Islamabad - New research explores the neurological benefits of extra-virgin olive oil and finds that it may help to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

New research suggests that extra-virgin olive oil - a key component of the Mediterranean diet - may protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. Mouse experiments revealed changes in both cognitive performance and the appearance of nerve cells.

Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to affect approximately 5 million people in the United States. The neurodegenerative disease is progressive and cannot yet be cured or reversed.

But new research moves closer to a prevention - and potentially reversing - strategy, by studying the effects of extra-virgin olive oil on the cognitive performance and brain health of mice.

Extra-virgin olive oil is a key component of the Mediterranean diet, which is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil , and nuts.

The new study was carried out by a team of researchers from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) in Philadelphia, PA.

Lead investigator Dr Domenico Praticò - a professor in the departments of Pharmacology and Microbiology and the Center for Translational Medicine at LKSOM - explains why several studies have singled out olive oil and hailed it as the main reason why the Mediterranean diet is linked to so many health benefits.

“The thinking is that extra-virgin olive oil is better than fruits and vegetables alone, and as a monounsaturated vegetable fat it is healthier than saturated animal fats,” he says.

Olive oil preserves brain cell health

In terms of general appearance, no differences were noted between the two animal groups.

But, when the mice were 9 months and 12 months old, the mice that had been fed the extra-virgin olive oil diet performed much better in the cognitive tests.

Dr Praticò and his team also analyzed the brain tissue of these mice, and the studies revealed striking differences between the appearance and functioning of the nerve cells.

Firstly, the integrity of the synapses - which are the parts of the brain cell that facilitate communication among neurons - was preserved much better in the olive oil group. Secondly, the brain tissue in the mice fed olive oil revealed a “dramatic increase” in the autophagy activation of the nerve cells.

Autophagy is a process that sees nerve cells disintegrate and eliminate the toxic debris that tends to accumulate between the cells.

In this experiment, the increase in autophagy led to a decrease in the amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau.

Dr Praticò says, “This is an exciting finding for us. Thanks to the autophagy activation, memory, and synaptic integrity were preserved, and the pathological effects in animals otherwise destined to develop Alzheimer’s disease were significantly reduced.” Meanwhile, a new study reveals that Resveratrol, which is naturally found in grapes, taken together with grape seed extract may suppress colon cancer stem cells.

Colon cancer is a very common form of cancer, affecting tens of thousands of people across the United States. Researchers may have just moved closer to a prevention strategy for this condition, as a compound that suppresses colon cancer stem cells is found in grapes.

In the US, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of death from cancer among women and the second in men.

The American Cancer Society estimate that in 2017, more than 95,500 people will develop cancer of the colon, almost 40,000 people will have rectal cancer, and more than 50,000 deaths will be caused by colorectal cancer.

A team of researchers led by Jairam K P Vanamala, associate professor of food sciences at the College of Agricultural Sciences at Pennsylvania State University in State College, set out to examine the effects of grape compounds on colon cancer stem cells.

More specifically, the researchers tested the effect of a combination of resveratrol - a polyphenolic compound found in grapes, red wine, peanuts, and some berries - and grape seed extract.

As the authors write, the study rests on the theory that “most, if not all, cancerous tumours are driven by [cancer stem cells].”