Extra virgin olive oil s a major component in the Mediterranean diet that’s widely considered the healthiest way to eat for health and longevity. People from this region are some of the healthiest and long-lived people on the planet.
Some of the well-known health advantages of olive oil include its ability to help boost the immune system, increase bone density, prevent heart disease, and reduce risk of diabetes. Another equally important, but often overlooked, benefit of olive oil is its contribution to good brain health.
Benefit #1: Olive Oil is high in brain-protective antioxidants
Your brain uses a lot of oxygen — 20% of your total intake. This makes it especially vulnerable to oxidation caused by free radicals.
If you’ve ever seen a cut apple turn brown or an old car get rusty, you’ve seen oxidation at work.
A similar process happens in the cells of your brain. It contains over 30 phenolic compounds that are potent antioxidants and free radical scavengers. The health benefits of olive oil are believed to be largely due to its high level of polyphenols. Polyphenols also play an important role in keeping bottled oil fresh.
Benefit #2: Olive oil is high in essential brain vitamins
Olive oil is a significant source of vitamins E and K, two vitamins with proven brain benefits. Vitamin E helps prevent mental decline as we age.
Vitamin E, especially in the presence of vitamin C, works to maintain a good memory, slow memory loss, and significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. (12)
Vitamin E can minimize the damage caused by a stroke by redirecting blood supply after the event. It’s an effective antioxidant which helps protect the brain from free radical damage. Vitamin K is found mainly in green leafy vegetables.
If you don’t eat as many of these as you should, you can get the vitamin K you need from olive oil. Vitamin K helps keep your brain sharp as you age and boosts your brain processing speed.
It can improve your ability to remember words, a big problem for many of us as we get older. Vitamin K is believed to play a role in preventing Alzheimer’s since patients are often found to be deficient.
Benefit #3: Olive oil decreases risk of depression
One of the most unexpected olive oil benefits is that it can reduce the risk of depression. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is loaded with unhealthy trans fats from fast food, processed food, and vegetable oils like canola, sunflower, soy, and safflower which are extracted with heat and chemical solvents.
When participants in a large study replaced unhealthy vegetable oils with olive oil, their risk of depression plummeted by almost 50%. Researchers concluded that the more trans fats consumed, the higher the risk of depression.
Benefit #4: Olive oil increases brain-boosting chemicals
Another surprising benefit of olive oil is that it boosts levels of two critical brain chemicals, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF). These compounds encourage the formation and repair of brain cells.
BDNF is a protein that stimulates new brain cell formation.
BDNF can offset the negative effects of stress on the brain.
Low levels of BDNF are associated with depression.
Nerve growth factor enhances the growth, repair and signaling of sensory nerve cells which are responsible for transmitting information such as sight and sound. Monounsaturated fats — the kind found in olive oil — increase levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, the brain chemical of memory and learning.
Benefit #5: Olive oil helps protect the brain from degenerative diseases
The last brain benefit of olive oil is that it can ward off cognitive decline. Higher intake of monounsaturated fats improves memory and other cognitive functions in seniors.
Eating a Mediterranean diet high in olive oil can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 40%.
Olive oil is an essential part of the MIND diet. This variation of the Mediterranean diet has been shown to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s by an impressive 53%. If you’ve ever eaten olive oil and noticed that it made the back of your throat itch, that sensation was caused by oleocanthal.
Oleocanthal is an anti-inflammatory polyphenol that can cross the blood-brain barrier to clear the brain of the beta-amyloid proteins associated with Alzheimer’s. The vitamin E in olive oil has also been found to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.