Published on: March 12, 2012
by Brian Shilhavy for Health Impact News Daily
The news about how effective coconut oil is in treating Alzheimer’s Disease is spreading fast, as news about the failure of drugs in treating Alzheimer’s continues to make headlines here in 2012.
Just this month, drug companies Pfizer and Medivation admitted that the new drug they were developing for Alzheimer’s, dimebon, not only did not help patients in trials, but made patients worse. The expensive drug had already reached phase III trials. So as the development of this drug has now been abandoned, and so many other potential drugs have also failed, many are beginning to look at the role of diet in Alzheimer’s and focusing on prevention.
People are also beginning to see positive results in using coconut oil to reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s.
The harm of low-fat high-carbohydrate diets is cholesterol uptake in the brain
One of the most recent studies that looked at the role of nutrition in Alzheimer’s was published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine: “Nutrition and Alzheimer’s disease: The detrimental role of a high carbohydrate diet”.
The authors of this study have noted how researchers have begun to direct their energies towards understanding the earlier stages of AD, since drug research in later stages has not been very successful. They note that several researchers have noticed a strong correlation between insulin resistance in the brain and early AD, suggesting that AD might be considered a neuroendocrine disorder of the brain or so-called “type 3 diabetes.” Other observations have noted an association of AD with mitochondrial dysfunction, which is also common in Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
But the authors’ main conclusions regarding the early causes of AD center around the transport of cholesterol from the blood stream to the brain. They state that there is mounting evidence which suggests that a defect in cholesterol metabolism in the brain may play an important role in AD. They give a nice summary of the brain’s dependency on cholesterol:
The brain represents only 2% of the body’s total mass, but contains 25% of the total cholesterol. Cholesterol is required everywhere in the brain as an antioxidant, an electrical insulator (in order to prevent ion leakage), as a structural scaffold for the neural network, and a functional component of all membranes. Cholesterol is also utilized in the wrapping and synaptic delivery of the neurotransmitters. It also plays an important role in the formation and functioning of synapses in the brain.
They point to several studies that show a lack of cholesterol present in the brains of AD patients which is so vital for several functions, and also note that other studies show this cholesterol deficiency in dementia and Parkinson’s disease. In contrast, high cholesterol levels are positively correlated with longevity in people over 85 years old, and in some cases has been shown to be associated with better memory function and reduced dementia.
The authors go on to explain that the lipid theory of heart disease started by the work of Ancel Keys in the 1960s led to dietary beliefs that cholesterol was to be avoided in the diet, and with that belief came the “over-zealous prescription of cholesterol-reducing medications over the same decades in which there has been a parallel rise in AD prevalence.”
Another result of the low-fat dietary belief was the replacement of fats in the diet with refined carbohydrates, which leads to a rise in blood glucose levels and over time to insulin resistance and diabetes. They point out that the prevalence of fructose, mostly in the form of high fructose corn syrup, is ten times more reactive than glucose in inducing glycation. This impairs serum proteins, and they hypothesize that this leads to a depletion of much needed cholesterol and fat in the brain. Strong evidence in favor of their hypothesis is the fact that studies show patients with type-2 diabetes are at two to five times increased risk to AD.
Increased lipid peroxidation is also shown to be an early cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Liquid vegetable oils, the polyunsaturates, are highly prone to oxidation and rancidity, and it is now well known that in the form of trans fatty acids (through the process of hydrogenation) they are extremely toxic.
Dr. Raymond Peat has talked about the difference between polyunsaturated oils and saturated oils in their importance for brain tissue for years now:
Brain tissue is very rich in complex forms of fats. The experiment (around 1978) in which pregnant mice were given diets containing either coconut oil or unsaturated oil showed that brain development was superior in the young mice whose mothers ate coconut oil. Because coconut oil supports thyroid function, and thyroid governs brain development, including myelination, the result might simply reflect the difference between normal and hypothyroid individuals. However, in 1980, experimenters demonstrated that young rats fed milk containing soy oil incorporated the oil directly into their brain cells, and had structurally abnormal brain cells as a result. Lipid peroxidation occurs during seizures, and antioxidants such as vitamin E have some anti-seizure activity. Currently, lipid peroxidation is being found to be involved in the nerve cell degeneration of Alzheimer’s disease.
How Coconut Oil Can Help Alzheimer’s
Coconut oil, by contrast, is highly saturated, and in its natural unrefined form has a shelf life of more than 2 years. Unlike unsaturated oils, it is not prone to oxidation.
Also, the study from the European Journal of Internal Medicine referenced above notes that Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) all have an association with mitochondrial dysfunction. A study published in 2010 used coconut oil to show that a diet enriched in the saturated fatty acids of coconut oil offered strong advantages for the protection against oxidative stress in heart mitochondria.
