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This Food Could Prevent Alzheimer's
It's time to start cooking with extra-virgin olive oil. Why? It appears to preserve memory and protect the brain against Alzheimer's disease, according to medical researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia.

It has long been known that a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in plant-based foods and olive oil, has many health benefits. Now a specific ingredient in extra-virgin olive oil has been shown to not only protect memory and learning ability, but also reduce the formation of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain--classic markers of Alzheimer's disease.

Olive oil is one of 10 foods that can help lower your cholesterol to heart-healthy numbers.

Most important, the Temple team, led by Domenico Praticò, M.D., found that extra-virgin olive oil activates autophagy, the process by which cells break down and clear out intracellular debris and toxins, such as amyloid plaques and tau tangles.

The study: In order to investigate the relationship between extra-virgin olive oil and dementia, Dr. Praticò and colleagues used a well-established Alzheimer's disease mouse model. Known as a triple transgenic model, the animals develop three key characteristics of the disease: memory impairment, amyloid plagues and neurofibrillary tangles.

The researchers divided the animals into two groups, one that received a chow diet enriched with extra-virgin olive oil and one that received the regular chow diet without it. The olive oil was introduced into the diet when the mice were six months old, before symptoms of Alzheimer's disease begin to emerge in the animal model.

The results: In overall appearance, there was no difference between the two groups of animals. However, at age 9 months and 12 months, mice on the extra virgin olive oil-enriched diet performed significantly better on tests designed to evaluate working memory, spatial memory and learning abilities.

However, studies of brain tissue from both groups of mice revealed dramatic differences in nerve cell appearance and function. "One thing that stood out immediately was synaptic integrity," Praticò said. That is, the integrity of the connections between neurons, known as synapses, were preserved in animals on the extra-virgin olive oil diet. In addition, compared to mice on a regular diet, brain cells from animals in the olive oil group showed a dramatic increase in nerve cell autophagy activation, which was ultimately responsible for the reduction in levels of amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau.

Why is this important? When the process of autophagy is reduced, it marks the beginning of Alzheimer's disease. Extra-virgin olive oil helps maintain autophagy, possibly preventing Alzheimer's.

What is a Mediterranean diet? Just as the name implies, it is characterized by the traditional cooking style of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Every meal is centered on plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, herbs and spices. Olive oil is used in place of all other fats. Fish, poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt can be consumed in moderate amounts, while red meat and sweets are eaten only occasionally. Red wine, in moderation, is optional.

The study findings were published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.

Find out why a Mediterranean diet may be the best brain food of all.

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