Monday, September 9, 2013

What's the Verdict on Coconut Oil and Alzheimer's?

This is a guest post by Cynthia Koch, Glenner's Community Engagement Associate.

Rewind 10 years, and coconut oil was the trans-fats laden evil monster of the decade! Fast-forward to the present, and it seems as if the media is reporting a magic elixir, the latest news being that coconut oil may improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

So what’s changed?

Coconut oil (CO) has recently gained a lot of attention because of one specific doctor named Dr. Mary Newport. In addition to her campaign to get this information to the public, and her article written in 2008 called “What if there was a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease and No One Knew?”, Mary’s husband Steven was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.

Mary found that a brain with Alzheimer’s does not process glucose as it should. She also found that coconut oil could provide an alternate source of energy to the brain, called ketones. Since there was no harm (other then mild weight gain), and the medications Steven was taking were not working, she decided to conduct her own research.

She started her husband on a diet that included working up to the dose of nine teaspoons of coconut oil over a few weeks. Her husband Steven started improving in many ways, and Dr. Mary Newport vowed to show coconut oil to the world.

coconut test

Steve’s Clock Test
So, how did a medical doctor get from “coconut oil is bad” to “good” in a decade, without changing the fat content? Especially considering that it’s filled with saturated fats? Over 90%, or about 11.8 grams per 15 ml (one tablespoon) in comparison with 63% or 7.2 grams for the same amount of butter!

There is one distinguishing characteristic : the coconut oil that was used in the past, and deemed so terrible for human consumption was partially-hydrogenated, which creates those dreaded trans fats. This process of partial hydrogenation also destroys many of the ‘good’ essential fatty acids as well as any antioxidants in the oil. To avoid this, Mary used organic, non-hydrogenated virgin coconut oil.

The key ingredient that seems to make a difference in this non-hydrogenated version of coconut oil, are the medium chain triglycerides, or MCTs. Our liver converts part of these types of fat right away into an energy source called ketones.

Here is why ketones are so important : As aforementioned, one of the hallmark’s of Alzheimer’s is that some parts of the brain stop being able to process glucose (diabetes has been cited as a high risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s). Our brains need glucose, or some type of energy source to function properly. The ketones that are produced by our liver as it processes these medium chain triglycerides, may actually act as another type of fuel for the brain cells that have stopped being able to process glucose correctly.

It’s like a hybrid car solution! No longer do we only have to rely on gasoline, when the oil runs out…we have electricity!

For several reasons, not all physicians are on board with this. Mostly because there have not been any peer-reviewed scientific trials conducted yet on coconut oil. The Alzheimer’s Association refuses to recommend this as a treatment because of this, and they do not want to raise false hope.

Three years ago, they funded a study on genetically altered mice, to see if a forced ketone diet would predict a possible improvement in Alzheimer’s patients. There was no statistical difference, except for on endurance-related motor skills.

This may change, however. A private funder has granted USF Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute $250, 000 to investigate coconut oil for individuals with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s disease. It will follow 60 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's. Half will be randomly assigned coconut oil; the other half will receive a placebo that tastes and looks like coconut oil. Researchers will evaluate symptoms after three months, than switch the groups for another three months. Any results coming from this study will not likely be published any earlier then in two years’ time.

The only possible side effects for beginning a regimen of coconut oil appears to be mild diarrhea while your body works up a tolerance, and some slight weight gain. Also, be sure to pick up non-hydrogenated organic virgin coconut oil. I found a jar of it at Trader Joe’s for $5.99 last month. Just don’t do like I did, and use it for sunscreen – it really doesn’t work in San Diego heat wave weather!

For more information, please take a look at this web site dedicated to all the properties and uses of coconut oil, Dr. Mary’s facebook page, or her web site she’s created to connect with caregivers who have questions, and are looking for answers.

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