A Spoonful of Olive Oil May Help Keep Dementia Away: Study

Good news for olive oil lovers! A recent study suggests that a daily drizzle of this heart-healthy fat might also benefit your brain. Researchers found people who consumed more olive oil had a lower risk of dying from dementia-related causes.

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A Spoonful of Olive Oil May Help Keep Dementia Away: Study
3 Min Read May 8th, 2024

Dementia is a growing challenge on a global scale. According to the World Health Organization, over 55 million people worldwide currently live with dementia, with that number projected to nearly double every 20 years. Shockingly, estimates suggest by 2050, this number could reach almost 139 million, as reported by Alzheimer's Disease International.

In the United States, the situation is no less concerning. The Alzheimer's Association reports that nearly 7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia. This number is expected to rise dramatically, reaching almost 13 million by 2050.

This surge in dementia cases is primarily attributed to the increasing life expectancy, as dementia affects older adults more significantly, according to WHO. Unfortunately, a significant portion of people with dementia require care and supervision as the disease progresses. The Alzheimer's Association estimates that around 70% of people with dementia will eventually need some form of long-term care, placing a significant burden on families and healthcare systems alike.

In the United States, traditional health insurance, including Medicare, only pays for short-term skilled care, leaving families uninsured for long-term care costs unless they have Long-Term Care Insurance or qualify for Medicaid, which requires the care recipient to have little income and assets.

The Study: Olive Oil and Dementia

The research, published in JAMA, the peer-reviewed medical journal of the American Medical Association, looked at data from a large group of U.S. adults over a long period. They compared people who rarely used olive oil with those who consumed over a half tablespoon (around 7 grams) daily. The results showed that the higher olive oil consumers had a 28% lower risk of dementia-related death.

This association was even stronger when participants replaced unhealthy fats like margarine and mayonnaise with olive oil. Interestingly, substituting other fats like butter didn't show the same benefit.

"Researchers found replacing about one teaspoon of margarine and mayonnaise with the equivalent amount of olive oil was associated with an 8 to 14 percent lower risk of dying from dementia."

Marta Guasch-Ferre, Adjunct Associate Professor of Nutrition at Havard, said the study suggests the health benefits of olive oil.

It has been shown, in both our study and others, that higher olive oil consumption is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases and dementia-related mortality, regardless of the consumption of other foods and lifestyle factors.

Olive Oil - What This Means for You

While this study can't definitively prove that olive oil prevents dementia, it suggests a potential link. The researchers believe the healthy fats and antioxidants in olive oil might protect brain health.

This was an observational study, meaning it can't prove cause-and-effect. Additionally, the participants were mainly health professionals, so the results may not apply to everyone. More research is needed to confirm these findings.

Substituting Unhealthy Fats with Olive Oil Might Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

It is not the first time a study showed the health benefits of olive oil. A previous study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers found that individuals who included at least a daily half tablespoon of olive oil in their diet had a 14% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and an 18% lower risk of coronary heart disease compared to those who did not use olive oil. 

Marta Guasch-Ferré, who was also the lead author of that study, emphasized in a May 12, 2020, New York Times article that the heart health benefits are derived from using olive oil in place of saturated fats found in products like butter, margarine, or mayonnaise.

It's not just about adding olive oil to the diet but rather replacing harmful fats with olive oil.

Incorporating More Olive Oil

If you're looking to add more olive oil to your diet, here are some tips:

  • Drizzle it on salads, vegetables, and pasta.
  • Use it for marinades and dipping sauces.
  • Choose extra virgin olive oil for the most health benefits.

Participants who consumed more olive oil experienced a reduced risk of death from dementia, independent of the quality of their diet or their adherence to the Mediterranean diet, which includes ample fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and moderate amounts of fish and poultry.

Remember, a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet, regular exercise, and good sleep habits is crucial for overall brain health. Consult your doctor before making significant changes to your diet.

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About the Author

Linda Maxwell is a retired journalist who now focuses on writing about topics that captivate her, such as aging, health, long-term care, and retirement issues. Her aim is to maintain an active and engaged mind, and through her writing, she hopes to help others stay positively engaged with life.

LTC News Contributor Linda Maxwell

Linda Maxwell

Contributor since December 11th, 2017

Editor's Note

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