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Can olive oil reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s?

According to new research by the Harvard School of Public Health, yes! The study found that people who consume higher amounts of olive oil have lower risks of developing health conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

In this blog, we’ll break down exactly what the research says, why olive oil offers so many health benefits, and give you some easy ways to add more olive oil to your daily diet!

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The study:

Earlier this month, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology released a study that analyzed the data of 60,582 women and 31,801 men over the course of 28 years. The researchers specifically analyzed how much olive oil the participants consumed, other vegetable oils they ate, and how much butter and margarine they had. Over the course of the study, around 36,000 of the participants died.

Researchers found that those who had 7 grams or more of olive oil per day had a reduced risk of dying of heart disease, respiratory disease, cancer, or Alzheimer’s disease than those who rarely or never consumed olive oil.

Specifically, the researchers found that those who consumed the highest amount of olive oil per day (around a tablespoon) had a:

  • 29% lower risk of dying from a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s

  • 17% lower risk of dying from cancer

  • 18% lower risk of dying from a respiratory illness

  • 19% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease

The study also found that those who consumed the most olive oil tended to live healthier lives than those who did not. Participants who consumed the most olive oil also tended to be more physically active, ate more fruits and vegetables, and were less likely to smoke than those who did not eat a lot of olive oil.

One important thing to note is that while the researchers found a link between consuming higher amounts of olive oil and a lower risk of dying from multiple health conditions, they did not prove that consuming more olive oil actually causes the lowered risk. Some of the other factors in play could be the healthier lives of those who consumed more olive oil when compared to those who did not. As we all know, smoking habits and physical activity also impact your risk of various health conditions. However, this study does offer interesting insight into the benefits of olive oil consumption.

What kind of olive oil should you add to your diet?

Unfortunately, not all olive oil has the same benefits. So, when you’re looking to add more olive oil to your diet, it’s important to know what kind of olive oil to buy. The process of making olive oil is the differentiator between regular olive oil and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). EVOO contains no additives and is created with only raw olives that are crushed into pulp and separated into oil and the rest of the olive remains. These leftover olive materials are then combined with chemicals to make regular olive oil, which will obviously contain less nutritional value and flavor than EVOO.

One tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil contains:

  • 14% of your daily value (DV) of saturated fat,

  • 73% of your DV of monounsaturated fat (mostly oleic acid),

  • 13% of your DV of Vitamin E,

  • and 7% of your DV of Vitamin K.

One tablespoon of regular olive oil contains much less nutritional value. Thus, in the following sections, when we speak to the benefits of olive oil, we are specifically referring to extra virgin olive oil.

Benefits of extra virgin olive oil:

Largely, EVOO is so beneficial because it is mostly composed of monounsaturated fats. This type of fatty acid can help to reduce the amount of “bad” cholesterol in your body. Less “bad” cholesterol will also lower your risk of stroke and heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. Further, healthy fats, like those in olive oil, are anti-inflammatory and offer protective qualities for the brain, which may help lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Consuming unhealthy fats like processed foods and margarine can increase inflammation throughout the entire body, including the brain.

Further, the anti-inflammatory properties of EVOO help to clear beta-amyloid plaques from the brain. EVOO contains oleocanthal and oleic acid, two antioxidants that fight inflammation. A recent study on the effects of oleocanthal demonstrated that the nutrient works similarly to ibuprofen in decreasing inflammation. Researchers estimate 50 ml of EVOO contains enough oleocanthal and has the same effects as 10% of the adult ibuprofen dosage for pain relief. Oleocanthal also reduces the formation of β-amyloid, senile plaques, a pathological hallmark of Alzheimer's Disorder, in the brain.

EVOO also protects against heart disease and insulin resistance. Extra Virgin Olive Oil contains vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin that has great effects on the blood. Vitamin K is vital for healthy coagulation and regulating calcium levels in the blood. The powerful nutrient protects against insulin resistance and several types of cancer. The anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil are also what give it protective properties against heart disease.

Multiple studies have demonstrated that EVOO can help to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. One study found a 48% reduction in the need for blood pressure medication in patients with high blood pressure who consumed olive oil.

Olive oil has been shown to lower the level of total blood cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. LDL cholesterol is the type that increases your risk of heart attacks and pulmonary heart disease. EVOO reduces the oxidation effects of LDL cholesterol by protecting the LDL particles.

Other benefits of regular consumption of extra virgin olive oil include:

  • Improved blood vessel health

  • Reduced risk of developing gallstones

  • Improved function of the endothelium

  • Prevent unwanted blood clotting

  • Improved skin quality and anti-aging effects

  • Destruction of cancer cells

  • Stroke prevention

  • Alleviate rheumatoid arthritis

How to add more olive oil to your diet:

Now that we’ve convinced you to add more EVOO into your daily diet, here are some easy ways to do it!

  1. Incorporate EVOO into your cooking → EVOO can easily be used in place of butter in many recipes! For example, instead of roasting or frying your meal in butter, try using extra virgin olive oil.

  2. Swap out butter for EVOO in your baking → In baking recipes that call for butter, you can use EVOO instead. Baking with olive oil actually helps to increase the freshness and shelf life of your baked goods because of the vitamin E it contains. Here are the butter/margarine to EVOO conversions

    • 1 teaspoon → ¾ tablespoon

    • 1 tablespoon → 2 ¼ tablespoons

    • 2 tablespoons → 1 ½ tablespoon

    • ¼ cup → 3 tablespoons

    • ⅓ cup → ¼ cup

    • ½ cup → ¼ cup & 2 tablespoons

    • ⅔ cup → ½ cup

    • ¾ cup → ½ cup & 1 tablespoon

    • 1 cup → ¾ cup

  3. Use EVOO as a topping → Olive oil makes a great finishing oil on many different cuisines and snack foods. For example, try topping your roasted veggies, pizza, mashed potatoes, salads, and bread with EVOO.

  4. Make your own EVOO salad dressing → Instead of using salad dressing purchased at the grocery store, try making your own with EVOO. Making your own dressing also allows you to avoid the additives and preservatives in most store-bought salad dressings. Follow these guidelines for making your very own (and delicious) vinaigrette.

  5. Use EVOO in your marinades → Extra virgin olive oil makes the perfect base ingredient in countless marinades for a variety of seafood and meats. It can help to draw out the unique flavors in meats without overpowering them.

  6. Use EVOO on your sandwiches → Instead of using mayo or mustard on your next sandwich, try using EVOO.

For more information about optimal health at The Johnson Center, click here to contact us. Or, email our office at or call 276-235-3205, to set up your complimentary 15-minute discovery call with Dr. Johnson!

The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!


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