November 12, 2013

Conventional Medicine and Alternative Medicine and Coconut Oil: Here’s a Fresh Perspective

Anyone who’s read my posts on this issue knows where I’m coming from. I distrust and dislike the overly hyped and overly commercialized approach to dietary supplements and other alternative treatments. But I’m not knee-jerk anti-supplements. Two supplements that I discovered on my own -- curcumin and 5-HTP – are mainstays of my health regimen. Another – vitamin D – was prescribed by my internist.

I’ve been on a “less-is-more” kick of late, and I’m trying to use this mantra to discipline myself to cut back in many areas of my life, including pill popping. I feel strongly, and most medical authorities agree, that the more pills I take, the greater the danger of adverse interactions.

I also feel, again in agreement with most medical authorities, that the billions of dollars we Americans spend on dietary supplements -- and on the latest “cures” touted on the internet or TV -- are largely wasted. Most of us can get what we need from diet and exercise.

I’ve been particularly (overly?) harsh about the coconut oil fad of recent years that has its origins in Dr. Mary Newport’s story of the remarkable turnaround she saw in her Alzheimer's-afflicted husband Steve when she began feeding him coconut oil four or five years ago. I devoted two posts to coconut oil last week since similar claims are now being made for coconut oil as a treatment for Parkinson’s.

I’m aware, and family and friends can attest, that I often overreact and careen from one side of the road to the other in my views, often missing the middle of the road. I’ve been hoping that this trait, usually annoying to others,would generate comments on the blog from those with differing viewpoints so that the discussions would be more balanced.

When I write posts critical of alternative medicine and supplements like coconut oil, I do get some opposing opinions, but too often it’s just to accuse me of being a flack for Big Phama. These comments tend to argue: “Big Pharma is evil; ergo all supplements are good.”

A Well-Articulated Counterpoint to my Coconut Oil Views
Finally this past week I found an alternative view to my negative take on the claims for coconut oil that I thought made a well-reasoned and non-vitriolic case. That case was made on an online forum by a 74-year-old man with Parkinson's who uses the handle “Fwes.” He kicked off a lively exchange with a post titled "Coconut oil has improved my life."

I’ve been interested in the discussion on the forum that his post generated. The forum is for people with Parkinson’s disease. Several of those participating are also experimenting with coconut oil as a possible treatment for their PD. Fwes has begun collecting regular reports from these participants, documenting their consumption of coconut oil and any changes in their PD symptoms or medical data such as cholesterol readings.

I mentioned in last Friday’s post that one of my concerns about coconut oil was its very high fat content. I know that Dr. Newport and others argue that the fat in coconut oil has unique properties that make it a healthy fat. Other authorities disagree. Given this debate, I was interested in Fwes's mention that he was scheduled for one of his regular checkups at the Mayo Clinic, since in my post I had used a quote from the Clinic’s website cautioning about the high fat content of coconut oil.

Mayo Clinic Checkup and Coconut Oil
Turns out, Fwes has had his Mayo checkup. I was of course interested in how Fwes’ doctor viewed his use of coconut oil as a PD treatment:
I had a good visit with my doctor who is very scientific in his approach. He will not endorse coconut oil without clinical evidence. But he sees the change for the better in me and encourages me to continue what I am doing . . . . He recommended that I continue at my minimal level of PD meds.
I spent almost a week at Mayo getting a full checkup nearly 20 years ago and, based on my experience back then, I would agree with Fwes laudatory comments on Mayo:
They are efficient, intelligent and communicative. The environment is amazingly cheerful considering that almost all their patients have a very serious problem . . . Declines I have suffered are partially due to my own physiology and largely due to my stubbornness regarding increasing dosage of the meds. Fortunately for me, coconut oil has covered the gap and my doctor is supportive.
In an earlier forum post, Fwes wrote about his take on the history of alternative medicine. I liked the post and asked Fwes’ permission to use it in this blog. He asked me to hold off until he had a chance to publish it.

Stay tuned.



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