Olive Oil: Nootropic Benefits, Uses, Dosage, & Side Effects

An artistic interpretation of a brain featuring its neural connections enhanced by olive oil, including olives and the oil.

Olive oil, a staple of the Mediterranean diet, is renowned for its numerous health benefits, including its potential to enhance cognitive function.

This article explores the different types of olive oil, its bioactive compounds, bioavailability, mechanisms of action, and the cognitive benefits and nootropic uses of this versatile oil.

We’ll also discuss recommended dosages, potential side effects, and interactions with medications.

What is Olive Oil?

Olive oil is a liquid fat obtained from olives, the fruit of the olive tree (Olea europaea).

It’s produced by pressing whole olives and extracting the oil.

A photorealistic image of a bottle of olive oil in a landscape format.

Olive oil is a key component of the Mediterranean diet, which is associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases and cognitive decline.

What are the Different Types of Olive Oil?

There are several types of olive oil, each with different qualities and uses:

  1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO): The highest quality olive oil, made from pure, cold-pressed olives. It has a distinct flavor and aroma and contains the most bioactive compounds.
  2. Virgin Olive Oil: Also made from pure, cold-pressed olives, but with slightly lower quality than EVOO.
  3. Refined Olive Oil: Made from lower quality olives and undergoes a refining process to remove impurities. It has a neutral flavor and aroma.
  4. Pure Olive Oil: A blend of virgin and refined olive oils.
  5. Light Olive Oil: A refined olive oil that has a lighter color and flavor. It’s not lower in calories than other types of olive oil.

What are The Bioactive Compounds in Olive Oil?

Olive oil contains several bioactive compounds that contribute to its health benefits:

  1. Oleic acid: A monounsaturated fatty acid that makes up 55-83% of olive oil. It has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties.
  2. Hydroxytyrosol: Another powerful antioxidant that has been linked to improved cardiovascular health and neuroprotection.
  3. Oleocanthal: An anti-inflammatory compound that has been shown to have similar effects to ibuprofen.
  4. Polyphenols: Antioxidant compounds that protect against oxidative stress and inflammation. The main polyphenols in olive oil are oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, and tyrosol.
  5. Oleuropein: A potent antioxidant that may protect against oxidative stress and inflammation.
  6. Vitamin E: A fat-soluble antioxidant that protects cell membranes from oxidative damage.
  7. Phytosterols: Plant compounds that can lower cholesterol levels and have anti-inflammatory effects.

What is Olive Oil’s Mechanism of Action?

Olive oil’s cognitive benefits are attributed to several mechanisms:

  1. Anti-inflammatory effects: The oleic acid and polyphenols in olive oil reduce inflammation in the brain, which is associated with cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases.
  2. Antioxidant protection: The polyphenols and vitamin E in olive oil protect brain cells from oxidative stress, which can damage cellular structures and lead to cognitive impairment.
  3. Improved blood flow: Olive oil consumption has been shown to improve endothelial function and increase blood flow to the brain, which can enhance cognitive performance.
  4. Neuroprotection: The bioactive compounds in olive oil, particularly oleocanthal, have been shown to have neuroprotective effects, potentially reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

What are the Cognitive Benefits of Olive Oil?

A photorealistic image of a bottle of olive oil alongside a depiction of its cognitive enhancing effects on the brain.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the cognitive benefits of olive oil consumption:

  1. Enhanced learning and memory
  2. Reduced risk of cognitive decline
  3. Improved focus and attention
  4. Improved executive function

How Does Olive Oil Enhance Learning Abilities and Memory?

Olive oil enhances learning and memory abilities by protecting brain cells from oxidative stress and inflammation, which can impair cognitive function.

A study by from 2012 found that mice fed a diet enriched with extra virgin olive oil performed better on learning and memory tasks compared to those on a standard diet.(1)

The researchers attributed these effects to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of the olive oil.

How Does Olive Oil Prevent Cognitive Decline?

Olive oil helps prevent cognitive decline by reducing oxidative stress, inflammation, and the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, which are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to a study by Dr. Abuznait, oleocanthal, a compound found in extra virgin olive oil, enhances the clearance of beta-amyloid from the brain, potentially slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.(2)

How Does Olive Oil Improve Focus and Concentration?

Olive oil improves focus and concentration by enhancing blood flow to the brain and providing neuroprotective effects.

The monounsaturated fats in olive oil have been shown to improve endothelial function and reduce inflammation, which can lead to better oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain.(3)

This, in turn, supports better focus and concentration.

How Does Olive Oil Improve Executive Function?

Olive oil improves executive function, which includes planning, decision-making, and problem-solving, by protecting the prefrontal cortex from oxidative stress and inflammation.

