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Olive oil can boost brain health and fight off Alzheimer’s disease

In the quest to mitigate the increasing rates of dementia worldwide, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, a novel study points to the potential health benefits of incorporating olive oil into our diets.

The researchers’ findings propose that the consumption of olive oil may reduce the likelihood of dying from these devastating diseases, contributing a new dimension of hope to the fight against cognitive disorders.

Anne-Julie Tessier supervised the pioneering study exploring the correlation between diet and dementia-related deaths. She is a postdoctoral fellow at the esteemed Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Tessoer shared, “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.”

Substitute olive oil for processed fats

In place of processed fats like margarine and commercial mayonnaise, Tessier recommends the use of olive oil as a healthy, natural alternative.

“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.”

These findings will be presented at NUTRITION 2023, a prime annual event held by the American Society for Nutrition in Boston.

The reality of dementia is a debilitating one. Affected individuals encounter impairments in thinking or memory that significantly hamper daily activities. Alzheimer’s disease, a progressively fatal condition, is a common form of dementia. Experts estimate that this debilitating disease afflicts around 5.7 million Americans.

How researchers conducted the olive oil study

The research scrutinized dietary questionnaires and death records of over 90,000 Americans spanning three decades. Throughout this period, dementia claimed the lives of 4,749 study participants.

The results painted an intriguing picture. People who consumed more than half a tablespoon of olive oil daily were healthier and had a 28% lower risk of dying from dementia, compared to those who seldom or never consumed it.

Remarkably, swapping just one teaspoon of margarine or mayonnaise with an equivalent amount of olive oil daily correlated with an 8-14% decrease in dementia mortality risk. Existing research indicates that habitual use of olive oil, as opposed to processed or animal fats, often coincides with healthier overall diets.

Crossing the blood-brain barrier

However, Tessier underlined that the correlation between olive oil and reduced dementia mortality risk identified in this study was distinct from the overall diet quality. This finding points to potential properties in olive oil that are uniquely beneficial for brain health.

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

Prior studies have noted a lower risk of heart disease and other health benefits with higher olive oil intake. It is also an integral component of the Mediterranean diet, which has shown to help protect against cognitive decline.

Nonetheless, Tessier cautioned that the study, being observational, does not conclusively establish olive oil as the cause of the reduced risk of fatal dementia. Further rigorous studies are necessary to confirm these effects and determine the ideal quantity of olive oil consumption for maximum benefits.

However, the findings undoubtedly strengthen the evidence supporting the dietary recommendations that advocate the use of olive oil over margarine or mayonnaise. These results, therefore, lend credence to the idea that opting for olive oil can significantly bolster the healthfulness of our diets.

More about olive oil

The traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin, the olive, provides the healthy liquid fat known as olive oil. Producers press whole olives and extract their oil to create olive oil.

People primarily use olive oil in cooking, for frying or as a salad dressing. Manufacturers also use olive oil in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and soaps, as well as a fuel for traditional oil lamps.

Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. Experts consider these as a healthy dietary fat. Here’s an overview of some key aspects of olive oil:

Types of Olive Oil

There are several different types of olive oil, each with its distinct characteristics.

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

This is the highest quality olive oil. It is unrefined, meaning it has not been treated with chemicals or altered by temperature. Manufacturers make EVOO from pure, cold-pressed olives, and it has no defects.

Virgin olive oil

Also derived from the cold pressing of olives, it’s slightly lower in quality than EVOO. This is primarily due to a slightly higher acidity level.

Refined olive oil

This oil is made by refining virgin olive oil. The refining process removes most of the natural flavor and color. Manufacturers often blend it with some virgin olive oil to provide flavor and color.

Pure olive oil

This is a blend of refined and virgin olive oil. It is not as high quality as EVOO or virgin olive oil.

Light or Extra light olive oil

These terms refer to the color and flavor intensity, not the caloric or fat content. This oil has undergone a significant amount of processing and has a more neutral flavor and higher smoke point.

Health Benefits

Olive oil is hailed for its health benefits, some of which include:

Heart health

Olive oil’s monounsaturated fats can help reduce levels of bad cholesterol. It also increases the levels of good cholesterol, contributing to heart health.

Antioxidant properties

Olive oil contains antioxidants like vitamin E and phenolic compounds. These can protect the body from cellular damage caused by free radicals.

Anti-inflammatory properties

Research has found that oleocanthal, a compound in olive oil, works similarly to ibuprofen in reducing inflammation.

Neuroprotective properties

Studies suggest that olive oil, particularly extra virgin, may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and the cognitive decline associated with aging.

Digestive health

Olive oil can stimulate digestion and protect the digestive tract.

Culinary Uses

Olive oil is very versatile in the kitchen. You can use it for sautéing, grilling, roasting, as a salad dressing, or simply drizzle it over dishes to enhance their flavor.

People prize extra virgin olive oil for its robust flavor and often use it in dressings or drizzle it over dishes, while they can use lighter olive oils for cooking that requires higher heat.


You should store olive oil in a cool, dark place and use it within a year of opening. Prolonged exposure to light and heat can cause it to go rancid.


Unfortunately, some products labeled as olive oil may be diluted with cheaper oils, like soybean or sunflower oil. To ensure you’re buying quality olive oil, look for seals of authenticity and origin, and consider buying from reputable brands.

As with any food product, moderation is key in consuming olive oil due to its high calorie content.
However, people generally consider it a healthier fat compared to animal fats and processed oils.

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