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To cut strokes, don't spare the olive oil!

by Martin Leggett 15 Jun 2011
To cut strokes, don't spare the olive oil!

Olive oil can add another string to its 'healthy eating' bow, according to recent research that is to be published today in Neurology - the online journal of the American Academy of Neurology. It seems that for many seniors, a dash or three of extra virgin olive oil can do much to help prevent one of the curses of old age - strokes. Strokes are a major cause of death and disability in the Western world, ranking second only to heart disease, with 1 in 10 deaths linked to severe strokes.

But researchers have long noticed that strokes rates vary considerably around the world - and have linked Mediterranean-style diets to a definite decrease in stroke incidence. And amongst the fresh fish, vegetables, and red wine, commonly consumed by people from Mediterranean cultures, a widespread ingredient is olive oil. So health scientists from France's University of Bordeaux decided to see whether they could tease out the effect of olive oil, on stroke rates, for 7,000 older French citizens - from the towns of Bordeaux, Dijon and Montpellier.

They selected only those seniors, 65 and over, with no previous record of problems with strokes, and put them into three groups - those who used olive oil intensively, for cooking, dressing and with bread; those who used it moderately, just for cooking or as dressing; and those who didn't use olive oil at all.

Nearly all of the participants making olive oil part of their diet used extra virgin olive oil - it is pressed mechanically, and has the lowest acidity, as well as the highest levels of healthy mono-saturated fats.

Five years later, the health records of those taking part in the study were checked, to see which groups had suffered from strokes. In all there were 148 strokes amongst the participants, but these were not split evenly between the olive-using categories. The olive-oil loving 'intensive use' group had stroke rates of just 1.5%, significantly less than the 2.6% see with those who didn't touch olive oil at all.

That is potentially good news for those prone to suffering strokes, as olive oil can be incorporated into the diet quite easily.

Lead author, Cecilia Samieri - from the University of Bordeaux, and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) - thinks this should prompt action from health authorities. 'Our research suggests that a new set of dietary recommendations should be issued to prevent stroke in people 65 and older,' she said. 'Stroke is so common in older people and olive oil would be an inexpensive and easy way to help prevent it.'

But Nikolaos Scarmeas, of Columbia University, offers a note of caution. The exact mechanism by which olive oil helps prevent stokes is not clear - and it's possible that some of the benefits may come from the foods eaten with olive oil. Still, it seems likely that olive oil, as a part of Mediterranean-slanted diet, can chalk up stroke prevention, to the impressive list of protections it already brings; lowering the risks of diabetes, 'bad' cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity.

Top Image Credit: © Comugnero Silvana


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