Extra virgin olive oil staves off some forms of dementia

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Boosting brain function is key to staving off the effects of aging and adding extra virgin olive oil to the diet may keep the brain young, according to new research by scientists at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University and published in the journal Aging Cell.

Extra virgin olive oil is a superfood, rich in cell-protecting antioxidants and known for its multiple health benefits, including helping put the brakes on diseases linked to aging, most notably cardiovascular disease. Previous research on mice also showed that olive oil preserves memory and protects the brain against Alzheimer's disease.

For the study, researchers put mice on a diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil at a young age, comparable to about age 30 or 40 in humans. Six months later, when mice were the equivalent of age 60 in humans, tauopathy-prone animals experienced a 60 percent reduction in damaging tau deposits, compared to littermates that were not fed olive oil. Animals on the olive oil diet also performed better on memory and learning tests than animals deprived of olive oil.

When the researchers examined brain tissue from olive oil-fed mice, they found that improved brain function was likely facilitated by healthier synapse function, which in turn was associated with greater-than-normal levels of a protein known as complexin-1. Complexin-1 is known to play a critical role in maintaining healthy synapses.

Alzheimer's disease is itself one form of dementia. It primarily affects the hippocampus, the memory storage center in the brain. Frontotemporal dementia affects the areas of the brain near the forehead and ears. Symptoms typically emerge between ages 40 and 65 and include changes in personality and behavior, difficulties with language and writing, and eventual deterioration of memory and ability to learn from prior experience.

Future research will explore what happens when extra virgin olive oil is fed to older animals that have begun to develop tau deposits and signs of cognitive decline, which more closely reflects the clinical scenario in humans, the researchers said.