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Can olive oil reduce your risk for dementia?

A bowl of oil-based dressing next to a plate of salad and half an avocado.

May 20, 2024—You’ve probably heard about the importance of eating a heart-healthy diet. But what about a brain-healthy one? Hundreds of studies have shown a link between a Mediterranean-style diet and better brain health, according to the American Academy of Neurology (AAN).

A new study in JAMA went even further. Researchers looked specifically at the link between olive oil consumption and the risk of dying with dementia later in life.

The facts

The study included 60,582 women and 31,801 men. They were asked how often they ate certain foods. The questionnaires were repeated every four years between 1990 and 2018. Researchers used this information to look for possible connections between olive oil and dementia.

Olive oil linked to lower risk

Compared to participants who rarely or never included olive oil in their diet, those who consumed at least 7 grams—about half a tablespoon—per day:

  • Had a 28% lower risk of dementia-related death.
  • Consumed more total calories—but did not have a higher BMI.
  • Were more likely to be physically active and less likely to smoke, two traits that are also linked to a reduced risk of dementia.

The olive oil lovers were linked to a reduced risk of death from dementia even after researchers adjusted for lifestyle and other factors. And the lower risk was not linked to their overall dietary pattern.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that even small swaps could reduce the risk of dementia-related death. For example:

  • Replacing 5 grams of margarine with olive oil each day was linked to an 8% lower risk.
  • Replacing 5 grams of mayonnaise with olive oil each day was associated with a 14% lower risk.
  • Swapping butter and other oils had no effect on dementia death risk.

One possible explanation: During the study period, margarine and mayonnaise were sources of hydrogenated trans fats. Those fats have been linked to a higher risk of dementia and other health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. Today, new rules ban adding partially hydrogenated oils to foods.

What it means for you

No single food can prevent dementia. But maintaining healthy eating habits, like including olive oil and other healthy fats in your diet, might help keep your brain healthy as you age. Or, try these 4 foods to boost your brain health.


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