Some olive oils fight heart disease and cognitive decline. But to get the greatest benefit, you need to pick the right stuff
Reprinted from an article in AARP Bulletin by Clint Carter, April 2020
In normal times, Italians outlive Americans by an average of four years. But in the Sicani Mountain region of Sicily, marked by rolling hills covered with olive trees, the locals live past 100 at a rate more than four times greater than Italy as a whole.
Sicani Mountain villagers eat a Mediterranean diet, snacking on olives and using the fruit’s oil to prepare dinner. As a result, their arteries are as supple as those of people 10 years younger, researchers say.
“We’ve known for 50 or 60 years that the Mediterranean diet is beneficial for health, but olive oil is emerging as the most important ingredient,” says Domenico Praticò, MD, director of the Alzheimer’s Center at Temple University. Among people in olive-growing regions, the incidences of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and even cognitive decline are very low.
How Olive Oil Offers Hope
Praticò and others have been exploring the effect of extra-virgin olive oil, or EVOO, on the brain. They’ve discovered that compounds in the fat of this high-grade oil can flush out proteins that gum up the communication channels between brain cells. That might delay, and even possibly reverse, Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
One compound that seems to drive this effect is an olive-derived polyphenol called oleocanthal. In animal studies at Auburn University, oleocanthal demonstrated an ability to “rinse out” amyloids, which form the plaques associated with Alzheimer’s. In mice EVOO can “flush out” tau, a protein that hinders language skills and memory in humans.
But not all the EVOO sold at the supermarket is as potent as the oil that researchers use to “flush out” neurotoxins. In lab tests more than half of imported EVOO purchased at retail failed to meet standards of quality and flavor (a marker of antioxidant content) established by the Madrid-based International Olive Council. In a 2015 analysis from the National Consumers League, 6 in 11 EVOOs obtained from reputable stores such as Safeway and Whole Foods failed the extra virgin test. They were either mislabeled or had degraded during shipping and storage. So what does all this mean? You need to know a few shopping tricks if you want to get all the protection that EVOO offers to the centenarians of the Sicani Mountains.