utilities

Coconut oil for Alzheimer’s – separating fact from fiction

Dr Laura PhippsKirsty MaraisClaire LucasRobin BrisbourneKaty StubbsEd PinchesGlyn Morris

Coconut oil as a treatment for Alzheimer’s? It’s one of those claims that has rumbled on for a few years now, but so far research has been inconclusive so there’s little evidence to say it can be of any help. Companies selling nutritional drinks and making claims about their effects don’t count. And while anecdotes from individuals can be compelling, sadly these claims can’t be verified, and need to be treated with caution. In fact, it’s best to be wary about any claims around coconut oil or other foods or supplements: as well as no proven benefits, there are potential harms.

This blog explains the thinking behind coconut oil as a treatment for Alzheimer’s and the reasons we have to remain cautious.

Coconut oil – energy for the brain?

To get to the idea behind coconut oil for Alzheimer’s, we need to take a step back to understand a little about fats and energy.

Anecdotes from individuals can be compelling, but sadly these claims can’t be verified and need to be treated with caution.

Most of us consume oil in our diets, be it vegetable, sunflower or olive oil. Oils are fats, rich in energy that our bodies usually turn into glucose to use. Different oils and fats have different structures and compositions. One component of coconut oil is caprylic acid. This is broken down into ‘ketone bodies’ which can also be used by our cells for energy. Glucose and ketone bodies aren’t the only energy sources for our bodies, but they’re the ones relevant here. Our brain usually gets most of its energy from glucose, but brain cells can also use ketone bodies.

During Alzheimer’s disease, we can see from brain scans that areas affected by the disease use less glucose. This is thought to be due to a number of causes, including, but not limited to:

  • Expression of specific genes
  • Oxidative stress
  • Cell activation and inflammation
  • Synapse loss
  • Cell death.

So the thinking is that ketone bodies, provided by coconut oil, can give the brain the energy it needs to function properly. Most experts in neuroscience and Alzheimer’s don’t follow this argument – if cells are dead or dying because of Alzheimer’s disease, giving them energy won’t help, it can’t protect them.

Just a theory

We know that normally when we lack glucose, for example from prolonged fasting, our brains start to switch to using ketone bodies for energy. But we don’t know if this happens in Alzheimer’s disease too, let alone whether consuming coconut oil, which may be turned into ketone bodies, could help.

Many researchers are sceptical. Just providing energy to cells affected by Alzheimer’s is extremely unlikely to save them from the toxic processes caused by the disease. There’s so much we don’t understand about how and why nerve cells die during Alzheimer’s, causing its devastating symptoms, but it’s more complex than needing energy.

While some are doubtful, some continue to research ketone bodies as a potential treatment.

Evidence

Some testing has been done in the USA, on a product containing caprylic acid. Its makers undertook Phase II clinical trials of the product and found people taking it did improve in memory function compared to those taking a placebo. However, phase II trials aren’t enough to prove something is effective, they’re too small and primarily designed to look at side effects and dosage. The company didn’t undertake phase III clinical trials to confirm the effectiveness of their product, and so it’s marketed in the US as a medical food, which doesn’t require any clinical testing.

It’s important to note that these are only clinical trials of a product containing caprylic acid. No other research groups have replicated these early findings. Manufacturers of such products are the only ones to be making any claims that they might help people with Alzheimer’s. There are no published results from clinical trials testing coconut oil, although one study in the USA is currently recruiting (Apr 2017). Until we have the results from a large-scale clinical trial, we must conclude that at the moment there’s no scientific evidence that coconut oil can help people with dementia.

‘But it helped me…’

Unfortunately, people’s stories of improvements in memory and thinking skills after taking coconut oil don’t prove that is was the oil causing these changes. We cannot say that what is true for one person will be true for another, or even whether it would be safe for another. We cannot say what any improvement seen in an individual was caused by; there are too many factors to take into account. There’s a large placebo effect in Alzheimer’s, and people’s condition naturally fluctuates, so it’s difficult to assess whether any intervention is working or not. To find that out we’d need full placebo controlled clinical trials.

