A person pours olive oil into a pot on a stove.Share on Pinterest
A new study looks at the potential health benefits of consuming olive oil. Adene Sanchez/Getty Images
  • A new study finds consuming olive oil is linked to a lower risk of death related to dementia.
  • The study tracked 92,383 people.
  • The study found consumption of at least 7 grams a day of olive oil was associated with a 28% lower risk of death from dementia-related causes.

Olive oil consumption was shown to be associated with a lower risk of death from dementia-related causes, a new study found.

The study, published by JAMA, examined data from 1990 to 2018 and assessed olive oil consumption every four years and breaking that consumption into four categories:

  • Never or less than once a month
  • More than 0 but under or equal to 4.5 grams a day
  • More than 4.5 grams a day but under or equal to 7 grams a day
  • More than 7 grams a day

The data was taken from the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. The study tracked 92,383 people — 60,582 women and 31,801 men — who were “cognitively highly functioning”; it excluded anyone with a history of cancer or cardiovascular disease, with missing data on olive oil intake, or whose total energy intakes were “implausible” (under 500 or more than 3,500 kcal a day for women/under 800 or more than 4,200 kcal a day for men).

Over the study period, questions about the frequency of fats and oils consumed were included in the queries conducted every four years, with 1 tablespoon of olive oil considered to be 13.5 grams.

Researchers found 4,751 dementia-related deaths in the study cohort over the 28-year period. Ultimately, the study says, consumption of at least 7 grams or about half a tablespoon a day of olive oil was associated with a 28% lower risk of death from dementia-related causes.

“Beyond heart health, the findings extend the current dietary recommendations of choosing olive oil and other vegetable oils for cognitive-related health,” the authors wrote.

How does olive oil affect cognitive health?

Olive oil contains high levels of so-called healthy fats — monounsaturated fatty acids — along with vitamin E and polyphenols, which are plant-based compounds that can help protect the body from type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. They also aid digestion and support brain health.

Melanie Murphy Richter, a registered dietitian nutritionist and the director of communications for the nutrition company Prolon, who was not involved in the research, told Healthline that this unique structure of olive oil is what facilitates its ability to support cognitive functions.

“Consuming adequate amounts of monounsaturated fats, including those from olive oil, supports proper communication between brain cells and also helps to surround and insulate our brain’s nerve fibers, allowing efficient transmission of electrical impulses along our neural pathways. Strong neural pathways are necessary for a variety of brain functions like learning, speaking, and memory,” Richter said. “The polyphenols in olive oil, which are potent antioxidants, also have neuroprotective effects and can help protect neurons from inflammation and oxidative stress. High levels of inflammation in the brain is strongly associated with neurodegenerative disorders like dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.”

How is olive oil different from other plant or seed oils?

Olive oil is a major component of the Mediterranean diet, which has been associated with overall wellness. But a number of other oils are widely accessible to consumers: vegetable, coconut, sunflower, and avocado. Richter says that what sets olive oil apart are its fats: along with higher monounsaturated fats, olive oil has lower amounts of saturated fats.

“While our body needs both Omega 3 and Omega 6 for optimal health, vegetable and seed oils are higher in Omega 6 than Omega 3, which is known to promote inflammation in the body,” Richter said.

Richter also pointed out that humans are now consuming Omega 6s at much higher rates than before due in part to consuming seed oils in processed foods.

“This has been linked to higher oxidative stress and the onset of diseases related to inflammation,” Richter said. “Olive oil is much higher in Omega 3, which can help balance out these ratios and support improved health and longevity. Additionally, extra virgin olive oil contains higher levels of antioxidants, by way of polyphenols, which can reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and other brain-related degeneration.”

What should people look for when choosing olive oil?

Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic Dept of Department of Wellness & Preventive Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, and a senior fellow at the Meadows Behavioral Healthcare in Wickenburg, Arizona, who was also not involved in the research, told Healthline that “olive oil does not have to be expensive to be high in quality.”

There are a number of factors to consider when picking an olive oil, you can check the country of origin, harvest date and type of bottle (dark glass protects the oil from UV rays.0 Additionally, be sure to look for “extra virgin” status, which is the highest grade of olive oil.

Olive oil prices have spiked recently as climate-related supply concerns begin to affect producers. Richter cautioned against opting for the cheapest varieties, as they can contain processed elements that work against the oil’s healthy aspects.

“Not all olive oils are created equal,” Richter said. “There are different processing methods used in the production of olive oil that can either protect or degrade its overall nutrient content. For instance, cold-pressed olive oils that are not processed with heat or other chemicals are going to have the highest nutritional profile.”

Takeaway

A new study found that consuming more than 7 grams a day of olive oil was associated with a 28% lower risk of dementia.

The higher concentration of monounsaturated fats and polyphenols, a potent antioxidant, make olive oil extremely beneficial for neurological health.

Olive oil prices have spiked recently due to climate-related supply concerns, but experts say you still should be cautious about what type of oil you buy; extra-virgin or cold-pressed organic varieties are best.