By Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RNAlzheimer’s disease lately.
In fact, if you do an internet search, you’ll probably find many accounts of people who claim coconut oil has reversed Alzheimer’s in their loved ones. But is there any science behind this? Let’s dig into the facts.
Coconut oil has actually been making a serious comeback in the health food world lately. For years, many health enthusiasts shied away from it for one reason or another.
However, these days, it’s gaining in popularity for several reasons. One of which is the fact that coconut oil contains a rich supply of medium chain triglycerides or MCTs, which are fats that the body can use as an energy source.
But how can this impact brain disorders like Alzheimer’s? Below we’ll take a closer look.
Alzheimer’s is “Diabetes of the Brain”Alzheimer’s disease may be tied to a situation in which the brain can’t use glucose, its preferred source of energy. That’s why some researchers have labeled Alzheimer’s as “diabetes of the brain.” And there’s evidence for this too.
Scientists have discovered that people with Alzheimer’s disease may have defective brain insulin signaling.1 This is not a good thing.
The brain, like other cells in the body, needs insulin in order to use glucose. Insulin transports the glucose into your brain’s cells — kind of like a gatekeeper of sorts.
When brain cells lack glucose, they die. This in turn could lead to brain damage and neurological diseases, like Alzheimer’s.
Here’s where coconut oil may come into play. The medium chain triglycerides found abundantly in coconut oil can be readily used by brain cells as a fuel source.
The liver transforms these triglycerides into ketones, which in turn are used as energy to support brain cell structure, function, and connections — all of which are important factors in treating Alzheimer’s disease.2 Unlike sugar, these ketones act independently of insulin.
Medium Chain Triglycerides Improve MemoryAll of this information about coconut oil and medium chain triglycerides sounds great, but is there any scientific support? Well, research shows that they do, in fact, improve cognitive function in both animals and humans.
Aged dogs, for instance, performed better on cognitive tests after receiving medium chain triglycerides.3 Not only that, the dogs that received these high-energy fats also had reduced amounts of amyloid beta plaque precursors, which are commonly seen in early Alzheimer’s disease.4
People taking MCTs also did better on cognitive tests as well. In a study involving type I diabetics, the participants were split into two groups. One group was given a placebo, while the other was given a drink rich in medium chain triglycerides.
Both groups were given insulin to lower their blood sugar which would impair the ability to think. They were then asked to complete cognitive tests. The medium chain triglycerides group performed better than placebo on the tests.5 Can we expect the same results in Alzheimer’s patients? Perhaps.
Remember, medium chain triglycerides produce ketones. Ketones are used as an insulin-independent energy source. This is important because, as stated above, Alzheimer’s patients may have problems with using insulin in their brains.
In a different study, Alzheimer’s patients were given ketones for 90 days. Researchers used a tool called the AD Assessment Scale-Cognitive Subscale to assess the cognitive function of the participants.
The results of the study turned out to be positive, with the Alzheimer’s patients showing significant improvement in cognitive function.6
Is Coconut Oil a Potential Treatment for Alzheimer’s?The truth is that there’s no clear answer yet. However, according to studies, medium chain triglycerides certainly seem to protect brain cells and improve cognitive function. Of course, more research is needed.
What do you think? Do you see coconut oil as becoming a viable treatment for Alzheimer’s disease? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
- J Clin Invest. 2012;122(4):1339–1353.
- Neurotherapeutics. 2008 Jul;5(3):470-80.
- Br J Nutr. 2010 Jun;103(12):1746-54.
- Brain Res. 2008 Aug 21;1226:209-17.
- Diabetes. 2009 May;58(5):1237-44.
- Nutr Metab (Lond). 2009 Aug 10;6:31.