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Coconut Oil: Is It Effective in Treating Alzheimer's Disease?

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Updated May 01, 2012

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There have been several claims that coconut oil reverses the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, or at least prevents symptoms from progressing. A few readers have written to ask me about coconut oil, so I set out to find out if the claims are true or not. If they are, I would want to shout it from the mountaintops (or at least write frequently about it) so that everyone knows about the benefits of coconut oil. If not, I’d like to be able to respond accurately to questions about coconut oil and prevent others from having false hope about its benefits.

What I Found

The interest in coconut oil as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease increased in the last few years when a physician from Florida, Dr. Mary Newport, used it to treat her husband’s dementia. Before she began the treatment, she had her husband try the clock-drawing test, and he performed very poorly. She began giving her husband coconut oil, and two weeks later, she noted dramatic improvement in his clock-drawing test. A few weeks later, after continued coconut oil use, he again improved significantly in his ability to draw the clock as well as his verbal expression, physical ability and memory. He told his wife, “I’m back.”

She has written about his improvement and has also been interviewed, and attributes his improvement to the coconut oil. The 700 Club and several other media outlets produced lengthy segments on this doctor’s experience with her husband.

If you search online for coconut oil and Alzheimer’s, as I did, you’ll find several websites outlining the story above. There’s also a blog that the physician writes that shares her experiences with coconut oil and her husband’s response to it. Additionally, there are several websites that tout the benefits of coconut oil, citing personal experience and anecdotes to back up those claims.

There also has been research that demonstrated that coconut oil tends to increase the “good” (HDL) cholesterol, rather than the “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. This addresses a concern that some have raised, fearing that coconut oil will raise cholesterol levels to an unhealthy point.

Has Scientific Research Been Conducted?

The anecdotal information sounds exciting, and makes me want to go out and buy coconut oil, give it to those I know who are struggling with Alzheimer’s, and take some of it myself in case it works effectively to prevent Alzheimer’s.

Unfortunately, what’s missing is evidence of scientific research to test the actual benefit of coconut oil. I can’t find any research that’s been conducted to determine if coconut oil clearly and consistently does indeed reverse symptoms of Alzheimer’s and/or prevent them from worsening.

What we’re looking for here is called a double-blind study, where neither the researchers nor the participants know who is receiving the coconut oil and who is getting the placebo (the fake medicine). Otherwise, the results could be skewed since those expecting results, such as changes or improvements, might “notice” them just because they’re hoping for them. If no one directly involved knows who is receiving the coconut oil, it will be clear that any benefits on the cognitive tests (such as the clock-drawing test or the MMSE) are a result of coconut oil.

What Can We Conclude About Coconut Oil?

On the one hand, there are some exciting stories about the benefits of coconut oil. It’s a natural substance and seems to have the potential for a significant benefit. There have been some great reports, and it’s possible that it really may be effective and helpful.

On the other hand, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend an as-of-yet unproven substance for which there is not scientific research to support the use. The possibility certainly exists, but it must be legitimately tested to prevent people from spending time and money on something that doesn’t provide the hoped-for benefit.

What’s the Harm in Trying Coconut Oil?

Maybe none, but without research to answer this question, we can't be sure. Although coconut oil is a natural substance, it's possible that self-treating Alzheimer's symptoms with coconut oil instead of standard care could even be harmful. Like other treatments, coconut oil should be tested to observe for any side effects or health problems related to it, as well as to determine its effectiveness.

A Call for Research

In Alzheimer's disease, time is limited; in fact, there's no time like the present. My fervent hope is that researchers will very soon conduct a clinical trial that can conclusively determine the effects of coconut oil.

Sources:

Alzheimer’s Association. Alternative Treatments. Accessed March 27, 2012. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_alternative_treatments.asp

Newport, Mary. What if there was a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and no one knew? http://www.coconutketones.com/

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