Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Giving the gift of ‘forget-me-nots’
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A number of studies have considered the effect of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) on memory function in mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in mice and now, for the first time, a study has been conducted that reviews the direct impact on the brain in humans. A recently published study has illustrated the effects of EVOO on the brain confirming that it improves the functioning of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and enhances brain connectivity.
Multiple studies have suggested that following a Mediterranean eating pattern improves cognitive functioning and slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). It is no coincidence that one of the main elements of the Mediterranean eating pattern is olive oil. EVOO is a high-quality oil, rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and phenolic compounds. The phenolic compounds have an antioxidant function and protect cells against oxidative damage, providing many health benefits.
Substantial evidence has shown that the development of AD involves a dysfunctional BBB. Aging and the presence of vascular conditions, including high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular diseases, can adversely impact the structure and functioning of the BBB. First time hearing about the BBB? Take a look at this video, which briefly explains what the BBB is and how it functions.
The endothelial cells of the BBB strictly control what enters the brain from the bloodstream, and any changes in the functioning of the BBB may allow toxic molecules to enter the brain and impair the expulsion of new or existing toxic molecules. This could lead to oxidative stress, neuroinflammation, disturbances of the functional brain network, and the impairment of blood flow to the brain, which could lead to MCI. MCI could advance to AD and related dementias. Thus, ensuring the integrity of the BBB is an important therapeutic target for the prevention, or delay, in the onset of AD and other dementias.
The study aimed to assess the effect of EVOO on people with MCI and provide a comparison against the effect of refined olive oil (ROO), which didn’t contain any phenolic compounds. The effect of olive oil intake on BBB function, as well as the effect on brain function was evaluated. Additionally, cognitive function changes and AD blood markers were assessed. Twenty-six men and women with MCI, aged between 55 – 75 years, were randomized to receive either 30 ml of EVOO or 30 ml of ROO daily (raw, not cooked) for 6 months.
The findings of this study demonstrated that the daily consumption of EVOO over 6 months may well enhance the functional connectivity of the brain and reduce BBB permeability. On the other hand, ROO did not alter the permeability of the BBB or brain connectivity, however, it did offer improvements in the clinical dementia rating scores and increased functional brain activation to a memory task. Interestingly, both oils reduced Aβ42/Aβ40 and p-tau/t-tau ratios, which are associated with an increased risk of MCI and AD. Somewhat surprisingly, both olive oils were found to offer benefits for the brain and may assist in the prevention of the onset of AD, illustrating the role of the monounsaturated fats they contain (e.g., oleic acid) on brain health. The differing effects of EVOO and ROO can be attributed to the presence, and role, of the phenolic compounds found in EVOO.
As with all studies, the results need to be interpreted together with the limitations of the study. The sample size was small and there was an absence of control groups for comparative purposes, such as participants who did not receive olive oil or those with normal cognitive functioning of the same age as the participants receiving the intervention. The treatment time was also relatively short, and studies held over a longer duration are needed to assess the effect of long-term ingestion of olive oil on the brain and its impact on cognitive function. This may offer an opportunity to better differentiate between the effects of EVOO and ROO. That being said, this was a pilot study and offers valuable information to pave the way for future research.
For more information on the study, refer to the reference below.
So, what message can we take home from this study?
Both EVOO and ROO offer benefits for the brain due to the type of fat found in these oils, however only EVOO appears to enhance brain connectivity and improve the functioning of the BBB, illustrating the important role of phenolic compounds in EVOO. Based on the study, at least 30 ml of raw, uncooked EVOO is needed daily to provide the aforementioned benefits in people over 55 years of age with MCI. However, people of any age and cognitive function should be encouraged to include EVOO in their regular eating patterns to protect them against MCI and in an attempt to delay the onset of MCI.
It is important to note that not all olive oil is created equal!
Make sure that you select locally sourced EVOO, and check the date of processing, to ensure that it is fresh and of good quality, which should mean that it is full of phenolic compounds. Ideally, you should consume EVOO as close to its date of production as possible to get the most out of it. Imported EVOO faces long travel time, which could impact the quality by the time it gets to you.
Liviana™ Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Nestled in a beautiful valley on the slopes of the Stellenbosch Mountains lies our olive grove where we delicately handpick our organic olives in small batches. Each assemblage is carefully crafted with our unique cold extraction method and gently infused with just the right amount of the purest premium, organic CBD from the United States of America. At Liviana™ we are committed to exceptional quality, guaranteeing only the finest organic extra virgin olive oil – read more here.
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Kaddoumi, A, Denney, TS, Jr, Deshpande, G, Robinson, JL, Beyers, RJ, Redden, DT, Praticò, D, Kyriakides, TC, Lu, B, Kirby, AN, et al. 2022. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Enhances the Blood–Brain Barrier Function in Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients, 14(5102) https:// doi.org/10.3390/nu14235102
Registered Dietitian, Postgrad. Dipl. Diabetes