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Does Coconut Oil Cure Alzheimer’s?

Though there have been more than a thousand papers published on coconut oil in medical journals, there is little evidence it helps with Alzheimer’s disease.

February 8, 2013 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited

L. E. Conlon, R. D. King, N. E. Moran, J. W. Erdman Jr. Coconut Oil Enhances Tomato Carotenoid Tissue Accumulation Compared to Safflower Oil in the Mongolian Gerbil ( Meriones unguiculatus ). J. Agric. Food. Chem. 2012 NA(NA):NA

S. T. Henderson, J. L. Vogel, L. J. Barr, F. Garvin, J. J. Jones, L. C. Costantini. Study of the ketogenic agent AC-1202 in mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2009 6(NA):31

M. C. W. Myhrstad, I. Narverud, V. H. Telle-Hansen, T. Karhu, D. B. Lund, K.-H. Herzig, M. Makinen, B. Halvorsen, K. Retterstol, B. Kirkhus, L. Granlund, K. B. Holven, S. M. Ulven. Effect of the fat composition of a single high-fat meal on inflammatory markers in healthy young women. Br. J. Nutr. 2011 106(12):1826 - 1835

K. M. Liau, Y. Y. Lee, C. K. Chen, A. H. G. Rasool. An open-label pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of virgin coconut oil in reducing visceral adiposity. ISRN Pharmacol 2011 2011(NA):949686

M. L. Assuncc~ao, H. S. Ferreira, A. F. dos Santos, C. R. Cabral Jr, T. M. M. T. Flor^encio. Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity. Lipids 2009 44(7):593 - 601

P. T. Voon, T. K. W. Ng, V. K. M. Lee, K. Nesaretnam. Diets high in palmitic acid (16:0), Lauric and myristic acids (12:0 + 14:0), Or oleic acid (18:1) Do not alter postprandial or fasting plasma homocysteine and inflammatory markers in healthy Malaysian adults. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2011 94(6):1451 - 1457

NA. Stearic Acid: A Unique Saturated Fat. National Cattlemen's Beef Association NA NA(NA):1 - 6

C. Cox, W. Sutherland, J. Mann, S. de Jong, A. Chisholm, M. Skeaff. Effects of dietary coconut oil, butter and safflower oil on plasma lipids, lipoproteins and lathosterol levels. Eur J Clin Nutr 1998 52(9):650 - 654

A. B. Feranil, P. L. Duazo, C. W. Kuzawa, L. S. Adair. Coconut oil is associated with a beneficial lipid profile in pre-menopausal women in the Philippines. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2011 20(2):190 - 195

Acknowledgements

Images thanks to Chiot's Run and kattebelletje / Flickr

Transcript

Those that sell coconut oil claim it has miraculous powers—everything from X, Y, and Z. The boldest claim may be as a potential cure for Alzheimer’s, based on a series of anecdotes and one study. Study of the ketogenic agent AC-1202. You can certainly make money selling 20 pound buckets of coconut oil, but even more selling some kind of patented supplement, which is what this is, a concentrated form of the medium chain fatty acids, purported to be the active ingredient in coconut oil. At first it looked like it was working, but by the end of the study any effect it had had disappeared, though there was one genetic subgroup where it appeared to be working better, but when that group was properly randomized even that effect disappeared. So the only such study ever done on concentrated coconut oil components found little effect and no studies have ever been done whatsoever on Alzheimer's and coconut oil itself. As the Alzheimer’s Association put it, there is no scientific evidence that coconut oil helps with Alzheimer’s. And hey, the coconut oil promise has been around for more than three years. If the administration of coconut oil was, indeed, beneficial, it would presumably be shouted from every mountaintop." That's all we know so far. Why don't we know more? There have been over a thousand articles published on coconut oil in the medical literature, the problem is that they’re studies like this. Did you know coconut oil enhances tomato carotenoid tissue accumulation compared to safflower oil in the Mongolian gerbil? Which includes nuggets like this: "The testes of the coconut oil-fed animals weighed significantly less than those of the safflower oil-fed animals. Who says coconut oil isn't effectual? How else are you going to shrink the testicles of Mongolian gerbils?

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Jonathan Hodgson.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

The "shouted from every mountain top" argument is not entirely convincing. For example, we've known for decades that our #1 killer is preventable and reversible (see Resuscitating MedicareOur Number One Killer Can Be Stopped, and China Study on Sudden Cardiac Death), yet the medical community continues to rely more on drugs and surgery. Why? Well they likely weren't taught clinical nutrition in medical school (Medical School Nutrition Education), or after medical school (California Medical Association Tries to Kill Nutrition Bill), and the medical establishment has shown a disturbing inertia even when presented with convincing evidence (see The Tomato Effect). The difference is that coconut oil doesn't have the data to back it up. What's the potential downside of giving coconut oil a try? Find out in my next video Does Coconut Oil Clog Arteries?

