Michael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

The Science of the Med Diet: Unveiling Its Potential Role in Dementia Prevention

While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent cognitive decline, new research suggests a delicious dietary pattern might offer a glimmer of hope.


The disease is a growing concern worldwide.

While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent it, I’m excited that new research suggests a delicious dietary pattern might offer a glimmer of hope.


This essay will explore the potential link between the widely celebrated Mediterranean diet and dementia mortality risk.

Spoiler alert: the news is promising.

A growing body of research suggests that incorporating staples of the Mediterranean diet, like olive oil, might be associated with a lower risk of dying from dementia.

Photo by Fulvio Ciccolo on Unsplash

So, is the Mediterranean diet the new “brain food”?

This article explores the fascinating science behind this dietary pattern and its potential impact on cognitive health.

We’ll unpack the research, explore the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, and answer the question: Could a simple change in diet be a powerful tool for protecting brain health?

Could Daily Olive Oil Be Your Secret Weapon?

Dementia is a looming concern for me.

I do not have a high risk of ever having the condition, but I would like to keep my chances of suffering from dementia as low as possible.

While there’s no magic bullet for prevention, a new study offers an exciting possibility — a delicious dietary addition that might be a powerful tool for protecting brain health.

A New Study Examines Olive Oil and Dementia

Harvard researchers have unveiled promising findings regarding the link between olive oil consumption and dementia mortality risk.

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

Their study, published in JAMA Network Open, tracked over 92,000 adults for 28 years.

The Big Olive Oil Experiment: Here’s Who Took Part

The researchers behind this olive oil and dementia study cast a wide net.

They followed a massive group of people for over two decades.

Here’s a breakdown of the participants:

  • Over 92,000 People: That’s a lot of folks — almost 100,000 people participated in the study. The study began when participants were, on average, 56 years old.
  • Women and Men: The research included nearly 60,600 women and over 32,000 men.
  • Long-Term Tracking: The participants were part of two existing large health studies that had been tracking people for many years:
  • Women’s Health: From 1990 to 2018, nearly 60,000 women participated in the Nurses’ Health Study, which focused on risk factors for major chronic diseases in women across North America.
  • Men’s Health: Over 32,000 men participated in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which also ran from 1990 to 2018. This study mirrored the women’s study but focused on risk factors for chronic diseases in men.

The researchers used a special questionnaire every four years to understand people’s eating habits.

They also used a scoring system called the Alternative Healthy Eating Index.

Photo by MK. on Unsplash

This system assigns points to different foods and nutrients based on their link to preventing chronic diseases.

According to this system, the higher your score, the healthier your diet is.

Study Findings

The results are intriguing:

Subjects consuming a daily amount of olive oil of at least 7 grams (a bit over half a tablespoon) had a significantly lower risk of dementia-related death than rare- or never-consumers.

Those consuming olive oil had about a one-quarter (28 percent) dementia risk reduction.

The Science of Olive Oil

Could a daily drizzle of olive oil be the key to safeguarding your cognitive health?

Is a spoonful of olive oil truly a spoonful of dementia defense?

Photo by Flor Saurina on Unsplash

The study also looked at what people swapped for olive oil. Here’s what they found:

  • Olive Oil Switch: People who replaced around 1.2 teaspoons of daily margarine or mayonnaise with olive oil had an 8 to 14 percent lower risk of dying from dementia.
  • Not All Fats Are Created Equal: Substituting other vegetable oils or butter for margarine/mayonnaise didn’t show the same benefit as olive oil.

The study findings suggest that olive oil might have a unique advantage in brain health compared to other common fats.


The researchers have a few theories about why olive oil might be linked to a lower risk of dementia death:

  • Antioxidant Power: Olive oil may contain antioxidant compounds that can cross the blood-brain barrier and directly influence brain health.
  • Heart Health Connection: Olive oil might also indirectly affect the brain by promoting cardiovascular health. Since poor heart health is a risk factor for dementia, this could be a contributing factor.

Study imitations

While the study results are intriguing, it’s important to consider some limitations of observational studies:

  • Lifestyle Factors: People who consume olive oil might have healthier lifestyles, which could influence the results. It isn’t easy to completely separate the effect of olive oil from other lifestyle choices.
  • Dietary Assessment: The study assessed diet quality using a system with only nine points, and it might need to capture the full picture of a healthy diet. Broader dietary assessments might be needed.
Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST on Unsplash
  • Vascular Connection: Since vascular disease is a major cause of dementia, anything that improves cardiovascular health, like not smoking, could also reduce dementia risk. Olive oil consumption has been linked to better heart health so that the observed dementia risk reduction could be partially due to this connection.

The study suggests that olive oil consumption may reduce dementia risk, but more research is needed to understand the cause and effect fully.

Final Thoughts

Beyond its delicious flavor, olive oil boasts a range of health benefits, including supporting heart, brain, and bone health.

It is relatively easy to incorporate olive oil into my diet.

I use extra-virgin olive oil for salad dressings, cooking, and as an addition to my protein drinks.

Be Skeptical

Finally, while olive oil may confer health benefits, sharing meals with friends or family can improve cognitive function and mental well-being.

Photo by Pete Godfrey on Unsplash

So, drizzle on the olive oil, gather your friends and family, and enjoy a delicious and brain-healthy meal together.

But view the study skeptically; the research endeavor is observational and does not represent high-level evidence.

I enjoy the taste of extra-virgin olive oil, so I will continue to consume the substance regularly.

Be Skeptical

In conclusion, while the study’s findings on olive oil consumption and its potential link to a lower risk of dementia-related death are intriguing,

I encourage you to view them with a degree of skepticism due to the observational nature of the study.

Further research is necessary to establish a causal relationship between the Mediterranean diet and dementia mortality risk.

To fully understand the impact of dietary patterns on cognitive health, it’s essential to consider other lifestyle factors and conduct more comprehensive studies.

We Need High-Level Evidence

However, these findings underscore the importance of ongoing research in exploring the potential influence of dietary choices on brain health.

Photo by Fuu J on Unsplash

They also emphasize the need for individuals to consider making informed dietary decisions as a part of a holistic approach to reducing the risk of dementia.

I enjoy the taste of extra-virgin olive oil, so I will continue to consume the substance regularly.


Medika Life has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by Medika Life

Michael Hunter, MD
Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Connect with Dr. Hunter



All articles, information and publications featured by the author on thees pages remain the property of the author. Creative Commons does not apply and should you wish to syndicate, copy or reproduce, in part or in full, any of the content from this author, please contact Medika directly.