#:~:text=Key%20facts,injuries%20that%20affect%20the%20brain.
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) Dementia in Australia, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 23 May 2024
  4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
  5. Dementia Australia. About Dementia [Internet]. Dementia Australia [updated 1 Feb 2024, cited 23 May 2024] Available from: https://www.dementia.org.au/about-dementia
  6. Tessier A, Cortese M, Yuan C, et al. Consumption of Olive Oil and Diet Quality and Risk of Dementia-Related Death. JAMA Netw Open.2024;7(5):e2410021. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2024.10021
  7. Kaddoumi A et al. 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.
  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. 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.
  1. Flynn, M. M., et al. (2023). "Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil the Critical Ingredient Driving the Health Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet? A Narrative Review." Nutrients 15(13): 2916.