February 2, 2012

SUPPLEMENTS: Coconut Oil as Alzheimer's Remedy?

Correction: In this post I erroneously attributed the video to CBS. Actually it was done by CBN -- Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network.
For two subsequent reports reviewing the lack of evidence supporting the claims for coconut oil as a remedy for Alzheimer's, see http://bit.ly/IzAR7z and http://bit.ly/L56jML 

This is the first in a series of posts about supplements. So many of us use them, even though studies regularly question their efficacy. What's the truth? First up -- coconut oil.

Several recent reports claimed that the ketones in coconut oil slowed the progress of Alzheimer's in some people, and may actually prevent the disease. Check out this CBS News [note correction above - CBN, not CBS] video:

Since Alzheimer's is my greatest fear, I was eager to get more information. When I Googled "coconut oil Alzheimer's," I discovered that someone else had already done the research for me.

Several weeks ago, Dr. Joseph Mercola -- a leading natural health advocate -- appeared on TV with Dr. Oz to tout the benefits of coconut oil as a treatment for Alzheimer's. The next day "Orac" -- the author of scienceblogs.com/insolence -- took both men to task for the report. Orac is the nom de blog of Dr. David Gorski, who describes himself as a "humble surgeon/scientist." His blog posts regularly assail what he considers medical quackery.

I'm steering clear of an apparently long-standing Oz / Orac feud. I'll simply share what Orac found:
Mercola then goes on to hawk coconut oil as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease. Personally, I was curious; so I did a PubMed search. Actually, I did quite a few PubMed searches, and I had a hell of a time finding anything linking the use of coconut oil to the treatment of any form of dementia rather than just Alzheimer's. Maybe I didn't get the right search terms; so I tried Google Scholar as well. I found a few animal studies, but that's about it. Oddly enough, although there are quite a few articles about coconut oil on Mercola's website, but almost nothing that even mentions using coconut oil for treating Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia and only three references looking at medium chain triglycerides as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Now, there's some seriously thin evidence. So I went to the almighty Google, and what I found are a lot of CAM websites touting coconut oil as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease, such as here. The concept seems to come from a physician named Dr. Mary Newport, who claims that her husband suffering from Alzheimer's improved after the addition of coconut oil to his diet. Looking at this claim in more detail might make a good topic for a future post, but I must say that I wasn't too impressed with what I could find. It's hard to believe that Dr. Oz or his staff never bothered to look for the studies supporting the use of coconut oil for the treatment of Alzheimer's. If that had been done, it would have been rapidly apparent how thin that evidence was. I also note that I've written about one of the other supplements Mercola hawked, namely L-arginine. Again, the evidence isn't too persuasive supporting the claims for that one, either, even if a Nobel Laureate is out there hawking it as a supplement for Herbalife.
So . . . some positive anecdotal reports, but precious little scientific evidence. Still, those testimonials can seem powerful. My first reaction is probably typical for people with chronic illnesses: "OK, there's no compelling evidence now, and science typically suggests restraint until proper clinical trials are completed. But by then, I'll be dead or in a dementia / Alzheimer's fog. So what's the harm in giving it a try?"

Maybe I will. Maybe I won't. Any suggestions?

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