FRANKFURT, Germany, March 19 (UPI) -- The Mediterranean diet has been heralded as a boon to health and as effective protection against a variety of maladies, including dementia. A new study looks at the ability of a very specific part of the diet -- the olive -- to protect against neurological symptoms like memory loss.
As percentage of the Mediterranean diet in terms of mass and volume, olives are likely well below other important foods like beans, greens and tomatoes. But olives are a common food item throughout Southern Europe, and scientists at Goethe University Frankfurt, in Germany, believe nutritional components inside the fruit may prevent or even reverse Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.
Researchers are currently working on perfecting new technologies for extracting these substances from olive trees.
"Our new techniques make it easier to extract substances from olive leaves and significantly improve low yields," Heribert Warzecha, a biologist at Darmstadt University of Technology, explained in a recent press release.
"When it comes to production, this means we aren't dependent on the seasonal harvesting of olives in growing areas," added Stefan Marx, managing director of a new company that sprang from the academic research called N-Zyme BioTec.
The newly extracted substances will be tested first in cell-culture dishes for their ability to guard neurological cells from toxins associated with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.
"We focus on changes to the power houses of nerve cells (mitochondria), which change early on in Alzheimer's disease," explained Gunter Eckert, a food chemist and lecturer at the Goethe. "The most active compounds should then demonstrate in a mouse model of the disease that they can improve brain function."
"We are testing the hypothesis that certain polyphenols from olives slow down disease processes in the brain, improve mitochondrial dysfunction and, as a result, provide evidence to suggest they protect against Alzheimer's disease," Eckert said.
Previous work has shown a correlation between olive oil consumption and diminished rates of dementia.
"Extra-virgin olive oil-derived oleocanthal associated with the consumption of Mediterranean diet has the potential to reduce the risk of AD or related neurodegenerative dementias," a 2013 report concluded.
But this will be one of the first to look at specific substances within the olive tree itself. While the possibilities are exciting, the research is still in its infancy, and any potential breakthroughs are years away from being tested on human patients.