Much research is also being uncovered now on the advantages of high HDL cholesterol levels, besides the study we mentioned above in direct relation to Alzheimer’s. A study appearing in the American Journal of Cardiology in February 2011 showed that the higher men’s HDL cholesterol levels, the longer they lived and the more likely it was that they would reach the age of 85. A diet with adequate amounts of saturated fat is essential to keeping HDL high cholesterol levels. Those with deficiencies and suffering from neurological disorders need to consider a diet that is high in saturated fat, in stark contrast to the mainstream dietary advice for low-fat diets that might be causing many of these late-in-life diseases.
Another major advantage the saturated fat of coconut oil provides is its ability to provide the brain with an alternate source of energy in ketones. Ketones are high energy fuels that nourish the brain. Our body can produce ketones from stored fat while fasting or in starvation, but they can also be produced by converting medium chain fatty acids in certain foods. Coconut oil is nature’s richest source of these medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). A study done in 2004 took MCTs from coconut oil and put them into a drink that was given to Alzheimer’s patients while a control group took a placebo. They observed significant increases in levels of the ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate (beta-OHB) 90 minutes after treatment when cognitive tests were administered. Higher ketone values were associated with greater improvement in paragraph recall with MCT treatment relative to placebo across all subjects.
As coconut oil’s use becomes more accepted and widespread, and as people begin to realize the dangers of the low-fat dietary belief, we are starting to see more testimonies in relation to diseases like Alzheimer’s. One of the most widely published reports is from Dr. Mary Newport as reported by the St. Petersburg Times on October 29, 2008. Dr. Newport’s husband had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and was watching her husband quickly deteriorate. After using drugs that slowed down the effects of Alzheimer’s, she looked into clinical drug trials and found one based on MCTs that not only slowed the progression of Alzheimer’s, but offered improvement. Not being able to get her husband into one of these trials, she began to give him Virgin Coconut Oil, and saw incredible improvement in his condition.
The coconut oil he’d ingested seemed to “lift the fog.” He began taking coconut oil every day, and by the fifth day, there was a tremendous improvement. “He would face the day bubbly, more like his old self,” his wife said. More than five months later, his tremors subsided, the visual disturbances that prevented him from reading disappeared, and he became more social and interested in those around him.
While this is a great story showing how ketones and coconut oil can help with Alzheimer’s disease, it does not even address the whole issue of cholesterol uptake to the brain as I wrote about above. Until the media and the general public wake up to the facts regarding all the serious side effects from cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, simply adding coconut oil to one’s diet might only have a minimal effect, if any at all.
Carol Flett came across Dr. Newport’s research while praying for a solution to her husband’s worsening dementia. In her blog post Can God Use Facebook to Answer Prayers? she reports:
Within three or four hours after giving Bruce the first couple of tablespoons (of coconut oil) he was speaking in clear sentences again. He did have one relapse, shortly after starting, but it lasted only a day. After that he sprang right back and has been doing well ever since, taking care of many things himself that he hadn’t been able to do for a long time. The doctor came to see Bruce yesterday. He was amazed. He ordered another cognitive test, but he could see for himself that Bruce was much better. I told him about the answer to prayer. He believes in God. He didn’t scoff. He just said, “Keep doing what your doing because it’s is working.” I believe God can use whatever method he chooses. If He chooses to use part of his creation such as coconut oil, I won’t complain, and if He gives direction to His praying child through Facebook, that is His prerogative as well.
She has since posted a video of Bruce thanking people for praying for him, and explaining how his condition changed dramatically after taking coconut oil. He reports how he was diagnosed with dementia and could no longer care for himself, and that the doctors recommended that he be put in a nursing home.
Dietary Advice for Alzheimer’s Sufferers
Coconut oil does offer hope as nature’s most abundant source of MCTs, and it is an easily convertible fuel source for ketones. In addition, it is one of nature’s richest sources of saturated fat which is needed to produce HDL cholesterol to feed the brain. People suffering from Alzheimer’s should immediately start avoiding polyunsaturated forms of oil such as soy and corn oils, especially if they are hydrogenated and in the form of trans fatty acids. These are prone to oxidation and potentially mitochondrial dysfunction. Other healthy fats would include butter from the milk of cows that are grass-fed, and Omega 3 fatty acids from high quality fish oil, cod liver oil, or krill oil.
Refined carbohydrates in the form of refined wheat products and refined sugars should be strictly avoided! High protein foods such as eggs from pastured chickens (preferably fed a soy-free chicken feed), pastured poultry, and grass-fed meats are all desirable proteins for brain health.
Although it’s great to celebrate the big achievements, it’s also important to celebrate the small wins.
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