Dangers

You may well think, if it could help, then why not? Because there’s a risk – coconut oil is extremely fatty. The World Health Organisation and the NHS, amongst others, advise against consuming high amounts of coconut oil, due to its high levels of saturated fat which could, in turn, lead to high cholesterol levels.

Advice

This is not all doom and gloom about yet another treatment that turns out to be a myth. Energy dysfunction in brain cells is important in Alzheimer’s and many researchers worldwide are investigating how this process is involved in the disease – this is not a closed off area of research.

We must conclude that at the moment there’s no scientific evidence that coconut oil can help people with dementia.

It also serves as reminder about diet. While there’s unlikely to ever be one simple thing we can eat or drink to help with symptoms, it’s still important to eat a healthy balanced diet. This, together with regular exercise, could help lower your risk of developing dementia. It’s also important to remember that a healthy balanced diet is especially vital for people with dementia, to ensure they get all the right nutrients.

For more information on the current treatments available for Alzheimer’s and other dementias, visit our website.

Find out more about clinical testing and trials on our website.

24 Responses to Coconut oil for Alzheimer’s – separating fact from fiction

  1. TedHutchinson 7 December 2013 at 11:26 am #

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24244584
    Early decline in glucose transport and metabolism precedes shift to ketogenic system in female aging and Alzheimer’s mouse brain

    It’s reasonable to suppose the same happens in human brains. Therefore, it seems unnecessarily cruel to deny those whose brains have a reduced capacity for metabolising glucose, an alternative fuel source.

    Human milk is rich in medium chain triglyceriedes, so as we know developing brains naturally thrive on MCT rich foods. It’s an established fact Ketogenic diets are safely used by children with epilepsy. It’s therefore reasonable to suppose brains with damaged glucose regulation/metabolism may also improve when provided with fuel source they can use.

    It’s simply common sense for people with the early signs of dementia or indeed diabetes in any disease where impaired glucose metabolism is a factor, to want to benefit from the potential neuroprotective potential of a ketogenic diet. Eventually there will be sufficient numbers of case history’s available for the disconnect between the reality of what actually happens in practice, in real life situations, when compared to big pharma funded research to become obvious to all, except perhaps those with vested interests.

    • ARUK Editor
      ARUK Editor 17 December 2013 at 10:06 am #

      Thanks for your interesting comments. There is a lot of research going on into why nerve cells die in Alzheimer’s – preventing them dying is a key goal for researchers as it could halt the disease. We know that during Alzheimer’s, certain brain cells use less glucose, for a number of different, complex, reasons. At the moment, we don’t know if providing them with an alternative fuel source would help – there is no evidence it would. Without placebo controlled clinical trials there is no way of telling if an intervention would work or not, so at the moment we can’t say that there is any evidence that a particular diet could help, or has any neuroprotective potential. While research in mice is an important early stage of any treatment development – we can’t say that what happens in mice will also happen in man – another reason we need placebo controlled trials.

      The best evidence is that what is good for your heart is good for your head. A healthy, balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise is the best way to help lower your risk of dementia.

      • TedHutchinson 17 December 2013 at 11:55 am #

        The fact there is currently little or no evidence regarding the neuroprotective potential of a ketogenic diet only reflects the current bias present medical research funded by big pharma and published in journals dependant on drug industry advertising for their revenue stream.
        See, Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Pharma”, Peter C Gøtzsche (Cochrane database director) “Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How big pharma has corrupted healthcare” or search for David Healy’s blog or book “Pharmageddon” A relatively quick summary of methods used by big pharma to bias the evidence base is set out in this You Tube Lecture
        How we have been lied to by Big Pharma

        Given the role of Neuroinflammation and Brain Functional Disconnection in Alzheimer’s Disease we should perhaps remind readers human DNA evolved without access to grains or grain fed meats at a latitude where anti-inflammatory Vitamin D from Sunlight and anti-inflammatory melatonin (better circadian rhythm ~ no electric light) levels were higher.
        As the ability to naturally create Vitamin D and melatonin declines with age, it is simply common sense to ensure 25(OH)D levels are kept optimal (115nmol/l is the level of equilibrium of humans living as DNA evolved) and time-release melatonin is available.

