Brain health is a vital part of healthy aging so it’s no wonder there is a long list of supplements marketed to people looking to keep their mind sharp. However, Auburn University researchers have discovered as little as three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day can help improve the brain health of people suffering from mild cognitive impairment.
The study was conducted by Amal Kaddoumi from Auburn’s College of Pharmacy and the subsequent report was published in the journal Nutrients. It shows compounds in olive oil can impact brain health and improve the blood-brain barrier.
A total of 25 people participated in the randomized, controlled trial. Thirteen were given 30 milliliters, which is equivalent to about three tablespoons, of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) per day for six months, while the control group consisting of the final 12 participants was given an equal amount of refined olive oil (ROO).
EVOO is rich in phenols, which is a class of organic compounds with health-boosting properties, while ROO has been purified of those phenols.
"The participants were subjected to several tests before and after olive oil consumption, including MRI scans, a battery of cognitive tests and blood analysis for biomarkers related to Alzheimer's disease," said Kaddoumi. "Our findings showed that EVOO and ROO improved cognitive function as determined by the improved clinical dementia rating and other behavioral scores.
"Interestingly, the MRI scans results were not the same between EVOO and ROO. While EVOO enhanced the blood-brain barrier function and the functional connectivity between different brain areas, ROO increased the functional brain activation to a memory task in brain regions involved in cognition."
The blood-brain barrier is a network of blood vessels and tissue designed to protect the brain from exposure to blood-related neurotoxins. It is vital for a healthy brain and when the closely spaced cells are no longer tightly packed it creates permeability that can lead to problems.
"Regarding blood biomarkers, our findings showed that EVOO and ROO altered two major biomarkers related to Alzheimer's disease, namely, beta-amyloid and tau phosphorylation, suggesting EVOO and ROO changed the processing and clearance of beta-amyloid," Kaddoumi said. "These alterations collectively could have played role in improving the blood-brain barrier and improving function and memory.
"While we need additional studies to understand the mechanisms by which olive oil exerted such effects in humans, findings from our preclinical studies in the mouse models of Alzheimer's disease showed that EVOO alleviated several pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease," she added.
One thing that surprised researchers is the people in the control group also showed improvement, despite the fact ROO does not have the same beneficial compounds found in the unrefined EVOO.