How to Fix Your Leaky Brain
A relatively new player in the discussion of factors leading to Alzheimer’s is the breakdown of the so-called blood-brain barrier (BBB). The blood-brain barrier is essentially a checkpoint within the blood vessels within the brain that serves to restrict toxic molecules from gaining access to the brain tissue itself. So delicate and sensitive is the brain that it requires this added level of protection. When this barrier breaks down, it creates a situation that might be referred to as “leaky brain.” And unfortunately, this condition is common, and leads to increased inflammation, reduced clearance of toxic proteins like beta-amyloid, increased oxidative stress, and even compromised blood flow. As such, it’s no surprise that breakdown of the blood-brain barrier is strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurodegenerative conditions as well.
This condition is associated with common conditions including cardiovascular disease, elevated blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, and atherosclerosis. And one of the most powerful threats to the integrity of the blood-brain barrier is aging.
As it relates to Alzheimer’s disease, the literature describing the relationship of various lifestyle choices like poor diet, lack of quality sleep and exercise has gained a lot of attention. And with good reason as these relationships pave the way for interventional trials with the hope of actually improving the mental performance of Alzheimer’s patients. And as it relates to diet, one central theme that arises in so many of the reports is the positive role of the Mediterranean diet as it relates to brain health and disease.
Deconstructing the Mediterranean diet reveals one important characteristic. It features good, healthful fats. And in this discussion, olive oil seems to take the spotlight. So, let’s take a look at some new research that sheds light on a novel mechanism by which olive oil may prove to be so beneficial for the brain. And this takes us back to our earlier discussion of the blood-brain barrier.
In a 2022 study entitled: Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Enhances the Blood–Brain Barrier Function in Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Randomized Controlled Trial, researchers here in America conducted a trial involving 25 participants suffering from mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a prelude to Alzheimer’s disease. The subjects were asked to consume 30 mL of either refined olive oil (ROO) of extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) for 6 months.
The participants were evaluated to assess their brain function, blood-brain barrier permeability, and degree of functional connectivity of their brain cells using a variety of advanced brain imaging techniques. In addition, measures of beta-amyloid, a threatening brain protein were measured.
The findings of this study are important and have really important implications. Those that were given either ROO or EVOO showed significant improvements in a standardized clinical dementia rating scale and significant reductions in blood levels of beta-amyloid. EVOO was also shown to improve functional connectivity of brain cells and improved blood-brain barrier permeability! These findings were not observed with refined olive oil.
The authors stated:
This proof-of-concept study justifies further clinical trials to assess olive oil’s protective effects against AD and its potential role in preventing MCI conversion to AD and related dementias.
This is a pretty exciting development in our understanding not only of the role of declining functionality of the blood-brain barrier, but importantly, what we can do to fix the problem. It makes clear the notion that the quality of olive oil we choose to consume seems to matter a lot. And finally, how empowering it is for all of us to get the message that a non-prescription food choice can pave the way to better brain health!