Older people who use olive oil in their cooking and on their salads may have a lower risk of suffering a stroke, researchers reported on Wednesday, June 15.
In a study that followed older French adults for five years, researchers found that those who regularly used olive oil were 41 per cent less likely to have a stroke than those who never used the oil. The findings, reported in the journal Neurology, hint that the well known connection between olive oil and heart disease might extend to stroke as well.
Olive oil is a key ingredient in the Mediterranean diet. Some clinical trials have suggested that the diet helps control risk factors for heart disease, like high blood pressure, abdominal obesity and elevated levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol. High olive oil intake is also linked to a lower risk of heart attack, and a longer lifespan among heart attack survivors.
These latest findings support the general advice that people replace dubious dietary fats — namely, saturated fats and “trans” fats — with olive oil and other unsaturated fats, according to an expert not involved in the study. But he also stressed that the study does not prove that olive oil, per se, helps prevent strokes. “We need to remember that this is an observational study,” said Dr Nikolaos Scarmeas, a neurologist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, who wrote an editorial published with the study. The study found a correlation between people’s olive oil use and their stroke risk but that doesn’t necessarily translate into cause-and-effect, he said. “People who use a lot of olive oil may be very different from people who don’t,” Scarmeas said. Olive oil users may, for example, have higher incomes, eat better overall or exercise more often than people who never use the oil.
The researchers on the new study, led by CÃcilia Samieri of the French national research institute INSERM, tried to account for those differences. And after they did, olive oil was still linked to a lower stroke risk. But it’s impossible to fully account for all those variables, Scarmeas noted. What’s needed, he said, are clinical trials where people are randomly assigned to use olive oil or not, then followed over time to see who suffers a stroke. Such clinical trials are considered the ‘gold standard’ of medical evidence.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 17th, 2011.