The Mediterranean diet is widely recommended by health professionals as a way to promote heart health as well as for possible Alzheimer’s protection. For most people, the fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and olive oil-based salad dressings that make up the bulk of a Mediterranean diet are excellent foods for general health. However, the liberal use of extra virgin olive oil used for cooking and as flavoring for bread and salads may be the real key to why the Mediterranean diet is considered protective against Alzheimer’s.
Scientists have been aware that the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease, which affects about 30 million people worldwide, is lower in Mediterranean countries. Until recently, they have attributed this lower rate to the high concentration of healthful monounsaturated fats in olive oil which is consumed in large amounts in the Mediterranean diet.
A new report published by ACS Chemical Neuroscience suggests there is one component of olive oil that helps “shuttle the abnormal Alzheimer’s proteins out of the brain.” That protective agent is a substance called oleocanthal.
Amal Kaddoumi, researcher at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, is the leader of this new study. Kaddoumi says that Oleocanthal seems to protect nerve cells from the kind of damage that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease.
Kaddoumi's team looked for evidence on whether oleocanthal helps decrease the accumulation of beta-amyloid (Aβ) in the brain. Beta-amyloid is widely believed to be the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. The scientists used mouse models for their research. When they tracked oleochanthal in the mouse brains, the result was that the substance showed a consistent pattern in which it increased production of two proteins and key enzymes believed to be crucial in removing Beta-amyloid from the brain.
The report, which is funded by the National Institute of General Medicine of the National Institutes of Health, concludes that, “Extra-virgin olive oil derived oleocanthal associated with the consumption of Mediterranean diet has the potential to reduce the risk of AD or related neurodegenerative dementias."
Mediterranean diet food for thought
In a 2011 report, Christine C. Tangney, an associate professor of nutrition at Rush Medical College in Chicago, analyzed data from a continuing study of 3,790 Chicago residents 65 and older. They began studying the seniors in 1993. The scientists tested the study subjects’ mental acuity at three-year intervals, and tracked their degree of adherence to the Mediterranean diet on a 55-point scale. The results showed high scores achieved by those who adhered to the Mediterranean diet. This study was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Evidence increasingly supports eating in a healthy manner as a way to potentially avoid Alzheimer’s disease. This new study is one more nudge for us to change our eating habits to include larger amounts of extra virgin olive oil. Olive oil can be an acquired taste for those of us who’ve grown up consuming other fats, but most of us would benefit from using it more often. There could come a day when a pill containing isolated oleocanthal becomes available, but we’re not there yet. Meanwhile, it’s up to us to do what we can as we look for ways to stay healthy in general and to protect our brains from Alzheimer’s disease, if at all possible.
Science Daily (2013, March 20) Explaining How Extra Virgin Olive Oil Protects Against Alzheimer's Disease. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130320095423.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_camp
Liu, D. PhD (2012, November 29) Dietary pattern identified to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Retrieved from http://www.foodconsumer.org/newsite/Nutrition/Diet/dietary_pattern_identified_to_prevent_alzheimer_s_1029120741.html
Bakalar, N. (2011, January 13) Aging: Mediterranean Diet as Brain Food. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/18/health/research/18aging.html?_r=2&ref=health
Published On: April 04, 2013