12 January - 20 June 2016

Extra virgin olive oil may protect the brain against Alzheimer’s

A mouse study published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology is reporting that consumption of extra virgin olive oil may protect memory and learning ability and reduce markers of Alzheimer's disease.

A mouse study published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology is reporting that consumption of extra virgin olive oil may protect memory and learning ability and reduce markers of Alzheimer's disease. 

Previous research has indicated that the Mediterranean diet, of which extra virgin olive oil is a component, is associated with reduced risk of the development of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.  However, the researchers report that “the mechanisms involved in this protective ability remain to be fully elucidated.” 

The researchers used triple transgenic mice (mice who develop three characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease: memory impairment, amyloid plagues and neurofibrillary tangles).  At 6 months old, before the mice showed symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, Practico et al. split them into two groups and fed them, for 6 months, either a standard diet or a diet enriched with extra virgin olive oil.  At 6 months (baseline), 9 months, and 12 months old, the mice underwent a number of tests to measure working memory, spatial memory and learning ability.  These included Y-maze test, fear conditioning and the morris water maze test. After intervention the mice were sacrificed and their brains analysed for markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

Food e-News contacted the authors to find out how much olive oil the mouse received, Practico states “After all the appropriate calculation (body weight, amount of chow diet that a mouse ate daily, etc. ) we gave to the mice an amount that is equivalent to 10- 20 mL for humans  (1 to 1.5 tablespoon per day) for 6 months.”

Practico et al. report that apart from the treated mice having a higher body weight at 10 months, they did “not observe any statistically significant difference” between the control and treated mice during the study period.  The treated mice were found to perform better in tests measuring spatial learning and memory ability compared to the control group. Practico et al. found, after analysing the brains of the mice that “integrity of the connections between neurons, known as synapses, were preserved in animals on the extra-virgin olive oil diet.”  They state that “brain cells from mice fed diets enriched with extra-virgin olive oil had higher levels of autophagy and reduced levels of amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau”. Autophagy is noted as the process by which cells break down and clear out intracellular debris and toxins, such as amyloid plaques and tau tangles. The researchers report that they found that the extra virgin olive oil treated mice had a steady increase in levels of ATG5 and ATG7, biomarkers of autophagy activation. They report that phosphorylated tau is responsible for neurofibrillary tangles, which are through to contribute to the nerve cell dysfunction in the brain that is responsible for Alzheimer's memory symptoms.

In conclusion, the scientists state: “our investigation established for the first time to the best of our knowledge a protective effect of extra virgin olive oil in modulating tau phosphorylation, memory impairments, synaptic integrity and neuro inflammation in a mouse model of AD with plaques and tangles.”  They note that extra virgin olive oil could be considered as a viable therapeutic opportunity for preventing or halting Alzheimer’s disease.  

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