Tuesday May 11 6:10 PM ET
NEW YORK, May 11 (Reuters Health) -- While the heart-smart benefits of the typical Mediterranean diet are well established, new research suggests that such diets, which are rich in olive oil, may also stave off age-related memory loss in healthy, elderly people.
In the May issue of the journal Neurology, researchers led by Dr. Antonio Capurso of the University of Bari in Italy, report that of 278 senior citizens, those who consumed diets high in monounsaturated fats were less likely to experience age-related cognitive decline compared with people who ate less monounsaturated fats.
"It appears that high monounsaturated fatty acid intakes, mostly present in vegetable oils and particularly in extra-virgin olive oil, the main fat of the Mediterranean diet, protect from age-related cognitive decline," Capurso concluded in a statement.
Exactly how high amounts of monounsaturated fats stave off mental decline is not yet known, but Capurso and colleagues speculate that monounsaturated fatty acids may help maintain the structure of brain cell membranes.
"It seems that in the aging process there is an increasing demand for unsaturated fatty acids," the investigators write.
In terms of heart disease prevention, monounsaturated fats are believed to help lower low density lipoprotein (LDL) levels or "bad" cholesterol, but do not affect levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol.
Aside from olive oil, monounsaturated fats can also be found in walnuts, pork, chicken, beef, turkey, eggs, mackerel and herrings, and in sesame, palm, corn, sunflower and soybean oils.
In the new study, participants reported eating 46 grams of olive oil a day, on average. Overall more than 17% of their daily calories were from monounsaturated fats, 85% of which came from olive oil, the researchers report.
The more monounsaturated fats that participants consumed, the more protected they were against age-related cognitive decline, the study findings showed.
Other studies have found that higher levels of education also protect
against memory loss in later life. In this study, however,
monounsaturated fats strongly protected against memory loss even among participants with low education levels.
SOURCE: Neurology 1999;52:1563-1569.