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Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs), the primary type of fat found within coconut oil, have been found to boost cognitive performance in older adults suffering from memory disorders as serious as Alzheimer's -- and not after months or even days of treatment, but after a single 40 ml dose!
A groundbreaking 2004 study published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging found that the administration of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), the primary fat type found in coconut oil, almost immediately improved cognitive function in older adults with memory disorders.
The study involved 20 subjects with Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment who, on separate days, were given either emulsified MCTs or a placebo. The researchers observed a significant increase in blood plasma levels of the ketone body beta-hydroxylutyrate (beta-OHB) after only 90 minutes of treatment, and depending on the apolipoprotein E genotype of the subject tested, beta-OHB levels either continued to rise or held constant between the 90 and 120 minute blood draws in the treatment condition. Remarkably, cognitive testing revealed that this brief MCT treatment facilitated improved performance on the Alzheimer's Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive Subscale (ADAS-cog) in 4 subjects within the study group. Moreover, "higher ketone values were associated with greater improvement in paragraph recall with MCT treatment relative to placebo across all subjects (P=0.02)."[i]
The details of the study procedure was described as follows:
The study was conducted with a double-blind placebo controlled design with two study visits. During each visit, subjects received one of two isocaloric conditions (690calories) in a randomized order: emulsified MCTs, or emulsified long chain triglycerides as a placebo. NeoBee 895 (Stepan, Inc.) was used for MCTs. To increase palatability, heavy whipping cream was used as a source of long chain triglycerides and as a source of long chain mono- and di-glycerides for emulsification. MCTs (40ml) were blended with 152ml heavy whipping cream to create the emulsified test sample. Heavy whipping cream alone (232ml) was blended to create the placebo.
Subjects fasted from 8:00 p.m. on the night prior to the study visit. They arrived in the morning and blood was drawn to determine plasma β-OHB levels and APOE genotyping (first visit only). Subjects then consumed the test beverage and rested quietly for 90min, after which blood was drawn and a 30-min cognitive testing session ensued. After testing, a final blood draw was taken.
How Medium Chain Triglycerides Work
How could a single dose of MCTs (40 ml or 2.7 tablespoons) cause an almost immediate improvement in cognitive performance in those suffering from cognitive impairments as serious as Alzheimer's disease? The explanation is found both in the unique metabolic needs of the brain and in the configuration of MCTs themselves. Whereas the primary fuel source for the energy-hungry brain is glucose, when insulin resistance and suboptimal metabolism (hypometabolism) develops in the brain, both the brain's structure and function are compromised. Ketone bodies provide a much needed alternative fuel source to glucose that can recharge metabolic processes within the brain, resulting in an almost immediate improvement in cognitive function.