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Olive oil and nuts for a well-oiled brain

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Consuming olive and walnut oil, two foods rich in vegetable fats at the base of the Mediterranean diet, made it possible to increase brain performance in seniors. We know that the brain needs good quality fats for the proper functioning of neurons. Thanks to a supplement of olive or walnut oil, it is possible to delay cognitive decline in seniors.

Previous research has shown that oxidizing substances are harmful to the brain and in particular promote dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly.

Studies had shown in particular that the Mediterranean diet, rich in antioxidant substances, made it possible to delay cognitive decline. The team of researchers therefore tried to find out whether or not a Mediterranean diet rich in vegetable oils could improve the proper functioning of the brain.

The Mediterranean diet is based on a regular and large consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, cereals, seeds, nuts, fish and olive oil. This diet includes a low consumption of red meat. For more and more doctors and scientists, it is the best diet to follow for good health.

1 liter of extra-virgin olive oil and 30g of walnuts per week

To carry out this study, the scientists recruited, between 2003 and 2009, 447 volunteers (men and women) residing in Barcelona who did not present a cognitive disorder, such as dementia, but all had a high cardiovascular risk.

The average age of the participants was 67 years old. At the start and end of the study, each participant was required to complete a neuropsychological assessment, which means that at the end of the study data was available for 334 out of 447 participants.

The study was randomized. This means that by drawing lots, each participant was led to follow a Mediterranean diet supplemented with 1 liter of extra-virgin olive oil per week, 30 gr of nuts (including almonds) per day in addition or to follow a normal diet without consuming more olive oil or nuts.

In this last group, scientists recommended that they not consume a lot of fat. Three groups were thus formed. On average, participants followed this diet for 4 years.

For an elderly population, the Spanish researchers have come to the conclusion that consuming in addition to a usual diet, 1 liter of olive oil per week or 30 g of walnuts can improve the cognitive functions of the brain. To reach these conclusions, the researchers made participants pass a battery of tests, in particular testing memory and reflection.

Protection of myelin sheaths

Neurons are surrounded by a myelin sheath, which is rich in fat and protein. The myelin sheath protects neurons and promotes interaction between cells. The brain needs fat from the diet to maintain and ensure proper functioning of these myelin sheaths. It is believed that the healthier this fat, like the oleic acid found in olive oil, the better the brain performs. Omega-3s found in particular in nuts or fish also play an important role in the structure of the myelin sheath.

Practical nutrition advice

It is recommended to eat nuts and almonds every day or to cook as much as possible with olive oil. A practical tip is to replace butter with olive oil as much as possible.

Valls-Pedret: Mediterranean Diet and Age-Related Cognitive Decline: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Internal Medicine. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.1668.

* Presse Santé strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the advice of a health professional.

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