A study by Martínez-Lapiscina found that participants who followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil performed better on tests of executive function compared to those on a low-fat diet.(4)

The researchers suggested that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil may have contributed to these benefits.

What Are The Nootropic Uses for Olive Oil?

Some nootropic uses for olive oil include:

  1. Enhancing memory and learning: Consuming olive oil regularly may help improve memory and learning by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain.
  2. Neuroprotection: The bioactive compounds in olive oil, particularly oleocanthal, may help protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
  3. Improving mood: Some studies suggest that olive oil consumption may have mood-enhancing effects, potentially due to its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to improve blood flow to the brain.(5)

The FDA recommends consuming about 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil daily to reap its health benefits.

However, for cognitive benefits, studies have used higher doses:

  • Valls-Pedret used a Mediterranean diet supplemented with 1 liter of extra virgin olive oil per week (about 4 tablespoons per day).
  • Martínez-Lapiscina found cognitive benefits with a Mediterranean diet that included at least 4 tablespoons of olive oil per day.

It’s important to note that consuming more than the recommended amount of olive oil may lead to weight gain, as it is calorie-dense.

Can Olive Oil Be Used in A Nootropic Stack?

Yes, olive oil can be incorporated into a nootropic stack to enhance cognitive function. Some potential combinations include:

  • Olive oil + Omega-3 fatty acids: Both have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties that may synergistically improve brain health.
  • Olive oil + Curcumin: Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that may complement olive oil’s cognitive benefits.
  • Olive oil + Ginkgo biloba: Ginkgo biloba is a popular nootropic that improves blood flow to the brain, which may enhance the effects of olive oil.

Are There Any Side Effects or Risks with Olive Oil?

Olive oil is safe when consumed in recommended amounts.

A photorealistic image of a bottle of olive oil with its molecular structure artistically incorporated,

However, some potential side effects include:

Weight gainOlive oil is calorie-dense
Digestive issuesSome people may experience digestive discomfort, such as diarrhea or stomach pain, when consuming large amounts of olive oil
Allergic reactionsWhile rare, some individuals may be allergic to olive oil or other components of olives

Who Should Avoid Olive Oil?

People with the following conditions should consult their healthcare provider before consuming large amounts of olive oil:

  1. Gallbladder issues: Olive oil can stimulate gallbladder contractions, which may be problematic for those with gallstones or other gallbladder disorders.
  2. Tree nut allergies: Some people with tree nut allergies may also be allergic to olives and olive oil.

Are There Any Potential Reactions with Olive Oil and Medication?

Olive oil may interact with certain medications, including:

  1. Blood thinners: The polyphenols in olive oil may enhance the effects of blood-thinning medications, increasing the risk of bleeding.
  2. Diabetes medications: Olive oil may lower blood sugar levels, potentially leading to hypoglycemia when combined with diabetes medications.
  3. Blood pressure medications: The antihypertensive effects of olive oil may enhance the effects of blood pressure medications, leading to low blood pressure.

It’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional before incorporating olive oil into your diet if you are taking any medications.

Sources, Studies, and Scientific Research
  1. Farr, Susan A et al. “Extra virgin olive oil improves learning and memory in SAMP8 mice.” Journal of Alzheimer’s disease : JAD vol. 28,1 (2012): 81-92. doi:10.3233/JAD-2011-110662
  2. Abuznait, Alaa H et al. “Olive-oil-derived oleocanthal enhances β-amyloid clearance as a potential neuroprotective mechanism against Alzheimer’s disease: in vitro and in vivo studies.” ACS chemical neuroscience vol. 4,6 (2013): 973-82. doi:10.1021/cn400024q
  3. Torres-Peña, Jose D et al. “Mediterranean Diet and Endothelial Function: A Review of its Effects at Different Vascular Bed Levels.” Nutrients vol. 12,8 2212. 24 Jul. 2020, doi:10.3390/nu12082212
  4. Martínez-Lapiscina, Elena H et al. “Mediterranean diet improves cognition: the PREDIMED-NAVARRA randomised trial.” Journal of neurology, neurosurgery, and psychiatry vol. 84,12 (2013): 1318-25. doi:10.1136/jnnp-2012-304792
  5. Foshati, Sahar et al. “Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Improves Depression Symptoms Without Affecting Salivary Cortisol and Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor in Patients With Major Depression: A Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics vol. 122,2 (2022): 284-297.e1. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2021.07.016

Jacob Kovacs is a cognitive neuroscientist and author at WholisticResearch, specializing in nootropics and neuroactive peptides. His expertise in neuroscience and psychopharmacology bridges cognitive science with drug development. Kovacs’ work focuses on enhancing cognitive functions and brain health through innovative, efficient neuroactive compounds that overcome traditional pharmacokinetic challenges. His contributions are pivotal in advancing the understanding and treatment of neurological diseases.