        For someone with a damaged metabolism a balanced diet would have to avoid pro-inflammatory omega 6 vegetable oils and intensively produced omega 6 rich meats. Grassfed pastured meat have higher omega 3 and lower omega 6 levels. Farmed fish also may be grain fed and thus pro-inflammatory omega 6 high. The over-processed nature of the western diet results in low level chronic acidosis that leaches magnesium from our bodies. Restoring magnesium status also improves our ability to create and use vitamin D3 and adds to vitamin D3’s anti-inflammatory potential, as does the omega 3 DHA which, like curcumin, is a nutritional vitamin d receptor ligand.

        Given the current rise in incidence of conditions related to dysfunctional glucose metabolism, (Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia) it is surely time to end the disastrous low fat diet experiment and recommend diets based on those foods available throughout the evolution of human DNA.

    • Melanie Oliver 11 September 2017 at 6:36 am #

      Hear, hear! What boggles my mind is that they know that folks with dementia are deficient in cholesterol, acetycholine, gluthathione and testosterone in men, but still ignore nutritional supplementation and focus on medicating the symptoms of brain damage/shrinkage.

      Since cholesterol has a major protective function in the brain, it makes since to add healthy white fats like coconut, avocado and olive oil to the diet in big quantity. My mom no longer gets sugar cravings since we switched to cooking with coconut oil and even my memory has improved.

      I have genetic high cholesterol, so was on Statins and have a neurological condition as a result of a car accident. We put on toast, in porridge and fry with it.

      My thinking is that the folks with dementia who get sugar cravings are actually in need of the fuel from fats, not sugar. I am not a scientist and my time is minimal as I care for my mom and make Alzheimer fidget products to try earn extra money, but want to study the relationship between sugar (insulin) and fat synthesis further.

      I am now going a step further and advising carers of folks with dementia/Alzheimer’s to add the fish oil, which helps when taken early enough and rub the cheaper non organic coconut oil on their LOs backs, arms and legs to increase absorption through the skin.

      If more woman then men get Alzheimer’s, then surely Testosterone also has a protective function somehow, which should be investigated… In future they will be using nutritional supplements, ultra sound with optical light treatment and sound therapy of 42 MGHTZ.

      I looked at why Finland leads the world stats in dementia and it was so easy to find the origin that I wonder why no one else has seen it. A doctor in the early 70’s started a low cholesterol drive to lower their high heart stats. They did it by 75%, but went to extremes, so ended up swopping one epidemic for another.

      Then you look at doctor’s who prescribe Statins, but do not recommend the co-enzyme Q10 and other recommended vitamins, like C, I believe that should be taken with them. Research shows that Statins definitely one cause of Alzheimer’s.

      My thinking is that if I can help one person, then I have accomplished something. Supplementing with coconut is a better option than having two-thirds of your brain shrinking. I take cinnamon and buy Red Rice Yeast Extract when we can afford it. We tested it – one take three a day and in 20 days lowered my mom’s cholesterol from 6.9 to 5 and it has stayed down!

      Anyhow, let me not get started on the yellow oils and low fat spreads, which the health and medical profession advised folks to consume for decades. Wish more people did research on the research, but of course it is all bloody complicated. I have an above average IQ, but no genius unfortunately. Still, got to try and help maman and other’s if I can…

      • Daniela Dellacqua 18 October 2017 at 10:57 am #

        Hi ,
        So glad you wrote this I am also trying to help my mum and I feel so lost
        Thank you

      • Louise 3 June 2018 at 4:53 am #

        thanks Melanie. You sound super smart, logical and experienced to me!
        I have learnt many things about my body, metabolism, sugar lows, and brain fog from quitting sugar. I am also observing many symptoms of my Mother’s who has Alzheimers. Am about to start her on coconut oil and more good oil in general and see if anything happens.
        cheers
        Louise