Please be sure to check out my associated blog post for more context:  Is Coconut Oil Bad For You?

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • HemoDynamic, M.D.

    Getting a bit “Test-e” I see about the whole Coconut Oil rave.

    ;-)

  • Jeff K

    I like to go with the evidence and avoid the rumors and internet adds. Yet, my girlfriend was suffering from hypothyroidism and the prescriptions were just messing her up. Too little T3 and she was groggy all day and gained weight but at the next highest dose she was anxious, lost weight and couldn’t sleep. I watched her suffer for several months and then impulsively suggested she try a tablespoon of coconut oil each day instead of the drugs- even though I got this advice from the rumor mill. I figured, “What the heck, it’s only 100 extra calories. Can’t do any worse than the meds.” Guess what? It worked for her- even if it won’t for anyone else. Within a couple of months the doctor confirmed that her TSH levels were for the first time in the normal range without her meds, and she hasn’t had any complaints of a lack of energy or weight gain since. I’ve started taking the equivalent amount of whole coconut (about 2-3 square inches) each day myself.

    • d1stewart

      Now, two months later, still working?

      By the way, 100 extra calories a day is over 10 pounds of weight gain in a year.

      • Bart

        In theory that is. Calories from coconut oil can’t be directly translated to weight gain. Besides, the classic calorie dogma truly isn’t legit anymore…

  • Guest

    Mongolian gerbils natural diet consist of High Sat Fat coconut oil? No so don’t say that our human testes will shrink from consuming it. I’m surprised he didn’t list off reasons why the high saturated fat in coco oil was causing heart disease. Oh wait he didn’t because there isn’t any data for it.

    • Thea

      Guest: I don’t think you understood the point that Dr. Greger was making. Anyway, if you are interested in the heart disease connection, consider checking out next Monday’s video. Good luck.

  • Thea

    This information is desperately needed. There are so many people pushing coconut oil. I hear all the time about how people have heard about how good it is for you. Once a rumor like this gets started (like dairy is good for your bones), it is SO hard to stop it. Thanks for giving us a review and perspective on the science. MUCH appreciated!

    • Peter

      I really appreciate what I am learning from Dr Greger but have some reservations about his take on cholesterol and coconut oil.
      If cholesterol is a cause rather than just a correlation of CVD and coconut oil causes high cholesterol (as Dr Greger asserts) why is it that Dr Joseph Mercola can make this statement:
      “Did you know that multiple studies on Pacific Island populations, who
      get 30-60% of their total caloric intact from fully saturated coconut
      oil, have all shown nearly non-existent rates of cardiovascular disease?” He then backs it with a raft of study references?

      http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/10/22/coconut-oil-and-saturated-fats-can-make-you-healthy.aspx#_ednref1

  • abeleehane

    Thanks for the always rational thinking in your videos. Sometimes I feel that vegans prefer to opt for crackpot theories instead of science based facts. Hopefully this bit of sanity will steer us towards reflecting at decisions made from our wishful thinking.

    • http://macsmiley.tumblr.com/ MacSmiley

      Vegans and vegetarians do not have a monopoly on pseudoscientific beliefs and practices. Omnivores are in the majority in this regard, just as they are the majority in the general population.

  • B

    I love making decisions on good evidence-based research. Sometimes we stretch the research and generalize to the well-being of the whole organism based on favorable effects and data, ie. When certain foods or extracts zap cancer cells in the petri dish. So I’m wondering…if I just assume there are some good chemicals in coconut oil…whether or not there is solid evidence-based research and testing on humans…are those substances found in other whole foods as well? Perhaps ones with less fat. Or is there just something really special and unique about coconut oil?

  • http://www.facebook.com/deane.alban Deane Alban

    You may think that treating Alzheimer’s with coconut oil sounds like a bunch of bunk, but the drug companies don’t. One company has come up with a prescription-only “medical food” called Axona that provides ketones, similar to those in coconut oil.

    Alzheimer’s Weekly ran a cost comparison — a month’s supply of Axona costs $120 while a month’s supply of coconut oil costs $6.60. You can bet if there is money to be made the drug companies will be all over it.

    Dr. Mary Newport has written a detailed account of her husband’s treatment with coconut oil and his progress in Alzheimer’s Disease — What if There Was a Cure? It was very exciting and encouraging for me to see her husband’s progress with this home remedy.

    As a neonatal physician, Dr. Newport is familiar with the use of MCTs with newborns. They’re administered to premature babies because the oil is easily utilized even by babies with no digestive enzymes. MCTs are also added to all infant formulas.

    So I wouldn’t write coconut oil off, yet!

    • http://macsmiley.tumblr.com/ MacSmiley

      Anecdotes are not science, however compelling.

