Olive oil, that cooking liquid so popular today with chefs at home and in restaurants, hasn’t always been a culinary staple. There was a time when one of the few places you would find it was as a partner with red vinegar in salad dressing. And then, sometime in the latter part of the last century, olive oil began to come into its own.
A variety of restaurants, beginning with those featuring Italian cuisine, began serving this golden oil as a substitute for butter. Today, many restaurants serve olive oil flavored with herbs and spices, as well as the popular parmesan cheese. Pleasant flavor is not the only plus for olive oil. Scientists have reported that monounsaturated oils like olive, contrasted with high-fat, saturated shortenings like lard, for example, can actually improve your health. They say monounsaturated oils may help lower your risk of heart disease by lowering your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) levels.
Now scientists also may be close to solving the mystery of exactly why consuming extra virgin olive oil helps reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD). They say that the answer may be that one part of the olive oil helps push the abnormal AD proteins out of the brain. Noting that while 30 million people suffer from the disease around the world, a smaller percentage of people in Mediterranean countries have AD. The reason: scientists have thought that it was due to the large quantities of olive oil in the diet in that part of the world.
Amal Kaddoumi and his team note that recent studies, however, indicate that a substance called oleocanthal in the oil may protect nerve cells from the kind of damage associated with Alzheimer’s. The team has been looking for evidence that, in fact, oleocanthal does help decrease the accumulation of beta-amyloid in the brain. Researchers believe that beta-amyloid is a key player in AD.
Reporting in ACS Chemical Neuroscience, the team described how they followed the effects of oleocanthal in the brains and cultured brain cells of lab mice. In both parts of the study, the substance clearly ramped up production of two proteins and key enzymes believed to be crucial in cleansing the brain of beta-amyloid.