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Olive oil linked to huge decline in stroke risk

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(CBS) Can olive oil keep you from having a stroke? A provocative new study from France suggests that it might.

The study - published in the June 11 issue of the journal Neurology - suggests that the olive oil has a "protective role" against stroke - at least in older people. Researchers tracked more than 7,000 people age 65 or older living in three French cities and found that that individuals who ate lots of the oil were a whopping 41 percent less likely to have a stroke than those who never ate olive oil.

It's not the first study to suggest health benefits for olive oil. Others have linked the stuff to reduced risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity, Reuters reported. And olive oil has been credited with extending the lives of heart attack patients and lowering their risk for recurrences.

But stroke?

"This is the first study to suggest that greater consumption of olive oil may lower risk of stroke in older subjects, independently of other beneficial foods found in the Mediterranean diet," study author Dr. Cecilia Samieri, of the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Bordeaux, told WebMD.

Samieri said she wasn't sure exactly why olive oil might have such an effect.

"We can't infer from our study which aspects of olive oil prevent stroke," Samieri told HealthDay. But "it may be a substitution effect." By that, she means the olive oil might have replaced saturated and trans fats in the diet - both of which have been linked to cardiovascular risk.

But other researchers pointed out that that's only one possible explanation.

"We need to remember that this is an observational study," Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas, a neurologist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, told Reuters. "People who use a lot of olive oil may be very different from people who don't." For example, he said, olive oil users may earn more, eat more healthfully in general, or exercise more than people who never use the oil.

Still, despite the lack of proof, Scarmeas told Reuters that "It's better to rely on this type of fat for your overall health."

Bon appétit!