The Mediterranean diet has always been known as a healthy food regimen. However, it was only recently when researchers have found the key ingredient that makes it beneficial to the brain: extra-virgin olive oil.
The study, released online last June 21 in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, revealed that extra-virgin olive oil preserves memory and protects learning ability.
The oil also has the ability to “reduce the formation of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain” which are the definitive marks of Alzheimer’s disease.
“We found that olive oil reduces brain inflammation but most importantly activates a process known as autophagy,” said principal author Domenico Praticò, MD.
Autophagy assists in clearing toxins in the brain which include amyloid plaques and tau tangles, which are also the causes of cell death and loss of tissue in the brain.
In an experiment, researchers from Temple University used mice, all at 6 months old, and grouped them into two categories: one received an extra-virgin olive oil diet and the second group received the same food without the oil.
Compared to the mice group without extra-virgin olive oil, the group with the oil reportedly fared well on the tests that measured memory and learning abilities. The effects lasted nine months to one year into the study.
Aside from abovementioned low levels of amyloid plaques, differences in the nerve cell appearance and function were also seen in the two groups.
The researchers plan to shift their focus on the effects of incorporating the extra-virgin olive oil to mice at 12 months old, the time plaques and tangles have developed.
“We want to know whether olive oil added at a later time point in the diet can stop or reverse the disease”, Dr. Pratico said in a statement.