    • Lisa 19 July 2018 at 6:15 pm #

      This is a hugely sad epidemic in the United States today. Sadly there is no money in an companies putting time and effort into clinical trials for coconut oils. Why? Because our entire medical industry is governed by Big Pharma. They cannot patent coconut oil so therefore they will spew out all over social media and another news outlet sources continuously lying to the American public that saturated fat is bad for you. Even the American Heart Association touts that is still can cause heart attacks. Well yes it can if you mix high saturated fat with high amount of sugar. Sugar is the culprit!!!!! The Sugar Industry has been scamming the American public for decades. They have demonized Coconut oil and its derivatives. Dementia and Alzheimers are DIABETES OF THE BRAIN. It doesn’t benefit companies to find a cure for this disease because then there would be no more ways to lie and gouge the American citizens.

      I was faced last year with a diagnosis of being pre-diabetic. I did the Ketogenic diet and lost 25 pounds. My LDL levels increased so I panicked and starting adding carbs back into my diet because I got scared that the Big Bad Boogie Man Coconut oil what going to kill me. I obtained a Coronary Calcium Scan and should absolutely no evidence of plague in my arteries. I have been consuming a very high saturated fat diet for quite sometime. Since I have decided against my better judgement to follow the doctors orders and eat more carbs, I have gained my weight back. But not now, I am not listening to the even the cardiologist that said I should not consume coconut oil.. I can honestly say that in my pre-diabetic state that my cognitive abilities had been interrupted. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that SUGAR IS RESPONSIBLE TO OUR CHRONIC DISEASES. It is ludicrous!!!!!!

  2. Audrey 8 December 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    I am doing a project on dementia prevention in my Health class and I found this blog. I think that this is a very interesting post and I was wondering if there is anything that you have found that is proven to prevent dementia?

  3. Becky Sherwood 4 January 2014 at 12:32 pm #

    It’s interesting that you are so quick to rubbish the benefits of coconut oil. If you have a look at this page

    http://www.coconutresearchcenter.org/The%20Coconut%20Oil%20Miracle-Where%20is%20the%20Evidence.htm

    you will see that there are actually thousands of scientific studies confirming the benefits of coconut oil, not just for dementia but for many other conditions and for general health and well-being. I wonder how many studies you feel you need, when new drugs often have only a handful of studies showing their safety and efficacy (and are often shown further down the line to be harmful and sometimes fatal) whereas natural products such as coconut oil have often been used quite safely for hundreds of years!

    Don’t be so quick to write off all saturated fats, we need some in our diet (human breast milk is rich in saturated fats- they should not all be tarred with the same brush!)

  4. Daniel 13 April 2014 at 11:56 am #

    That you would rely on the discredited notion that saturated fats cause heart disease (see, contra, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20071648?dopt=AbstractPlus and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20685950?dopt=AbstractPlus) undermines the credibility of the rest of your analysis. Moreover, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. There is no randomized placebo controlled studies on humans that prove cigarette smoking causes cancer. Yet I am sure you accept that they do. You then conclude by suggesting that your readers eat well and exercise because together they “could help lower your risk of developing dementia.” Sounds like you are advocating a non-placebo controlled clinical trial therapy. Consistency please.

  5. Steven Packer 23 July 2015 at 9:30 am #

    To enter into the debate. From a Health & Well being perspective – TIANA Organic Raw Extra Virgin Coconut Oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCT) which have been proven to have therapeutic effects on several brain disorders. One spoon a day can have a great effect on your overall health. You can eat naturally by spoon (tea or table spoon) after breakfast, use in tea, and coffee, nutritional drinks or in porridge. It has the highest content of lauric acid of up to 57% (Lauric acid in breast milk around 50%), which can strengthen your immune system and protect you against flu, colds and viruses.

