3:01pm

Thu June 16, 2011
Shots - Health Blog

Olive Oil May Help Protect Against Strokes

From the country that brought us the French Paradox — healthier people who pretty much eat what they want — there's a new study that suggests olive oil may help reduce the risk of stroke in older people.

More than 7,000 people age 65 and up in took part in the French project, which looked at how much olive oil they consumed and whether they had strokes.

After adjusting for all sort of other factors that could affect stroke risk — from body mass index to exercise habits — those people who used a lot of olive oil had a 41 percent lower risk of stroke than those who never touched the stuff.

The findings were just published online by the journal Neurology.

Now, it must be said, there were only 148 strokes recorded over a study period that lasted a little more than five years. And the proportion of people who had strokes was not huge: about 1.5 percent of the people who used a lot olive oil had strokes compared with 2.6 percent in the group who didn't use any.

Still, who wouldn't want to avoid a stroke, if olive oil could help? The researchers conclude that the "strong association between intensive olive oil use and lower stroke incidence" found in the study suggests that it may be appropriate to consider new dietary recommendations for the elderly.

What constitutes intensive olive oil use? Using the stuff for cooking and dressing, according to the definition in the French study. Using olive oil for cooking or dressing was considered moderate use. No use meant none.

The authors of accompanying editorial aren't so sure about changing dietary advice just yet. More people consuming more olive oil may lead to to better neurological health, they write. "But this can only be claimed with confidence" if the findings from the French study are put to a prospective test that randomly assigns people to a diet rich in olive oil or one without it.

For what it's worth, one of the editorialists is Columbia University neurologist Nikolaos Scarmeas, who has investigated the effect of the Mediterranean diet on stroke risk.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.