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Why a little olive oil every day may lower your risk of dying from dementia

Dr. Al-Habib said a cold-pressed, single-source extra virgin olive oil keeps all antioxidants intact.
Dr. Al-Habib said a cold-pressed, single-source extra virgin olive oil keeps all antioxidants intact.

State figures show Texas ranks second in the nation for Alzheimer’s-related deaths.

But a new study from Harvard researchers suggests a daily spoonful of olive oil could lower your risk of dying from dementia.

KERA’s Sam Baker discusses this with Dr. Alla Al-Habib, a neurologist with Texas Health Plano.

The study in question here is from Harvard researchers. But Google alone turns up several studies from reputable people about olive oil and dementia. What's behind the interest in olive oil in this respect? 

Because of the content of the olive oil, it has the polyphenol as well as the monounsaturated fatty acid in a very high concentration as compared to the other oils. These are very important along with the antioxidants for health in general. And, it helps with the brain cells and neurons.

How specifically does it help the brain?

The polyphenols in olive oil are potent antioxidants. They have neuroprotective effects that can help protect neurons from inflammation and oxidative stress.

Is this a direct causality affecting the chances of dementia or a correlation that's a result of this study?

I think it's a prospective study, and it's very hard because it's done over a large population - almost 92,000 people - who have different lifestyles. So I don't think based on this study, we can say a lot, but neurodegenerative disorders like dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's are strongly associated with high levels of inflammation.

And the properties in the olive oil can deal with information directly?

It has elements that deal with anti-inflammatory and, as well as antioxidant.

Does it matter what type of olive oil? Does it have to be extra virgin olive oil or some other type? 

It does matter because as the temperature of the olive oil increases the quality of that olive oil goes down and then becomes almost similar, and maybe more harmful, compared to other oils. So it's very important to have a cold-pressed single source, extra virgin olive oil to keep all the antioxidants, all the good elements, in there.

Although I admit that when you hear the results of this study, I mean at least seven grams or somewhere between a daily spoonful or maybe a bit over a half-tablespoon of olive oil daily, that doesn't seem like much. 

And that speaks a lot about the benefits of the olive oil, even in the smaller amounts. So I feel like adding it more to your diet will help you. I don't suggest that someone drink olive oil, but probably replacing, all the fat with olive oil will help.

Are there any other foods that are believed to help reduce dementia? 

Nuts have a very high amount of omega-3, as well as antioxidants, and are anti-inflammatory. A plant-based diet, in general, also helps with brain health.


Consumption of Olive Oil and Diet Quality and Risk of Dementia-Related Death

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil in Alzheimer’s Disease: A Comprehensive Review of Cellular, Animal, and Clinical Studies

Chemical compounds in extra virgin olive oil could aid in the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease

Copyright 2024 KERA

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.