Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and early Alzheimer's disease (AD) are characterized by blood-brain barrier (BBB) breakdown leading to abnormal BBB permeability ahead of brain atrophy or dementia. Previous findings in AD mouse models have reported the beneficial effect of extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) against AD, which improved BBB and memory functions and reduced brain amyloid-β (Aβ) and related pathology. This work aimed to translate these preclinical findings to humans in individuals with MCI. We examined the effect of daily consumption of refined olive oil (ROO) and EVOO for 6 months in MCI subjects on BBB permeability (assessed by contrast-enhanced MRI), and brain function (assessed using functional-MRI) as the primary outcomes. Cognitive function and AD blood biomarkers were also assessed as the secondary outcomes. Twenty-six participants with MCI were randomized with 25 participants completed the study. EVOO significantly improved clinical dementia rating (CDR) and behavioral scores. EVOO also reduced BBB permeability and enhanced functional connectivity. While ROO consumption did not alter BBB permeability or brain connectivity, it improved CDR scores and increased functional brain activation to a memory task in cortical regions involved in perception and cognition. Moreover, EVOO and ROO significantly reduced blood Aβ42/Aβ40 and p-tau/t-tau ratios, suggesting that both altered the processing and clearance of Aβ. In conclusion, EVOO and ROO improved CDR and behavioral scores; only EVOO enhanced brain connectivity and reduced BBB permeability, suggesting EVOO biophenols contributed to such an effect. This proof-of-concept study justifies further clinical trials to assess olive oil's protective effects against AD and its potential role in preventing MCI conversion to AD and related dementias.
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