    TIANA Organic Raw Extra Virgin Coconut Oil can provide a boost of energy throughout the day. Medium chain triglycerides are not stored in the body and burn up quickly. This boost of energy also helps speed up metabolism and also contributes to weight lose as the body is burning more calories!

  6. Trisha Boland 15 April 2017 at 12:00 pm #

    If coconut oil works as a treatment for Alzheimers, that’s fine by me. Doesn’t have to be scientifically proven? – qualitative research or anecdotal evidence on it appears adequate.

    Would be quite happy to use it myself, or give it to a person suffering from dementia. I appreciate that it may not prevent dementia, but it can certainly keep it at bay and delay its progression.
    Contrary to what you say, coconut oil is a healthy saturated fat, quite good for your health generally. It has virtually no negative side effects. Its actually recommended for weight loss, which is a paradox, but true.

  7. Tracey Hipkiss 5 May 2017 at 8:30 am #

    In my opinion, ketone metabolism is a perfectly evolved mechanism to deal with short sharp energy deficit. It has not evolved to be a long term solution to energy production. I can understand the suggestion for giving a ketone diet to Alzheimer’s patients at the beginning of their journey but it is not for everyone else. It sends chemical starvation messages to your brain, how can that be a good thing?

  8. Tabitha 12 September 2017 at 6:02 pm #

    This certainly is a prevalent debate in the industry at the moment, and there are a number of opinions and statistics on either side. Like you say though, the role of energy function in the brain in Alzheimer’s is an area of research that is rapidly opening up and proving fruitful overall – even ruling something out is a step.

  9. Sid 26 September 2017 at 2:27 pm #

    It’s interesting to note that Aricept (Donepezil) has questionable impacts on dementia – this has been known for years.

    But that doesn’t stop doctors from prescribing it. Is that false hope? Similarly Madopar can be wrongly prescribed to those whose dementia exhibits Parkinsonian type symptoms. Yet this drug can severely exacerbate the hallucinatory symptoms of dementia and does nothing to alleviate movement needs. Rivastigmine is the same.

    The difference between nutrition side effects and pharmacological side effects is that those from prescribed medicines are likely to be vastly more severe.

    If giving your loved one coconut oil or supplementing with Vitamin D and B – as well as magnesium gives you piece of mind – it seems highly unlikely that by doing so one would cause great harm.

    Meanwhile the prescribing of drugs without full and careful follow up is highly dangerous and causes immense, needless suffering. We would like to think our doctors know exactly what they are doing – but the plain fact is, much of the treatment of degenerative illness is experimentation in itself. I’ve been present in the consulting room as doctors make best-guesses – contradicting each other – all at the patient’s expense.

    The NHS isn’t set up to deal with the vast demands on revenue and staff attention associated with dementia (yet ironically spends a fortune on drugs with marginal, short-lived impacts at best). If one were to investigate it would be easy to find those on whom Aricept has had no difference at all, and others who report substantial improvements. Just like a nutrition based approach.

    Equally, we should also note how vitally important it is to keep away from general anaesthetic in later life – which has a profound impact on anyone in the early stages of degenerative illness.

    Hopefully what this comment communicates is that there are all manner of risks to be considered in conventional and ‘alternative’ therapies – the key difference being that nutrition based approaches are unlikely to cause lasting harm.

    Dramatic over-medication of elderly patients happens without the blink of an eye – but mention nutrition and we’re told it’s not scientific.

    If you’re in two minds – go with your gut (incidentally, a great many medicines have a lasting effect on the human biome – our healthy bacteria which we need to survive. Effectively we’re nuking sufferers’ insides then wondering why the drugs don’t work – hopefully biopharma will be a key research to watch in the coming years).

  10. Barbara Cannon. 29 September 2017 at 10:36 pm #

    If a clinical trial is needed to prove or disprove the benefits of coconut oil then how come you are not conducting one? Do you only rely on pharmaceutical companies for trials? If so why? Surely natural is better!

