Coconut Oil Improves Brain Function in Alzheimer’s Patients

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Alzheimer's disease is a devastating degenerative brain condition that affects millions of people in the U.S. While pharmaceutical treatments have long lists of side effects, there is a natural food-based intervention that has proven effective in improving key brain functions. The best part is, it's probably in your food pantry right now

If you're a regular reader of GreenMedInfo.com, you're likely to have seen numerous articles detailing the dozens of healthy uses for coconut oil that are backed by science. From balancing blood sugar[i] and hormones[ii] to healing burns[iii] and ulcers,[iv] it seems there is hardly an ailment that is not soothed or supported by adding this nutrition-dense fat to your diet.

Coconut Oil: The Brain's Preferred Fuel?

In 2018, researchers added to the knowledge base with confirmation of coconut oil's usefulness as a brain-boosting superfood. The pilot study,[v] published in July 2018 in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, has shown that a Mediterranean diet, rich in coconut oil, improves the main cognitive functions in patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD).

Conducted by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from the Catholic University of Valencia, Spain, the aim of the study was to detect changes in key cognitive functions of patients with AD after following a traditional Mediterranean diet boosted by therapeutic doses of coconut oil.

Study methods were prospective, longitudinal, qualitative and analytic, meaning participants' health and behaviors were studied across time to observe unknown and unpredicted changes in outcomes. Inclusion criteria were diagnosed AD patients, aged 65 to 85 years old, who were institutionalized in the Alzheimer's Family Association of Valencia (AFAV).

A representative sample size of 44 participants was ultimately selected from the original pool of 458 AFAV patients, with criteria excluding patients who were diagnosed with other types of degenerative cognitive disorder or verbal disability that prevented them from answering test questions, and excluding patients with any metabolic chronic disease or who had been treated with drugs such as antidepressants, antipsychotics or hypnotic drugs, which could alter cognitive functions.

The 44 participants were randomly divided into two homogenous groups comprised of 22 patients each: an experimental group receiving coconut oil supplementation and a control group that did not receive coconut oil. Both groups followed an isocaloric Mediterranean diet that was shown in previous studies to be associated with a decrease in cognitive impairment in AD patients.

In the Mediterranean diet implemented in this study, proteins accounted for 15% of total calories, carbohydrates for 55% and lipids for 30% of overall energy intake. Calorie intake was the same for all participants, taking into account that in the experimental group, lipids were reduced so that by adding the coconut oil supplement, the daily lipid amount for all study participants was the same. The dietary intervention was conducted over a period of 21 days.

Cognitive changes in participants were measured by the same institutional psychologist, blind to study protocols, who conducted the "7-Minute Screen," an assessment that measures "temporal orientation, visuospatial and visuoconstructive abilities." Visuoconstructive disabilities are represented by difficulty doing math, driving and writing, among other common daily tasks. Patients were assessed the day before dietary therapy and the day after therapy throughout the 21-day intervention.

Alzheimer's: Most Prevalent Brain Disorder

According to researchers, "Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most prevalent neurodegenerative disorder, and new therapies are needed." This study was a method of proving their hypothesis that coconut oil can be a beneficial source of ketone bodies, an alternative brain fuel to glucose for AD patients whose hypometabolism, or poor glucose utilization, is a factor in their disease.

In addition to serving as a fuel source for brain metabolism, ketone bodies, in adequate doses, regulate glutamate release in the synaptic cleft, the space between neurons that transmits impulses.[vi] Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that is involved in most aspects of normal brain function.[vii]

Researchers stated that gender is a significant factor in AD, with women more commonly affected than men.

The trial groups had 75% female and 25% male patients, reflecting the same percentages of gender distribution as the disease itself.[viii] In the published paper, the scientists noted the insidious onset of Alzheimer's disease, which initially becomes apparent through "progressive loss of episodic memory, followed by gradual impairment of declarative and non-declarative memory.

Later, loss of other main cognitive functions, such as language, executive functions, attention span, and working memory, have also been observed as well as alterations in temporal orientation, visuospatial ability, and visuoconstructive ability."[ix]

After a baseline assessment of all participants using the 7-Minute Screen, dosing commenced consisting of 20 milliliters (mls) of coconut oil, twice daily, for a total daily dose of 40 mls. This amount of coconut oil had previously demonstrated effectiveness at improving cognitive functions over 21 days in human[x] and mice studies.[xi]

Coconut Oil Improves Information Processing and Memory in AD Patients

Results were both confirming of the researchers' hypothesis regarding the benefits of coconut oil and encouraging for proponents of natural disease interventions:

