A new study from Temple University's Lewis Katz School of Medicine revealed that eating extra-virgin olive oil could help preserve memory and learning ability, as well as protect the brain from Alzheimer's.

The study, published in the journal Annals of Clinical and Transitional Neurology, showed that protective effects of extra-virgin olive oil stems from its ability to reduce inflammation in the brain. Additionally, extra-virgin olive oil can activate a certain process known as autophagy.

"This is an exciting finding for us," said Domenico Praticò, MD, Professor in the Departments of Pharmacology and Microbiology and the Center for Translational Medicine at LKSOM and senior author of the study, in a press release. "Thanks to the autophagy activation, memory and synaptic integrity were preserved, and the pathological effects in animals otherwise destined to develop Alzheimer's disease were significantly reduced. This is a very important discovery, since we suspect that a reduction in autophagy marks the beginning of Alzheimer's disease."

For the study, the researchers used the so-called triple transgenic model, a well-established mouse model for Alzheimer's disease. In this model, the animals develop memory impairment, amyloid plagues and neurofibrillary tangles.

The researchers divided the mouse models into two groups. Both groups received a chow diet. At six months, before the symptoms of Alzheimer's begin to emerge, one group's chow diet was enriched with extra-virgin olive oil.

There is no difference in the appearance between the mice in the two groups. However, the researchers observed that mice in the group given with chow diet enriched with extra-virgin olive oil performed better on tests design to assess working memory, spatial memory and learning abilities than those mice that received normal chow diet.

Aside from performing better in the tests, the mice fed with extra-virgin olive oil have more synaptic integrity than those who did not. There is also a significant increase in nerve cell autophagy activation in the brain cells of the animals that received the chow diet enriched with extra-virgin olive oil, resulting to reduced levels of amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau, which are known classic markers of Alzheimer's disease.