Coconut oil as a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s disease has gotten a lot of attention recently. Advocates for this approach cite stories of folks whose symptoms have reversed and abated, even if just for a period of time. A frequently-told story is that of a Florida man suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s. His wife began mixing coconut oil into his morning oatmeal, and he began to show improvement within days and complete tasks that had become too hard for him. Ten years later, the disease has progressed nowhere near as quickly as expected. Coconut oil advocates also point out that the disease occurs less often in cultures where coconut oil is used often. Are these claims valid, or is this just another crazy food fad?
There is a possible explanation for why coconut oil may help. As the disease advances, Alzheimer’s patients have trouble with using glucose as energy for the brain. Without fuel, brain cells die and cognitive function suffers. However, there is another substance that the brain can use for energy: ketone bodies, which are produced as byproducts when the body digests coconut oil.
That being said, as of now there is no scientific evidence that coconut oil does what its supporters claim. Formal clinical trials to investigate are just beginning, and the results should begin to come in a couple years from now. But in the meantime, speculation and individual experience are all we have.
But since coconut oil is just another food on the supermarket shelf, there’s no harm in trying it, right? This is true in part, but there’s another factor to consider with coconut oil: its high saturated fat content. The Food and Drug Administration has not confirmed any health benefits for coconut oil, but they do warn people to keep their saturated fat intake to a minimum. Those with high cholesterol or problems with heart disease should talk with their doctors before enjoying coconut oil frequently. If you do decide to try coconut oil, look for brands marked “virgin,” which will have no trans-fats or hydrogenated oils.
Do some research and consider the risks. Be careful of exaggerated claims you may see online: many of those singing the praises of coconut oil also happen to be selling it! Still, you may want to try adding coconut oil to your loved one’s diet slowly. This may be an area of research to keep an eye on.