  • iVegan, CPT

    I think it’s pretty obvious now that there are no cure-all foods or products. Coconut is certainly one that companies have been trying to over-sell because of the versatility of the product. Although it may not cure alzheimers its definitly a healthy and delicious way to high cooked foods. Mushrooms sautéed in coconut oil mmmm.

  • chris

    usualy, I agree with your videos , thistime not :I gave my 88year old mother her first coconut oil pot , 1 year ago….. the difference is AMAZING , she was in early stage ALZHEIMER , she regained clarity in 1month using 3 tablespoons per day ! her whole personality changed , vivid, joyfull, talking, energique…my old mam IS BACK…… so sorry that science does not back this up ….. I believe wath I SEE ( she still uses it, instead of other fat)

  • rachel

    I see nothing wrong with TRYING raw coconut oil in someone’s diet
    who has alzheimers or dementia to see if there is a positive effect.
    Most people consume poor sources of fat and at the very least
    coconut is healthier than lard, butter, margarine, olive oil (?),
    canola (the rapeseed hybrid–ugh!) and the awful oils listed in many processed food ingredients.
    namaste’, rachel

    • Toxins

      It is 91% saturated fat, this exceeds all percentages of saturated fat in lard, and butter.

  • Don

    I wonder, really, really wonder what Dr. (sic) Mary Newport is really selling here? Does “snake oil” ring a bell. While there is a lot of BS cures out there, there is absolutely “no real” cure or treatment or Alzheimer’s at this time. True story: A friend; who believed something about a cure that a friend of her’s told her about, asked me and roughly 100 plus other folks about the cure and they all (including me) all told her NO, it’s total hog wash. Upon asking the 126th person, she received a positive response to her cure question. The next day I received a phone call as well as an e-mail: See, I told you that it works. IF we really, really believe something, we can believe. Coconut oil is good for you. I use it almost daily but not to cure anything. It’s great on “toast”, in the “frying pan”, on “popcorn” etc.

  • R Ian Flett

    What makes this topic so difficult is the fact that both coconut oil and red palm oil are consumed in high quantities by certain ethnic groups in the Pacific and Africa without any of the adverse consequences associated with saturated fat consumption in Western societies.

    It could be that these fats are only harmful in the presence of inflammation, but there are other theories also, such as the protective effects of high MCTs or gamma-tocopherols in these natural products.

    It badly needs more research aimed at solving this apparent epidemiological paradox.

  • tashi

    Hi. Thanks for your articles and effort. Letting you know, I had a problem with your links though. “Find out in my next video Does Coconut Oil Clog Arteries?.” results in “sorry, the page you are looking for no longer exists”.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/ Michael Greger M.D.

      That’s the video that goes up on Monday–the link will be live then. Sorry for the cliffhanger!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1037886586 Gerhardt Steinke

    Kudos on another great post! DOCTOR’S NOTE is GREAT.
    Dr. Greger’s Nutrition Facts web site is superbly organized!

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Thanks for your kind feedback. I only wish I started the whole Doctor’s Note thing from the very beginning! One of these days I hope to go back and add notes to the first few hundred videos.

  • http://twitter.com/Kaymao Kaymao

    I love butter. Seeing as how it isn’t too healthy, I replace it with coconut oil for certain things. It certainly can’t be any worse than butter.

  • Jobuck

    What these tests fail to do is identify the kind of coconut oil being consumed and the remainder of the diet… Sure would like to trust these studies but we know most are bunk and will fall in favor of what is intended..

  • http://twitter.com/MartinReaves Martin Reaves

    I don’t agree or disagre with any of this…except one radically inane idea: That “if it worked” it would be shouted from the mountain top. WRONG. It has been scientifically proven–conclusively–that limiting animal protein in our diet absolutely inhibits and can even reverse some types of cancer growth. Who’s shouting that little nugget from a mountain top??? No one–the beef and poultry people wouldn’t allow it. And at last count cancer was far more prevalent and deadly than alzheimer’s. The outcome of any test or study is directly related to who stands to profit.

  • http://www.facebook.com/zzgorme Greg Orme

    I was wondering if anyone had heard about using perispinal Etanercept for Alzheimer’s. As far as I can work out they think it is caused by inflammation which is why the Etanercept seems to work.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOFFihG5n_k

  • Jeff

    Results will always speak louder than any laboratory

  • tree

    do you have any helpf for MPS111 Sanfillipo syndrome children?

  • pupko

    On a related topic, i would appreciate a future video on utilizing the ketogenic diet to treat epilepsy. I do not know of any resources on how to go about this using a vegan diet. Perhaps coconut oil might find a useful place as part of that regimen.

  • http://treegrower.org/ Calvin Leman

    Coconuts don’t grow where I live in Idaho. Not a food for me for that reason.

    • oiler

      you can buy the oil in a supermarket

      • http://treegrower.org/ Calvin Leman

        I am more self-sufficient than buying at a supermarket.

  • GoingVeganUK