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Olive Oil Protects Against Decline in Brain Function in Alzheimer's

Update Date: Jun 27, 2017 09:10 AM EDT

Seems we should all be eating a Mediterranean diet.

Rich in plant-based foods, not only does the diet have a variety of health benefits, including a lower incidence of dementia, but researchers at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) have discovered that extra-virgin olive oil, a major component of the Mediterranean diet, protects against cognitive decline.

The study demonstrates how consumption of extra-virgin olive oil protects memory and learning ability and also reduces the formation of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain, both of which are classic portents of the development of Alzheimer's disease.

Senior investigator Domenico Pratico said, "We found that olive oil reduces brain inflammation but most importantly activates a process known as autophagy" -- the brain's housekeeping process of breaking down and clearing out intracellular debris and toxins.

The researchers tested the hypothesis on brain cells from mice. Mice develop three characteristics of the disease: memory impairment, amyloid plaques, and neurofibrillary tangles. The researchers then divided the mice into two groups: one which received olive oil, and one which did not. The ones with diets enriched with extra-virgin olive oil had higher levels of autophagy and reduced levels of the chemicals responsible for neural tangles. These tangles are suspected to cause nerve cell dysfunction in the brain, which leads to Alzheimer's memory loss symptoms.

At age 9 and 12 months, mice consuming olive oil performed significantly better on tests designed to evaluate working memory, spatial memory, and learning abilities. Studies of brain tissue from both groups of mice also revealed dramatic differences in nerve cell appearance and function. "One thing that stood out immediately was synaptic integrity," said Dr. Pratico, meaning the integrity of the connections between neurons (synapses) were preserved, according to Science Daily.

"The pathological effects in animals otherwise destined to develop Alzheimer's disease were significantly reduced. This is a very importany discovery, since we expect that a reduction in autophagy marks the beginning of Alzheimer's disease," he added. The next step, then, would be to investigate the effects of introducing olive oil into the diet of older mice, when they have already developed plaques and tangles. "We want to know whether olive oil added at a later time point in the diet can stop or reverse the disease."

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