Olive oil

Researchers are currently recruiting people to participate in a new study being conducted by Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy, which will test the effects of extra-virgin olive oil in fighting cognitive impairments like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Amal Kaddoumi, professor in the university’s Department of Drug Discovery and Development and the study’s principal investigator, said they first began by testing the effects of extra-virgin olive oil in mice.

“We just published our paper that showed in the advanced stages of the disease, additional extra-virgin olive oil to the diet of those mice actually improved memory,” she said. “That’s why we thought it was time to transition from mouse experiments to human experiments.” 

To be eligible for the study, participants must be between the ages of 55 and 75 and suffer from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) — having difficulty recalling things like words, facts or events.

“When we talk about MCI, it does not necessarily precede Alzheimer’s disease,” Kaddoumi said. “That’s why, based on our findings from the preclinical studies, we want to first test whether extra-virgin olive oil slows down or prevents the conversion of MCI to Alzheimer’s disease.”

While there are currently 10 subjects, Kaddoumi said she hopes to eventually have at least 30 people participate in the study. 

Each subject will be required to undergo various testing, including two MRI scans six months apart, and consume 25mL of extra-virgin olive oil, or about two tablespoons, per day for six months, she said.

“We have two types of olive oil. Subjects will be randomized, and they will receive their olive oil monthly in small bottles,” Kaddoumi said. “Then after six months, we will call them back. We want to see six-months consumption of olive oil and how it is affecting the brain, how it is affecting different biomarkers in the body and how it is affecting the memory function.”

She said that previous findings prompted this study. After screening thousands of compounds, Kaddoumi pinpointed oleocanthal, a molecule that appears naturally in extra-virgin olive oil and helps strengthen the blood-brain barrier, which has a vital role in protecting the brain.

“We found that when you give oleocanthal alone as prevention, it works perfectly and improves and reduces the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease,” Kaddoumi said.

While the study has garnered promising results from its study on mice, Kaddoumi said it is critical to begin adding extra-virgin olive oil to the diet of humans.

“I believe (the human study) is a natural extension because just to see the results in mice, it is meaningless,” she said. “Is it going to validate the target that we are interested in, which is the blood-brain barrier? We want to see whether the addition of extra-virgin olive oil to (people’s) diet is affecting different biomarkers in the blood, urine and feces.”

Kaddoumi received over $400,000 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and $150,000 from the Auburn Presidential Awards for Interdisciplinary Research to further her efforts.

The NIH grants are solely related to studying oleocanthal. The money received from the university allowed Kaddoumi to move ahead with the clinical trials.

“We were very lucky that we were able to obtain funds that allowed us to do the human study,” she said. “To go to the NIH with no data — you’ll never get that funding to do the study because they want to see evidence first.”

While six months does not allow enough time to produce sufficient results, Kaddoumi said this is only the beginning.

“We have to pay attention that our study has a small period of time,” she said. “However, the idea of this pilot study is that it will give us some preliminary data that allows us to go further with a bigger study.” 

Participants will be paid $100 at the beginning of the study and $150 at its conclusion.

For more information on how to participate in the study, email kaddoumi@auburn.edu or call 844-7239.

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