Researchers at Philadelphia’s Temple University have found that extra-virgin olive oil helps improve one’s learning capacity and protects against memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Domenico Pratico, a professor at Temple’s medical school, said that the new research contributed to a number of studies showing the benefits of the olive-oil infused Mediterranean diet, which is considered to have multiple health benefits.
The study will be particularly welcome in Israel and the Palestinian territories, where olive oil is a staple, used extensively in cooking and dressings, and poured liberally over plates of hummus.
In the course of their research, scientists at the university’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine discovered olive oil’s role in helping to prevent the formation of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain, two of the most prominent signs marking Alzheimers.
“The thinking is that extra-virgin olive oil is better than fruits and vegetables alone, and as a monounsaturated vegetable fat it is healthier than saturated animal fats,” he said.
Pratico explained that the study — which was conducted using two groups of six-month-old mice, one of which was given olive oil — highlighted the oil’s role in the autophagy process, which helps prevent nerve cell dysfunction.
“Thanks to the autophagy activation, memory and synaptic integrity were preserved, and the pathological effects in animals otherwise destined to develop Alzheimer’s disease were significantly reduced,” he said.
“This is a very important discovery, since we suspect that a reduction in autophagy marks the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease,” he added.
Pratico also said that the research team hopes to study the effects of giving olive-oil to year-old mice in its next project, an age at which a number of Alzheimer’s symptoms have begun to develop.
“Usually when a patient sees a doctor for suspected symptoms of dementia, the disease is already present, he said. “We want to know whether olive oil added at a later time point in the diet can stop or reverse the disease.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, of the estimated 5.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2017, 5.3 million are age 65 and older and the remaining 200,000 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s. One in 10 people age 65 and older, 10 percent, has Alzheimer’s dementia.
Shoshanna Solomon contributed to this report.