The Mediterranean diet — a strict regimen of fish, produce, and healthy fats — has enjoyed great popularity in recent years thanks to its heart-friendly components. Now new research would like to keep the diet popular for another reason: it could prevent Alzheimer's disease (AD).

No Mediterranean diet can function properly without the help of olive oil. Recommended as a replacement for butter, along with constituting a rich source of healthy fat, olive oil receives much adoration for its healthful properties. It just so happens one of these properties, a peppery-tasting compound called oleocanthal, appears to prevent AD from consuming the brain.

Researchers from the University of Louisiana at Monroe applied different concentrations of oleocanthal to mice brain cell cultures, and, for the first time ever, administered the compound over a two-week period to live mice as well.

AD develops in the brain following the formation of neurofibrillary tangles and beta-amyloid plaques. How exactly this formation results in the disease's characteristic pathology remains a mystery. But researchers have perhaps circumvented this mystery with their discovery of oleocanthal's peptide-clearing properties.

In testing the mouse brains, Amal Kaddoumi, an assistant professor of pharmaceutics at the University and one of the paper's authors, said, "We're trying to further understand oleocanthal's mechanism and maybe eventually try to find compounds that can work in the same way for drug development." The study yielded promising results for humans, as both trials showed "levels of two proteins that play major roles in transporting beta-amyloid out of the brain as well as enzymes that degrade beta-amyloid increased significantly after administering oleocanthal," Scientific American reports.

When researchers administered the beta-amyloid peptide to live mice, those who had been supplied oleocanthal targeted the beta-amyloid and the mice were able to degrade and clear out the peptide.

Oleocanthal has been used in conjunction with several other compounds to clear beta-amyloid from the brain, such as a skin cancer drug last year that helped alleviate AD in mice. However, as Kenneth Kosik, a neuroscience professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says, before we read too far into the results, scientists should perform clinical trials on humans. Kaddoumi and her research team hope to receive funding for such trials.

"This paper is beginning to close in on what the specific components are in these more nutraceutical remedies that are actually helping us," Kosik said.

Source: Abuznait A, Qosa H, Busnena B, Sayed K, Kaddoumi A. 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. 2013.