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Olive oil, a staple in Mediterranean cuisine, might be more than just a flavorful addition to your meals. According to a study presented this week at the NUTRITION 2023 conference, olive oil can help reduce the risk of fatal dementia.

This pioneering study, the first of its kind to explore the connection between diet and dementia-related death, was conducted by a team of scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Their research supports existing dietary guidelines advocating the use of olive oil for brain health.

The study examined data more than 90,000 Americans over the course of three decades—60,582 participants were women; 31,801 were men. Over the course of the study, 4,749 participants died from dementia.   Researchers found that participants who consumed more than half a tablespoon of olive oil each day had a 28% lower risk of dying from dementia, compared to those who never or rarely consumed olive oil.  The study also showed how replacing a single teaspoon of margarine or mayonnaise with olive oil each day was also associated with a lower risk of dying from dementia of between 8-14%.

The study is observational and doesn’t prove causation.  But one of its authors, Anne-Julie Tessier, RD, PHD suggests that the fact the study’s findings were independent of overall diet quality may indicate that is something special about olive oil in protecting against dementia, such as the fact the antioxidants in olive oil can cross the blood-brain barrier.

Dementia, an overarching term for a variety of conditions leading to severe loss of cognitive abilities, can significantly disrupt daily life and activities. With Alzheimer’s disease, the most prevalent form of dementia, impacting over 6 million Americans and considered fatal due to lack of a cure, these findings could have profound implications.

This new study builds upon previous research, aligns with dietary recommendations, and bolsters the evidence for using olive oil in place of less healthy fats. It brings a ray of hope in the fight against devastating conditions like dementia, suggesting that simple lifestyle changes, such as modifying our diet, can potentially prevent or slow the progression of these diseases. While more research is needed, olive oil may indeed be an unexpected but potent ally in our dietary arsenal against dementia.

Tessier AJ, et al. Olive oil intake and fatal dementia risk in two large prospective U.S. cohort studies. Presented at: NUTRITION; July 22-25, 2023; Boston.


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