Coconut Oil and Alzheimer’s Disease

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.
ncreased 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.

*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 85.4 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.5 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.

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.

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