Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. It’s a progressive condition that affects the areas of the brain having to do with memory, language, and thought. While it’s not known what exactly causes the disease, age is a risk factor — it’s more common in adults over the age of 60 — and genetics may also play a role.

Diet and lifestyle factors may also be a part of it. Researchers are trying to understand what can actually reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This article will examine olive oil’s relationship to Alzheimer’s disease and overall brain health.

Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. A 2006 study suggests that following the Mediterranean diet may, in fact, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, a 2018 study found that the diet may help slow the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

As for the benefits of olive oil on its own, a 2021 study suggests that it could play a role in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers note that oleuropein aglycone, a polyphenol found in high levels in extra-virgin olive oil, reduced the formation of amyloid deposits, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

Keep in mind that this was an in vitro study, which means it was conducted on a collection of lab-grown cells. It’s unclear if olive oil has the same effect in humans.

A 2017 animal study found that mice that regularly consumed olive oil seemed to have a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. With additional research, particularly in humans, the study authors note that consuming olive oil might eventually become an effective tool for helping to either prevent Alzheimer’s disease or slow its progression.

While the research around olive oil and Alzheimer’s disease sounds promising, more human studies are needed to paint the full picture of how — and to what extent — consuming olive oil affects your risk.

That said, if you’re trying to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, adding olive oil to your diet in moderation may be worth a try.

What’s the best fat for the brain?

Olive oil contains high levels of unsaturated fats, which are some of the best fats for your brain. There are two types of unsaturated fats:

  • Monounsaturated fats: These are most abundant in plant-based foods, including olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados.
  • Polyunsaturated fats: These include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are key for brain health. You can find these fats in fatty fish, like salmon or herring, and seed oils, like flax seed or grape seed oil.
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Olive oil isn’t just good for your brain. It’s also rich in oleic acid, which may help reduce inflammation, and antioxidants, which could lower your risk of various diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

Consuming olive oil may also help:

  • reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes
  • kill H. pylori, a bacteria that can cause infections that increase your risk of ulcers and stomach cancer
  • ease symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, especially when combined with fish oil

Not all olive oils are the same, so it’s important to know how to find the best one that will provide the most health benefits.

  • Look for extra-virgin olive oil: This is the type of olive oil that Alzheimer’s disease studies have used the most. It’s also the least processed olive oil, meaning it retains more antioxidants and other beneficial compounds.
  • Make sure the olive oil is in an opaque or dark glass bottle: Otherwise, the oil will be exposed to ultraviolet rays, will oxidize, and some of its nutrients will break down.
  • Check the label for details like when it was harvested: The longer it’s been sitting on the shelf, the more time it has had to oxidize.
  • Look for an organic seal: In addition, look for oils with either DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) or PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) labels, both of which ensure quality through the European Union’s standards.
  • Choose a smaller bottle: This ensures that the bottle isn’t sitting on your shelf for a long time before being used. The longer it sits, especially once opened, the more the quality breaks down.

Note that many brands sell either diluted olive oil or other oils falsely labeled as olive oil. When researching olive oil brands, look for the certifications mentioned above, as well as transparency in the brand’s harvesting and processing methods.

You can also look for the seal of the North American Olive Oil Association, or NAOOA, seal when you’re shopping. The organization keeps a list of its certified brands by store name to make it easy for you to find quality olive oils.

With olive oil having so many health benefits, it’s natural to have some questions about how to incorporate its use into your everyday life.

How much olive oil can you drink in a day?

It’s not clear whether drinking olive oil is more beneficial than simply incorporating it into your meals. But some people report that drinking olive oil makes them feel nauseous, especially if they drink it on an empty stomach.

While there is no set recommendation, anecdotal reports suggest that consuming 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil per day is safe and effective.

Before drinking olive oil, consider talking with a healthcare professional to determine how much you should aim to consume. They can also help you determine whether you should drink it or incorporate it into your meals.

Should you keep olive oil in the refrigerator?

It depends. Olive oil should be kept between 55°F and 60°F (13°C and 16°C) for ideal preservation. If your kitchen or pantry is about 70°F (21°C), you don’t have to refrigerate it. However, if it’s often warmer, storing it in the fridge might be best.

For long-term storage, refrigeration is recommended, except for premium extra-virgin olive oils.

Does olive oil improve memory?

Research from 2018 found that olive oil, along with a Mediterranean diet, helped reduce cognitive impairment and the effects of aging on the brain. It’s not clear, however, whether the effects are from olive oil alone, the diet, or both.

A 2012 study previously found that the polyphenols in extra-virgin olive oil helped reverse age- and disease-related learning and memory problems in mice. The polyphenols appeared to help reduce oxidative stress in the brain.

Does olive oil help reduce inflammation?

Oleic acid, which is found in olive oil, does appear to have anti-inflammatory properties, according to research from 2012.

In addition, the 2017 animal study mentioned earlier suggests that olive oil may help reduce neuroinflammation, which refers to the activation of the brain’s immune response. Neuroinflammation could contribute to certain neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Olive oil, particularly extra-virgin olive oil, may offer some protective effects against Alzheimer’s disease. However, most of the existing research around olive oil for Alzheimer’s disease was performed on animals or lab-grown cells, so it’s still unclear whether these effects apply to humans.

If you’re interested in trying olive oil to help reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, start by incorporating a few teaspoons into your diet each day. You may wish to talk with a healthcare professional about how much you should aim to consume per day. Just be sure to keep up with any other prescribed medications you take, as olive oil isn’t an adequate substitute on its own.