Olive Oil Combats Dementia-Related Mortality

Olive oil being poured over a salad in a small bowl

Recent findings published in JAMA Network Open suggest that consuming olive oil regularly may significantly reduce the risk of dementia-related deaths. This study, leveraging data from two large prospective cohorts – the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study – provides compelling evidence of the health benefits associated with this staple of Mediterranean cuisine.

The study followed 92,383 participants over 28 years, recording 37,649 deaths, of which 4,751 were related to dementia. The data revealed that individuals who consumed more than 7 grams of olive oil daily (roughly half a tablespoon) experienced a 28% lower risk of dying from dementia compared to those who consumed less. Initially, average olive oil intake among the participants was a modest 1.3 grams/day.

Those with higher olive oil consumption not only had a better overall diet quality but were also more likely to engage in healthy behaviors such as increased physical activity and less smoking. Surprisingly, despite higher caloric intake from greater olive oil consumption, these individuals did not have higher Body Mass Indexes (BMI), which suggests that the type of calories consumed—particularly those from healthy fats—might play more of a role in health outcomes than the quantity of calories.

Nutrition experts outside of the study have weighed in, noting that olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, which are known for their beneficial effects on brain and cognitive health. Olive oil is also a good source of vitamin E and polyphenols—antioxidants that protect cells and blood vessels, including those in the brain. The anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil further contribute to its protective effects, as chronic inflammation is a recognized factor in cognitive decline and the aging process of the brain.

The study also explored the health impacts of substituting other fats with olive oil. Replacing just 5 grams/day of margarine and mayonnaise with olive oil was linked to an 8% to 14% lower risk of dementia-related mortality. However, replacing other vegetable oils or butter with olive oil did not result in a significant reduction in risk, highlighting olive oil’s unique health benefits.

Aside from its effects on brain health, olive oil has been associated with reduced risks of various other diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Given these wide-ranging benefits, experts recommend incorporating olive oil into a daily diet as a primary fat source. Simple changes like using olive oil for cooking, making homemade salad dressings, or drizzling it over proteins before cooking can increase daily consumption. Some support the idea of simply drinking a tablespoon of olive oil, sometimes mixed with lemon juice, on a daily basis.

While the study underlines the association between olive oil and reduced risk of fatal dementia, it is an observational study and does not establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship. Nonetheless, the consistency of these findings with existing literature on the health benefits of monounsaturated fats and antioxidants is encouraging.

Olive oil is a simple yet powerful dietary choice for maintaining brain health and reducing the risk of dementia. Its protective benefits, along with a healthy lifestyle, could significantly enhance quality of life and longevity.