Consuming olive oil may reduce the risk of stroke in older adults, results from a population-based study suggest.

People that used olive oil regularly in cooking and as a salad dressing had a 41% lower incidence of stroke compared with people who never cooked with olive oil (95% CI: 6%-63%; P=0.03), results from a recent prospective cohort study measuring risk factors for dementia indicated.

“Our research suggests that a new set of dietary recommendations should be issued to prevent stroke in people aged 65 and older,” study researcher Cécilia Samieri, PhD, of the Université Bordeaux in France, said in a press release.

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She and colleagues analyzed olive oil consumption among 7,625 participants aged 65 and older without a prior stroke in community-dwelling residents of Bordeaux, Dijon, and Montpellier, as part of the Three-City Study, to determine stroke incidence among those who did and did not consume olive oil.

The researchers delineated olive oil consumptions into three categories: no use; moderate use, such as cooking with olive oil or using it as a dressing or dip for bread; and intensive use, defined as using it for cooking and dressing. At baseline 22.8% of participants reported no olive oil use, 40% reported moderate use and 37.2% reported intensive use.

Patient follow-up was performed at a mean 4.9 years to determine independently validated stroke incidence among the groups. A total of 148 incident strokes occurred —115 ischemic, 25 hemorrhagic and five of undetermined cause.

The researchers determined that participants who reported the top one-third of olive oil consumption had a 73% lower risk for stroke than those in the bottom third (95% CI: 10%-92%; P=0.03).

Overall, participants that regularly consumed olive oil had a trend toward lower stroke incidence (P=0.02 for trend), even after adjusting for sociodemographics, diet, physical activity, BMI and other stroke risk factors (P=0.02 for trend).

These findings suggest that olive oil is “a major protective component” in the Mediterranean diet for stroke prevention, according to the researchers. Furthermore they add to findings from previous trials that show olive oil’s beneficial affect on conditions including diabetes, hypertension, lipid profiles, coronary artery disease and obesity.

In an accompanying editorial, Nikolaos Scarmeas, MD, of Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, and Luc Dauchet, MD, PhD, of the Institut Pasteur de Lille in France, wrote that the neurologic health benefits of olive oil can only be “claimed with confidence” if these results are replicated in randomized controlled clinical trials.

They pointed out that distinguishing whether benefits come from olive oil itself, or from other food with which it is consumed is tricky.

“Olive oil is usually added to other foods (i.e., fruits and vegetables, legumes, cereals, and fish) and may contribute indirect benefits by increasing the palatability and consumption of foods that may have health-promoting potential,” they wrote.

Additional research is necessary to determine this, as well as which components in olive oil contribute to health benefits.

Samieri C. Neurology. 2011; 77: doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e318220abeb.