If you’re a health buff, you might have heard somewhere down the grape vine that olive oil can contribute to a healthy mind and possibly even make you smarter. Well, it turns out there’s actually some truth behind that idea. Olive oil contains some nutritive compounds that are actually very important for keeping our brains functioning properly. Read on to find out more!
Why would olive oil make you smarter?
There are a couple of reasons olive oil is considered to be a powerful nutritive for enhancing the function of the brain, all of which are associated to its nutritional profile.
Fatty acid content
Olive oil contains a lot of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), just like avocados and nuts, which are also foods touted to improve your cognitive abilities. Foods high in MUFAs have been linked to increases in intelligence, but why?
You have to look at what intelligence is generally measured by to understand how these nutrients can help you improve your cognitive ability. Intelligence, in general, relies upon the connections that your brain makes – the neural network. A strong neural network means that your brain is easily able to send messages to and from different regions, thus making it easier to transmit information.
There’s a particular part of your brain that’s responsible for intelligence, known as the dorsal attention network. Researchers at the University of Urbana-Champaign in Illinois observed the way the DAN communicates and connects with different regions of the brain and analyzed the quality of the neural network involved.
The results showed that higher levels of MUFAs are linked with a more consistent and strong level of communication to and from the DAN. In this way, MUFAs can directly affect a person’s cognition by enhancing their brain cells ability to communicate.
In addition to being chock full of the healthy fats that our brain craves so much, olive oil is also a great source of a couple of vitamins that most people don’t even realise they need.
- Vitamin E is present in notable amounts in olive oil. It’s been shown to prevent cognitive decline as we age, particularly when taken in conjunction with vitamin C. It’ll help you retain your memory and lower your chance of developing mental illnesses like Alzheimer’s.
- Vitamin K, which is typically found in leafy green vegetables, is another brain vitamin that olive oil has in abundance. It’s known to enhance the speed at which your brain can process information, which can be observed by enhanced verbal fluidity and articulacy. Vitamin K is also thought to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s – many people with the disease are deficient in vitamin K.
This idea that olive oil can enhance your brain function has been floating around for quite a while. We’ve actually already written an article on the original idea that led to the notion of olive oil being a good brain function booster: the Mediterranean diet.
The diet has been touted for quite some time for its ability to improve brain function, and it’s generally acknowledged that a good part of that reason is because the diet uses tons of olive oil. (Though the oodles of vegetables and fish certainly don’t hurt, either).
So just how smart will olive oil make me?
Well, we can’t tell you for sure (because we don’t know how smart you are) but we can look at the details of a study done by the University of Urbana-Champaign to get a better understanding of how MUFAs can affect the brain.
This study in particular looked at 99 people, all older adults who were medically healthy. The study looked at the patterns of different types of fatty acids that were present in their blood and compared this data to that of an MRI scan which measured the level and intensity of connections being made throughout the neural network. Subjects were also given general intelligence tests.
“In doing so,” said the study’s author Marta Mroziewicz, “we sought to understand if brain network organization mediated the relationship between fatty acids and general intelligence.”
The specific data that was obtained through the study is pretty technical, but the conclusion was generally positive. The researchers were pleased because they proved that there was a solid relation between a person’s cognition, certain parts of the neural network, and the nutrients that they were eating.
“This gives us evidence of the mechanisms by which nutrition affects intelligence and motivates promising new directions for future research in nutritional cognitive neuroscience.”
One thing that particular study neglected to mention was how well olive oil can actually help your brain create and repair cells.
- It can enhance the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that your brain uses to create new cells. Low levels of BDNF are known to cause depression and cognitive problems. Conversely, high levels of the protein can help to balance or prevent any negative, stressful effects that might impact your cognition.
- Nerve growth factor (NGF) is exactly what it sounds like. Olive oil increases NGF, which means it makes it easier for your brain and nervous system to grow, repair, and use nerve cells. These cells are what are responsible for the transmission of information – which is basically intelligence.
Last but certainly not least, monounsaturated fats like those found in olive oil have been shown to enhance the production of acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that’s primarily responsible for memory and cognition – a deficiency of this chemical can lead to some serious brain fog.
Olive oil – an all round good egg
If you were curious about whether or not olive oil could actually help to improve your intelligence, hopefully this information has given you a better understanding of the facts behind the theory. Bearing in mind the other health benefits of olive oil, we’d say that including this in your diet can only be a positive thing.
What’s your favourite way to fit more olive oil into your diet? Share it with us below!