Updated: Aug 27
It’s one of the saddest diseases of all – seeing a loved one losing touch with reality and drifting off into a world of their own. Alzheimer’s disease sufferers eventually don’t recognize even close family members as we look on, helpless to provide anything other than loving care.
Recently the scientific world has taken an interest in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) because links have been found between the Mediterranean diet and fewer occurrences of dementia in general and Alzheimer’s in particular. Now EVOO is seen as a major factor.
What is Alzheimer’s disease (AD)?
Here are some quick facts about AD that may help to understand its impact:
It’s a disease of the brain
The root cause is not fully known
There is no cure
It mostly affects people over 65 and about 6% of that age group gets it
Eventually, it kills sufferers
Life expectancy after diagnosis is 3 to 9 years
Globally, about 30 million people suffer from AD
It kills about 2 million people each year
Dementia is the name for a group of brain diseases that impact our ability to remember and to think
AD is the most common form of dementia, making up 50% to 70% of cases
What are the symptoms of AD?
Loss of memory, especially recent memory, which manifests as forgetfulness. Language difficulties and general deterioration in cognitive ability. Mood swings and uncharacteristic outbursts. Confusion and disorientation.
The Mediterranean Diet fights brain disease
It has long been known that people following a Mediterranean diet experience less dementia. Some of the elements that are believed to contribute to this marvelous benefit include
Extra virgin olive oil
Oily fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, cod, and tuna
Green leafed vegetables such as spinach, kale, and broccoli
Fruit and nuts such as blueberries and walnuts
Red wine and dark chocolate (just a little of each!)
Why does science think that EVOO can help fight Alzheimer’s disease?
Soon after it was realized that the Mediterranean diet appeared to benefit our brains, science began to investigate the reasons why. This is a very slow process that involves a great number of studies covering all the foods that are typical of the diet.
Research is still at a very early stage. In Britain, the National Health Service has acknowledged that EVOO does indeed appear to have positive benefits that require further investigation.
What does AD do to the brain?
As the disease progresses, the changes in the brain become more complex. The biochemical and neuropathological explanations are difficult for non-medical people to understand. However, a critical early stage can be summarised like this:
Neural synapses are joins or channels whereby a nerve cell can send information to other nerve cells. Very toxic proteins called ADDLs bind with these synapses and interfere with nerve cell functions.
This kills cells, which causes loss of memory and damages wider brain functions. Technically, the classic markers of Alzheimer’s are amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.
How EVOO combats Alzheimer’s
Oleocanthal is a natural substance found in EVOO. It is what gives the best EVOO its hot peppery effect at the back of the throat. It has some similar anti-inflammatory properties to ibuprofen.
Importantly, oleocanthal changes the structure of these proteins and thereby restricts their ability to bind with neural synapses and damage them.
Here are two recent scientific studies on the beneficial effects of Oleocanthal as a
and extra virgin olive oil as an
Is this a potential cure for Alzheimer’s?
It’s not a cure although further studies and research may lead to the development of related drugs. What it does indicate is that including good quality EVOO in your diet may prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s in the first place. That protects memory and learning ability. Therefore, it’s a preventative measure rather than a cure.