    • ARUK Blog Editor
      ARUK Blog Editor 2 October 2017 at 11:40 am #

      Dear Barbara – thank you for your comments. As a fundraising charity we do not conduct research ourselves, but raise money to fund research. Most of our funding is allocated in response to applications for our various grant schemes, for example our Global Clinical Trials Fund. You can read more here: http://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/our-research/what-we-do/big-initiatives/clinical-trials/ If we received an application for funding for a project in this area it would be considered alongside the other applications.

  11. Douglas Johns 30 September 2017 at 12:06 am #

    Please see the following:-

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dvh3JhsrQ0w
    https://coconutketones.com/
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dfux-5Z4COo

    and understand why my wife is consuming Coconut Oil and C8 MCT oil as suggested by Dr Newport.

    Whilst not subject of standard placebo controlled clinical trials it has been shown by DR Newport to have been remarkably effective with her AD suffering husband.
    We have also noticed the positive effects of consuming the coconut oil on my wife and the detrimental effect on behavior when the “dose” has been missed.

    Dr Newport’s book ” What if there was a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease and nobody new” makes an informative and intriguing read on the subject.

    In Dr Newport’s words–“What is there to lose”.

  12. Tony B. 17 December 2017 at 3:10 am #

    For the most prevalent CAUSE of dementia, all one need do is look up into the sky most any day and watch the uninvited jets turn the atmosphere into the dreary inside of a garbage compactor. Nano aluminum – passes the brain barrier, goes right into the brain, nano barium salts, ditto, nano – I forget the last – stronium?, ditto.
    The people behind breaking nature down into nano particles, as well as the people spreading them into the air to poison the air, the land, the water, the plants, the animals that eat the plants and we, who eat both and drink the water, should all be hanged as they are killing us slowly while big pharma and the insurance racket make billions as we die.

  13. dorset mcDuff 11 January 2018 at 9:47 pm #

    well, maybe you people should tell us all where your money comes from. All of it, not just the money you are willing to talk about.

    Since we can’t know if you’re honest, why should we believe you?

  14. Mandy 17 February 2018 at 9:08 pm #

    My husband has Alzheimer’s. We used coconut oil for years but without any results.
    We also used the B-vitamines till the doctor said we had to stop because we were far above the healthy use. We used curcumin for two years now but whatever we try, his Alzheimer’s does not disappear but worsend a lot.

  15. sharma shankar 26 March 2018 at 7:40 pm #

    I had been desperately seeking for a psychiatrist but was told that the local ACT team was “capped” despite an influx of mental health funding I got frustrated. Only within recent time (3 years ago), I started reaching out online for Dementia cure. Eventually, I found a medication that alleviated his symptoms. I read an excellent article about Alzheimer’s/Dementia Disease that my mum too suffered with that is if I chose to use the word Suffer Which I DON’T. You see this condition is really what we make it out to be. Recovery starts with us the caregiver’s. How we think about this condition will determine how much power we chose to give it in our lives but the bottom line is that ZOMO medication works, it is a great relief, Lives matter and what I am encouraging others who have Alzheimer’s/Dementia illness, to begin doing!!. If you really care you’d try anything, mine isn’t so bad a board certified neurologist cured my Mum of Dementia. lack of knowledge was not a problem, and educating was not going to help. Stigma-free really needs more thought. check out the link to know more: https://curetoalzheimer.blogspot.com/

  16. Alan Byron 15 June 2018 at 3:30 pm #

    Alzheimer’s Disease classically is a specific pre-senile dementia occuring in the 50s+ Characterised by neuro fibrillary tangles and amyloid deposits. Nowadays it is conflated with a number of other causes and pathological processes what is termed arteriosclerotic or previously, senile dementia. So many factors will improve some kinds of dementia such as exercise, mental stimulation, and a mediterannean diet, so that bunging coconut oil into the febrile mix will produce improvement in some cases. This occurs without knowing the impact of the placebo response and so many other variable factors. As far as possible an accurate diagnosis based on the appropriate tests will determine which interventions will be of benefit.
    Empty out a dustbin and you will occasionally find fresh apples.

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