**Some olive oils fight heart disease and cognitive decline. But to get the greatest benefit, you need to pick the right stuff**

In normal times, Italians outlive Americans by an average of four years.  But in the Sicani Mountain region of Sicily, marked by rolling hills covered with olive trees, the locals live past 100 at a rate more than four times greater than Italy as a whole.

Sicani Mountain villagers eat a Mediterranean diet, snacking on olives and using the fruit’s oil to prepare dinner.  As a result, their arteries are as supple as those of people 10 years younger, researchers say.

“We’ve known for 50 or 60 years that the Mediterranean diet is beneficial for health, but olive oil is emerging as the most important ingredient,” says Domenico Pratico, MD., director of the Alzheimer’s Center at Temple University.  Among people in olive-growing regions, the incidences of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and even cognitive decline is very low.


Pratico and others have been exploring the effect of extra-virgin olive oil, or EVOO, on the brain. They discovered that compounds in the fat of this high-grade oil can flush out proteins that gum up the communication channels between brain cells.  That might delay, and even reverse, Alzheimer’s and other dementias.


Not all the EVOO sold at the supermarket is as potent as the oil that researchers use.  In lab tests more than half of imported EVOO purchased at retail failed to meet standards of quality and flavor (a marker of antioxidant content). Here are a few shopping tricks:


  1. Look for “extra virgin.”  That distinction means the oil is free of flavor defects.
  2. Pick a dark bottle. Dark glass or tins offer much better protection.  And Store in a cool, dark place.
  3. Check the bottle date. To find the freshest oil, look for the best-before date, which is usually 18 to 24 months from when the oil was bottled.  If the best-before date is just a few months away, find a fresher oil.  Once you open the bottle and expose the oil to oxygen, it begins to degrade.
  4. Buy from California. California began standardized testing in 2014.  One doctor had dozens of patients who took 1 to 2 tablespoons of EVOO daily and it had no effect.  Once he switched them to California oil, their cholesterol improved.
  5. Give it a swig. The more potent an oil’s flavor, the more powerful its protective effects.  If you feel a slight burn in the back of your throat, it means the oil has high levels of oleocanthal, the polyphenol that’s been shown to bust up Alzheimer’s plaques.


(written by Clint Carter for AARP Bulletin, April 2020)