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

Coconut Oil to Treat Alzheimer's?
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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. Is this true and proven per research? Or, does this claim provide false hope?

Why Is Coconut Oil Thought of as a Possible Treatment?

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 an online search is conducted, 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 of this physician's experience sounds exciting, and makes many want to go out and buy coconut oil, give it to their loved ones who are struggling with Alzheimer’s, and take some of it themselves 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. No research has 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 more likely 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, the medical community 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?

Is there any potential harm? Unfortunately, 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.

As is the case with any new treatment routine, you should ask your physician before adding coconut oil to you or your loved one's routine.

A Call for Research

Unfortunately, a clinical study that was going to be conducted at the University of South Florida Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute on coconut oil and Alzheimer's disease has been terminated due to.funding difficulties and too low of an enrollment in the study.   

A Word from Verywell

While anecdotal evidence sounds strong, coconut oil has not yet been proven through research to be effective for dementia. However, several other non-drug approaches to treat dementia and improve quality of life have been identified and do have some research to support their use. Our hope is that research will be conducted to provide us with guidance on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of coconut oil for those living with dementia.. 

Sources:

Alzheimer’s Association. Alternative Treatments.  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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