May 4, 2012

Yet Another Report Questioning Claims for Coconut Oil as a Treatment for Alzheimer's

Hopes raised by reports (including one of mine) that coconut oil might help treat -- and possibly even cure -- Alzheimer's are being deflated as more medical authorities take a look at the evidence... or lack thereof. I wrote last week about a critical analysis by neuropsychologist and blogger Dr.Dominic Carone that found little substantiating evidence.

UC/Berkeley Newsletter
Today I received my June issue of The Wellness Letter, published by the School of Public Health at the University of California at Berkeley. The lead article is titled: "Can coconut oil treat Alzheimer's?" The subtitle reads: "A new book raises hopes -- here's the truth behind the claims." The report concludes:
We wish we could tell you that the book makes a convincing case for coconut oil, but we can't. 
As I mentioned last week, the book in question is Alzheimer's Disease: What If There Was a Cure? by Dr. Mary Newport, a pediatrician whose husband has Alzheimer's. Her search for something to help her husband led her to research suggesting that ketones, a byproduct of the breakdown of fats in the body, may help treat various neurological disorders including Alzheimer's. One way to boost ketones in your body is to consume fats called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), and coconut oil provides a good source.

She began feeding her husband coconut oil, later combining it with a more concentrated MCT oil. She reports that this improved his short term memory, alleviated his depression, revived his personality, and reduced his walking and vision problems. Newport indicated an MRI even showed that her husband's brain had stopped shrinking.

The Wellness Letter reviews the research cited by Dr. Newport and concludes:
Nearly all of this has been highly technical, theoretical work -- or else preliminary research done in animals. In any case, apparently none of this research has used coconut oil, but rather special ketone solutions or products containing concentrated MCTs. A 2009 study of a pricey prescription "medical food" providing high doses of MCTs (Axona, whose maker funded the study) found some minor improvements in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's.
Coconut Oil -- the Bigger Picture
The newsletter sums up its report with these points:
  • Research on ketones and MCTs for dementia and other neurological problems has been interesting and should continue. But "it's probably a leap of faith to think that coconut oil would yield enough ketones to have a meaningful and persistent effect."
  • Countless other health claims have been made for coconut oil in recent years, and earlier studies have shown "these claims don't hold water."
  • Coconut oil is high in calories -- 115 calories per tablespoon. That can add up when the recommended doses are 4 to 8 tablespoons... or more. Dr. Newport's husband was taking 11 tablespoons a day at one point!
Although Newport's book focuses on using coconut oil to treat Alzheimer's, some understandably have wondered if coconut oil can prevent the disease. The newsletter says:
There's no reason to think so. Other dietary interventions, notably omega-3 fats (from fish) and the Mediterranean diet, have been proposed for general brain health. Unfortunately, as several major reviews have concluded, there's no solid evidence so far that any food, eating pattern, nutrient, or supplement can help prevent age-related cognitive decline or dementia.                                                                                                   
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