Improving brain function is essential to counter the effects of ageing.
And according to a study by researchers at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) in the United States, if there is one more thing that everyone should consider doing to keep their brains “young”, c is to add extra virgin olive oil to his diet. Extra virgin olive oil (or EVOO, for “extra virgin olive oil”) is a superfood rich in antioxidants that protect cells and known for its many health benefits, in particular, to help curb related diseases with ageing, such as cardiovascular disease. Previous research also carried out at LKSOM, had shown that EVOO preserves memory and protects the brain against Alzheimer’s disease. And in a new study carried out on mice, the LKSOM researchers show that it is possible to add to this list another group of diseases linked to ageing, tauopathies, characterized by the progressive formation of an abnormal form d a specific protein linked to dementia, the tau protein, in the brain. This process leads to a decline in mental function or dementia.
The results are the first to suggest that EVOO can help the brain defend itself against a specific type of mental decline associated with tauopathy, called frontotemporal dementia. The results of the study were published in the journal Aging Cell. Extra virgin olive oil to fight against different forms of dementia Alzheimer’s disease is in itself a form of dementia. It mainly affects the hippocampus, the memory storage centre in the brain. Frontotemporal dementia affects areas of the brain near the forehead and ears.
Symptoms usually appear between the ages of 40 and 65 and include changes in personality and behaviour, language and writing difficulties, possible deterioration in memory and the ability to learn from experiences. Dr Domenico Praticò, holder of the research chair in Alzheimer’s disease from the Scott Richards North Star Foundation, professor in the departments of pharmacology and microbiology and director of the Alzheimer Center of LKSOM, describes this new work as additional evidence showing the ability of EVOO to prevent cognitive decline and to protect the focal points of neurons, synapses, crucial elements of information sharing in the brain. “EVO has been in human food for a very long time and has many health benefits, for reasons that we do not yet fully understand,” he said. “The realization that EVOO can protect the brain from different forms of dementia gives us the opportunity to learn more about the mechanisms by which it works to promote brain health.
- In previous research on a murine model, in which mice were modified to develop Alzheimer’s disease, the Praticò team showed that EVOO provided in the diet protected young mice from loss of memory and learning disabilities as they get older. Improved memory and learning and decreased amyloid plaques Specifically, when researchers looked at the brain tissue of mice fed EVOO, they did not observe the typical features of cognitive decline, especially amyloid plaques, sticky proteins that saturate the communication channels between neurons. In other words, the animals’ brains looked normal. In the case of this new study, similar consequences could be observed. Indeed, the team shows that the same goes for mice designed to develop tauopathy.
In the latter, the normal tau protein becomes defective and accumulates in the brain, forming deposits of harmful tau proteins, also known as “tangles”. Tau deposits, similar to amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease, block neural communication and thus impair thinking and memory, leading to frontotemporal dementia. The sick mice of the experiment were then subjected to a diet supplemented with EVOO at a young age, comparable to approximately 30 or 40 years in humans. Six months later, when mice were 60 years old in humans, harmful tau deposits had been reduced by 60% in animals at risk for tauopathy, compared to other non- fed animals extra virgin olive oil. Mice on the EVOO diet also showed better performance in memory and learning tests than those deprived of EVOO.
Healthier functioning of synapses When Dr. Praticò and his colleagues examined the brain tissue of mice fed EVOO, they found that improved brain function was probably facilitated by healthier functioning of synapses, which was associated with higher than normal levels of a protein called Complexin- 1. Complexin-1 is known to play a critical role in maintaining healthy synapses. The research team now plans to explore what happens when EVOO is given to older animals, which have started to develop tau protein deposits and signs of cognitive decline, which more closely matches to the clinical scenario in humans. “We are particularly interested in knowing whether EVOO can reverse the damage caused by the tau protein and ultimately treat tauopathies in older mice,” added Dr Praticò.