May 22, 2014

Coconut Oil for Alzheimer's: The Hucksters Are Quieter

I've criticized the hype for coconut oil as a cure for Alzheimer's. You can find earlier comments by entering "coconut oil" in the search box at right.

In those posts, I should have been clearer about my objection -- that the media hucksters were over-promoting coconut oil as a "miracle drug," unfairly raising the hopes of those afflicted by the disease.

A case CAN be made for coconut oil as a potential therapy for Alzheimer's (and Parkinson's). When asked about coconut oil and Alzheimer's, prominent AD researcher Dr. Rudolph Tanzi said:
I'd like to see a real trial. I'm intrigued by the anecdotes, but as a scientist, you get burned by anecdotes all the time. There are companies doing some trials now. Non-virgin coconut oil can have negative health effects - it raises your triglycerides.
That sums it up. A year ago, I wrote about the trial now underway at the University of South Florida.

The Coconut-Oil-for-Alzheimer's Bandwagon
Most people would agree that the leader of the band has been Dr. Mary Newport, a neonatalogist whose husband Steve was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease about 10 years ago. Five years ago, Dr. Newport saw reports that linked AD with glucose deficiency. Glucose is a sugar, and chief source of energy for cells.

In her quest for AD relief for her husband, Newport heard about a promising drug based on the theory that glucose-deficient brain cells could obtain energy from another source -- ketones, organic molecules created when the body produces fat. But the drug was years away from approval. Dr. Newport asked about other sources that might deliver ketones to Steve's brain, and was told that coconut oil was a good source. So, she began feeding it to her husband. They soon noticed dramatic improvements.

So far so good. But then came the hype touting this unique anecdote as a cure for Alzheimer's. If you Google "Dr. Newport" and "Alzheimer's" you'll find hundreds of links. Dr. Newport then wrote a best-selling book, Alzheimer's Disease: What If There Were a Cure? and became a regular guest of TV docs and media hucksters. Her appearance on Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network moved the CBN reporter to exclaim "God must have had a hand in it!" That interview on the network's webpage became one of CBN's most-visited sites.

The coconut-oil-for-Alzheimer's craze really took off. Dr. Newport has reported hearing from several hundred people who said her cure was working for them, too. But -- as the Alzheimer's Association has emphasized -- many thousands of people have tried the remedy, and very few have reported relief similar to Steve's.

For several years, I've had a "Google Alert" to track media reports about coconut oil. Until last fall, the reports about its impact on AD were very frequent. Then, they dropped off sharply last fall. That decline coincided with the sad news that Steve Newport had suffered a serious setback.

Coconut Oil for AD: Status Today
Most of the hucksters have decided there's no more money to be made from exaggerated claims for coconut oil. We can focus instead on anecdotal and research reports from people whose interests are scientific, not financial.

Here's an example of a positive and helpful post from a man who followed Newport's coconut oil regimen to treat his wife's Alzheimer's. He's not seen significant  improvement, but he plans to extend his personal trial by adding MTC oil to the coconut oil. He explains:
Blood tests have shown that MCT oil raises ketone levels higher than coconut oil, but the levels drop off more quickly than ketone levels that result from coconut oil (about 3 hours for MCT oil vs 6 to 8 hours for coconut oil). Combining the two oils yields the valuable early boost from MCT oil and the longer-lastingness of coconut oil.
I was intrigued by this comment in his post:
Newport mentions that around the time her husband’s Alzheimer’s was diagnosed in 2003, he had developed a craving for sugary foods, though blood tests at the time ruled out diabetes. She has since learned from other sufferers or their families of a frequent correlation between Alzheimer’s disease and a craving for sugar.
I crave sugar, too, particularly after meals. Fortunately, I can satisfy the craving in a relatively healthy way by munching on slices of dried apples.

Hmmm. Maybe I should try coconut oil.

Clinical Study of AD and Coconut Oil
Much to her credit, Dr. Newport has lobbied for research on coconut oil and Alzheimer's, and those efforts are bearing fruit. Earlier this year, the University of South Florida's Byrd Alzheimer's Institute announced it had received $250,000 from a private foundation to fund a proper study of the coconut oil-Alzheimer's connection. The Institute has enrolled 65 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's and hopes to report study results within a year.

Coconut Oil for Parkinson's
Since Parkinson's and Alzheimers are related neurologically, coconut oil therapy is being explored as a Parkinson's treatment, too. To date, we've haven't seen anything like the over-commercialized promotion we did for Alzheimers.

For a good discussion and sharing of experiences on this topic by people with Parkinson's, see this thread on the "Parkinson's Movement" forum on the HealthUnlocked website.

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