November 7, 2013

The Coconut Oil "Cure" -- First Alzheimer's, Now Parkinson's?

I’ve written often about the hype -- unsubstantiated by science -- that coconut oil cures Alzheimer’s disease.

Now, I'm finding reports that coconut oil can treat symptoms of Parkinson's. I was ready to bet the ranch that the same baseless "buy-our-product!" propaganda was driving these new claims.

It's a good thing I'm not a betting man.

But before I get to the coconut-oil-for-Parkinson's story, let me admit: I, too, once found a "miracle cure."

5-HTP: My Own Experience with a "Miracle Cure"
As my Parkinson's developed, I experienced depression, insomnia, and constipation -- all common non-motor symptoms of the disease. Only one thing worked for me: the OTC serotonin booster 5-HTP. 

In fact, it worked "like a miracle." My neurologist approved this use of 5-HTP and even recommended the product to newly diagnosed patients. I urged family and friends to buy and try it, too. I even started this blog to share the gospel of 5-HTP.

But nobody else -- not a one -- encountered the same amazing benefits. I was disappointed, but learned some important lessons:
  • Parkinson’s is a very idiosyncratic disease that affects everyone differently.
  • Each PWP is unique and will respond to treatments in very different ways. 
  • What works for me may not work for anyone else.
As soon as I learned how unique my own positive experience with 5-HTP was, I stopped promoting it.

Dr. Newport, Coconut Oil, and Alzheimer’s
About five years ago, Dr. Mary Newport started feeding coconut oil to her Alzheimer's-afflicted husband Steve. To their joy, improvements followed.

Those improvements surely seemed like a miracle to the Newports. She wrote a book, now in its second printing, Alzheimer's Disease: What If There Was a Cure?: The Story of Ketones. Other media outlets, like Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, picked up the story and helped her spread the coconut-for-AD gospel.. So did TV doctors Oz and Mercola.

What started as one man's anecdotal good news quickly became a commercial undertaking for an army of profiteers. Just Google "coconut oil and Alzheimer's; you'll see after page of links to products and books for sale.

Last year's Spring / Summer Bulletin from the Alzheimer's Association featured an article "What's Next in Dementia Research -- and What Isn't" that included this quote:
Every day we hear magical claims of products promising relief. Coconut oil, for example, is touted by a physician in Florida as having a miraculous impact on her husband. While the ketones in coconut oil are being widely studied for dementia and are a key ingredient in an FDA-approved food product for memory loss, there is no scientific evidence that coconut oil helps with Alzheimer’s. The coconut oil promise has been around for more than three years. If the administration of coconut oil was, indeed, beneficial, it would be shouted from every mountaintop.
A New Study of the AD-Coconut Oil Connection
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.

Sad News About Steve Newport
For Steve Newport, it's been a difficult year. According to a recent interview with Dr. Newport by CTV News, Steve suffered a stroke this summer and is now incapacitated. Here's the latest interview with Dr. Newport; it provides a good summary of their story. She is convinced that coconut oil gave Steve several good years he wouldn't otherwise have enjoyed.

Now... Coconut Oil and Parkinson's
Given my experience with the "miracle med" 5-HTP -- and my misgivings about the unvalidated claims for coconut oil and Alzheimer's -- I was very skeptical when I started seeing comments posted on sites for people with Parkinson's (PWPs) that coconut oil had beneficial applications for us, too. I feared that an anecdotal success story -- like the Newports' with AD -- would be used to create more false hopes and fuel a new commercial enterprise.

Instead, I discovered a noncommercial effort by PWPs to carefully explore the issue.

Still, the coconut oil-for-PD does have an acolyte: a 74-year-old PWP diagnosed over three years ago. He used standard carbidopa/levodopa therapy, and underwent conventional PD treatment at the Mayo Clinic. Troublesome symptoms persisted.

This past April, after learning about Steve Newport's success using coconut oil for a different degenerative disease, he started using the product to treat his Parkinson's. Within a few days, he saw progress. Using the handle "fwes," he lists his amazing improvements on the "Health Unlocked" website in a post he titled Coconut Oil Has Improved My Life.

"Fwes" is a retired professional who seems eager only to share his story, hopeful his experience might help others. There appears to be no profit motive, no conflict of interest in his remarkable endorsement of coconut oil for PD, as I've so regularly found with the coconut oil-for-AD saga.

To Be Continued Tomorrow

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