Core Ingredient of the Mediterranean Diet Keeps Dementia at Bay
The traditional diet of people living on the Greek island of Crete is well-known for its ability to promote a healthy and long life.
One element of their diet counts for as much as a third of an individual's daily need for energy. This culinary ingredient is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers.
In addition, recent research suggests it can help keep the brain healthy and lower the risk of dementia. Keep reading to discover how you too can benefit from this key ingredient today.
Clears Away Damaging Cellular Debris
Domenico Praticò is Professor and Director of the Alzheimer's Center at Temple University, Philadelphia.
He and his research associates are interested in whether a staple of the Mediterranean Diet, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), has an impact on different aspects of brain health, including amyloid and tau pathologies; the plaques and tangles linked to Alzheimer's.
The results of several other research group studies have already demonstrated olive oil consumption helps reduce amyloid growth, clear deposits, mitigate against age-related memory decline and decrease the onset of Alzheimer's in laboratory animals.
In Professor Praticò's first study, his team fed EVOO to young mice engineered to develop Alzheimer's. As they aged, the diet helped protect their memories and learning abilities. In addition, they didn't develop amyloid plaques or other pathological changes typically seen in cognitive decline. Remarkably, their brains actually looked normal.
Professor Praticò also announced "a very big breakthrough" that came from the study. It demonstrated for the first time that EVOO activates autophagy-- literally “self-eating” -- the brain's way of cleaning out damaged cells and toxins that accumulate with aging.
Scientists have recently focused their attention on autophagy as it's considered a key process that might be faltering in those who develop dementia.
Reduces Tau Deposits by 60 Percent
In his follow-up study published last November, he turned his attention to tau.
Tau is becoming the focus of many neuroscientists as their doubts grow about the impact of amyloid plaques on brain health. That’s because many elderly people have brains awash with amyloid yet maintain razor sharp mental function. Tau, on the other hand, is beginning to look like a more credible target than amyloid in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
When the brain gets gummed up through overexpression of tau protein, nerve cells are prevented from receiving nutrients and the junctions of neurons (synapses) are blocked, so brain cells cannot communicate. In time this leads to their death.
Tauopathies, or the pathology of tau deposits, are strongly linked to Alzheimer's and various forms of dementia, in particular a type called frontotemporal dementia where symptoms typically occur in those aged between 40 and 65.
For the new study, all the mice were genetically tweaked to overproduce tau proteins. Unchecked, this would eventually lead to the equivalent of frontotemporal dementia in humans.
One group began a high EVOO diet at six months of age while another group of control mice continued to eat their regular chow.
At one year of age (equivalent to about age 60 in humans) the mice fed EVOO had 60 percent fewer tau deposits compared to controls. They also performed better on learning and memory tests.
The EVOO group also had better synapse function. This was facilitated by higher levels of Complexin-1, a protein that plays a critical role in keeping synapses healthy.
"Collectively, our findings," the scientists concluded, "provide strong preclinical evidence in support of the novel concept that EVOO should be considered as a potential and viable multi-targeting agent not only for Alzheimer's but also for primary tauopathies."
Consume Two Tablespoons a Day
In an interview Professor Praticò said of EVOO, "The realization that it can protect the brain against different forms of dementia gives us an opportunity to learn more about the mechanisms through which it acts to support brain health."
As to whether rodent studies will be confirmed in humans, he's optimistic.
Those who follow a traditional Mediterranean diet, with its high level of olive oil, have a much lower incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease compared with people who eat a Western diet.
He was also impressed with a human trial conducted in England where one group ate a regular diet and the other did the same but with EVOO added.
Three years later, when cognition and memory were tested, the professor said, "the observations were really startling," because while cognitive markers in the control group deteriorated, they remained stable in the EVOO group; in other words, their brains were aging at a slower pace.
His advice? Add two tablespoons of cold pressed extra virgin olive oil to your diet every day.