Some people have asserted that using coconut oil could help treat or even reverse Alzheimer’s disease. These claims are due to a theory that brain cells in people with Alzheimer’s are incapable of metabolizing glucose properly for energy production and therefore ‘starve’. Advocates believe that in such a case, coconut oil can act as a substitute energy source for the brain. These claims, however, are not currently supported by enough experimental data.
A clinical trial was conducted in the U.S. to evaluate the efficacy of coconut oil in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. It was, however, terminated in 2017 due to low enrollment. As a result, the researchers did not fully understand if coconut oil was effective for people with dementia.
The Theory Behind Coconut Oil
Researchers believe brain cells in dementia patients’ brains have issues converting glucose into energy, giving rise to the theory that coconut oil could correct this.
The hormone insulin, which controls blood sugar and glucose, has been connected to Alzheimer’s-related alterations in the brain. According to brain scans of elderly patients with Alzheimer’s, some parts of the brain start to have difficulty metabolizing glucose as the illness worsens. This problem is comparable to the one experienced by people with diabetes who can no longer produce or utilize the insulin required to transport glucose into their cells. However, it is still unclear precisely what part insulin plays in the condition.
Ketones, a class of compounds, are central to this theory. The damage brought on by Alzheimer’s interferes with the brain’s ability to use glucose, the primary energy source. When glucose is scarce (e.g., during fasting, strenuous exercise, and in newborns), the brain naturally draws some energy from ketone bodies. Ketones, produced by the degradation of coconut oil and similar substances, may offer the brain cells a different energy source and help reduce the damage due to Alzheimer’s.
Researchers are uncertain whether the difficulty that brain cells experience in producing energy is a cause of the illness or a result of other processes connected to it.
Ketogenic Diet and Cholesterol Levels
Unless a person eats a diet that is extremely low in carbohydrates, the body rarely produces many ketones by itself. The “keto” diet severely restricts carbohydrates while substituting them with high-fat diet intakes, forcing the body to rely on fat as its chief energy source.
Coconut oil allows the consumption of a slightly higher amount of carbohydrates while preventing the body from using them as its primary energy source. The only reason this works is that the body has to metabolize fats due to a metabolic shift.
Since the body prefers to use glucose for metabolism over fats, a ketogenic diet must be severely restrictive. It implies that including coconut oil in your diet will not give your brain cells a different energy source. Some studies have also linked the keto diet with high ‘bad’ cholesterol in some people, increasing the risk of stroke, heart disease, and dementia.
Coconut oil also has a high saturated fat content and can raise cholesterol levels. Therefore, the World Health Organization advises against consuming large amounts of oil.
Can Coconut Oil Be Genuinely Effective Against Alzheimer’s?
Unfortunately, there is no credible scientific evidence to back up the above claim. Since rigorous, extensive research studies on the effectiveness of coconut oil in treating Alzheimer’s disease are lacking, we do not know if it works or not. Due to the absence of large-scale studies, we cannot say whether coconut oil genuinely helps people with Alzheimer’s.
Should You Give Coconut Oil A Try?
It is crucial to remember that anecdotal evidence of coconut oil’s advantages for people with Alzheimer’s has not yet been thoroughly investigated or verified by researchers. As a result, not many medical professionals suggest coconut oil as a potential treatment for patients with cognitive impairment.
The absence of medical support does not mean that caregivers should dismiss coconut oil out of hand. However, just as the benefits of coconut oil are not proven, researchers have not ruled out any risks or side effects from using it in foods or as an adjunctive treatment for Alzheimer’s.
Proponents of the theory typically recommend consuming about three to five tablespoons of coconut oil per day to prevent the worsening of Alzheimer’s symptoms. However, it is crucial to start slowly at first. Consuming coconut oil for the first time may cause some people to experience extreme fullness and diarrhea. You can add a few tablespoons to some yogurt, oatmeal, or even a smoothie. Another well-liked alternative is to use coconut oil instead of butter or vegetable oil when sautéing meats or vegetables, particularly in stir-fries and curry dishes.
Consider Discussing Alternative Treatments with a Doctor
It is crucial to remember that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved coconut oil as a treatment for any condition. The FDA also advises against consuming excessive amounts of saturated fats like coconut oil. It is advisable to first talk to the loved one’s doctor about using coconut oil as an alternative or complementary therapy for Alzheimer’s disease, especially if they have a history of heart problems. While a doctor might not be able to suggest the oil as a treatment, you should always inform them of any significant treatment and dietary plan changes.