Coconut Oil and Alzheimer’s DiseaseApril 11, 2009 Written by JP [Font too small?]
I’m always on the look-out for ways to make my healthy lifestyle as interesting and mentally stimulating as possible. One way I do it is by listening to podcasts while exercising. It’s a great way to be entertained and learn something while conditioning my body.
A few days ago I came across a particular podcast by my friend, Jimmy Moore, that really got my wheels spinning. I listened with utter fascination and wondered what additional information I could find on the subject matter discussed. The topic of the program was the role that a much maligned fat could possibly have in reversing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of brain dysfunction.
Coconut Oil, MCTs and Aging Brains
Dr. Mary Newport recounted a riveting story about her husband who was stricken with Alzheimer’s disease at the young age of 58. Thankfully for us all, Dr. Newport didn’t simply accept that this diagnosis would lead to an inevitable and tragic outcome. She researched any and all available options and decided to try to get her husband enrolled in clinical trials for experimental drugs for dementia.
Both Dr. Newport and her husband encountered huge roadblocks almost immediately. In order to be enrolled in such experimental studies, you generally need to possess a certain level of brain function. The reasoning is that medications are more likely to benefit those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The sad fact was that Steve wasn’t scoring high enough on tests to qualify him for the trials.
Then Dr. Newport came across some information about the use of a specific class of fats that were showing preliminary promise in the nutritional management of a variety of neurological conditions. These unusual fats go by the name of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). The most concentrated food source of MCTs is coconut oil. With nothing left to lose, Dr. Newport began giving her husband large amounts of coconut oil and incorporating it into their diets. The results were nothing short of amazing. This oil, which most doctors will tell you to avoid like the plague, has halted and even reversed some of the symptoms of Steve Newport’s brain dysfunction!
If you know anything about coconut oil, you know that it’s loaded with saturated fat. Most conventional doctors consider it one of the most damaging types of fat because it’s “bad for the heart”. When something is harmful for the heart, it typically also impedes circulation to other vital body organs, including the brain. But as you’ll see, recent scientific studies do not appear to support this view.
- A March 2009 study found that adding MCTs to the diet of dogs with “age-related cognitive decline” increased the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the parietal cortex of the brain – a part of the brain that is severely impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. Omega-3 fatty acids are the types of fats found in fish, but are not present in coconut oil. Researchers theorize that the MCTs liberated omega-3s from fat stores already present in the body and shuttled them to the brain.
- It’s also interesting to note that the MCTs caused an increase in phospholipid levels in the brain (which can promote healthy cognitive function), and did not raise cholesterol concentrations in the parietal cortex (a theoretical concern).
- A study from August of 2008 found additional reason for hope. A group of aged dogs were again administered MCTs through their diets for a period of 2 months, after which their brains were analyzed. The scientists conducting the experiment found that the dogs eating MCTs showed greater cell energy in the parietal lobe (like in the first study). There was a decrease in amyloid precursor protein (APP) and a declining trend in amyloid-beta levels in the parietal region. Amyloid-beta is a protein that makes up the plaques found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease and a target of many Alzheimer’s medications.
- A February 2009 trial conducted at Yale University found that MCTs could serve as a glucose alternative in a group of diabetic rats. The researchers found that MCTs preserved brain function during periods of low blood sugar without generating the risk of high blood sugar. This is an important finding because one current theory is that certain forms of brain dysfunction may be associated with an impaired ability to utilize glucose as a source of energy in the brain.
As I mentioned previously, one of the common concerns about using MCTs or coconut oil is the saturated fat content. The following recent trials examined the cardiovascular effects of MCTs:
- In 2008, a study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the use of MCTs and olive oil as part of a weight loss diet in a group of people at risk for metabolic syndrome. 31 men and women participated in this 4 month study. They were all overweight and consumed about 12% of their calories from either MCTs or olive oil. At the end of the trial, the scientists concluded that, “MCT oil can be incorporated into a weight loss program without fear of adversely affecting metabolic risk factors.”
- Another 2008 experiment found that MCTs may actually improve “cardiac dysfunction” in rats with high blood pressure.
In the podcast with Dr. Newport she anecdotally mentions that her husbands cholesterol levels have actually improved since starting the high dose coconut oil supplementation. Steve’s HDL (“good”) cholesterol has gone up and his LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides have both gone down.
I’ve personally begun experimenting with organic coconut oil myself to see how my own brain responds to it. It’s too early for me to tell for sure, but I think it may be affording me some added clarity. If you need a mental boost or if you’re at high risk for brain dysfunction, I suggest you listen to Jimmy Moore’s podcast and visit Dr. Newport’s research site. I’d love to receive feedback from anyone who decides to test out the brain boosting effects of coconut oil.
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