"Taking a closer look at the changes observed in the group that received coconut oil, these changes seem to point to the fact that certain cognitive functions improved … such as temporal orientation (information processing), semantic memory and episodic memory …

[These improvements] … could be explained by the decrease in insulin resistance due to the action of ketone bodies, since memory improvement has been observed after intranasal administration of insulin in AD patients, which increases glucose metabolism."[xii]

An important observation was made regarding the potential for brain recovery with coconut oil: "It could be deduced that not all regions of the cerebral cortex recover to the same degree."[xiii] Regarding gender differences, researchers observed that "female patients recover more easily than male patients, which confirms our previous results, where a global cognitive improvement was shown in women."[xiv]

They hypothesize that these results could possibly be explained by hormonal differences in sex, "but not only with respect to low estrogen levels but also … by testosterone, whose levels of production are much lower in women with AD and cause them to have higher insulin resistance."[xv] Researchers concluded that the positive effects of coconut oil are not gender- or state-specific, however, the benefits are "more evident in women with mild-moderate state [AD]."

Final conclusions of the study were that an isocaloric, coconut oil-enriched Mediterranean diet improves cognitive functions in patients with AD, with differences according to patient sex and degree of severity of the disease.[xvi] They issued a call for further studies of this type to add to this important body of evidence.

To learn more about the health benefits of coconut oil, GreenMedInfo.com has more than 70 abstracts in the world's most widely referenced natural health database.


References

[i] Protective and Antidiabetic Effects of Virgin Coconut Oil (Vco) on Blood Glucose Concentrations in Alloxan Induced Diabetic Rats. Nur‘azimatul Quddsyiah H. Maidin, Norhayati Ahmad. International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Vol 7, Issue 10, 2015. ISSN: 0975-1491. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/62d6/b586d89f623b4be84ac93c828b31f1070b76.pdf

[ii] Effect of dietary saturated fatty acids on hormone-sensitive lipolysis in rat adipocytes. Awad AB, Chattopadhyay JP. J Nutr. 1986 Jun;116(6):1088-94. PMID: 3014093

[iii] Burn wound healing property of Cocos nucifera: An appraisal. Srivastava P, Durgaprasad S. Indian J Pharmacol. 2008 Aug;40(4):144-6. doi: 10.4103/0253-7613.43159. PMID: 20040946

[iv] Antiulcerogenic effects of coconut (Cocos nucifera) extract in rats. Nneli RO, Woyike OA. Phytother Res. 2008 Jul;22(7):970-2. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2318. PMID: 18521965

[v] Improvement of Main Cognitive Functions in Patients with Alzheimer's Disease after Treatment with Coconut Oil Enriched Mediterranean Diet: A Pilot Study.  de la Rubia Ortí JE, et al. J Alzheimers Dis. 2018;65(2):577-587. doi: 10.3233/JAD-180184. PMID: 30056419

[vi] Mirriam-Webster, Medical, Synaptic-cleft, https://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/synaptic%20cleft

[vii] Improvement of Main Cognitive Functions in Patients with Alzheimer's Disease after Treatment with Coconut Oil Enriched Mediterranean Diet: A Pilot Study.  de la Rubia Ortí JE, et al. J Alzheimers Dis. 2018;65(2):577-587. doi: 10.3233/JAD-180184. PMID: 30056419

[viii] Improvement of Main Cognitive Functions in Patients with Alzheimer's Disease after Treatment with Coconut Oil Enriched Mediterranean Diet: A Pilot Study.  de la Rubia Ortí JE, et al. J Alzheimers Dis. 2018;65(2):577-587. doi: 10.3233/JAD-180184. PMID: 30056419

[ix] Lazarov O, Hollands C. Hippocampal neurogenesis: Learning to remember. Prog Neurobiol. 2016;138-140:1–18. doi:10.1016/j.pneurobio.2015.12.006. PMID: 26855369

[x] Farah BA (2014) Effects of caprylic triglyceride on cognitive performance and cerebral glucose metabolism in mild Alzheimer's disease: A single-case observation. Front Aging Neurosci 16, 1-4. PMID: 25076901

[xi] Reger MA, Henderson ST, Hale C, Cholerton B, Baker LD, Watson GS, Hyde K, Chapman D, Craft S (2004) Effects of beta-hydroxybutyrate on cognition in memory-impaired adults. Neurobiol Aging 25, 311-314. PMID: 15123336

[xii] How does coconut oil affect cognitive performance in alzheimer patients?  de la Rubia Ortí JE, et al. Nutr Hosp. 2017 Mar 30;34(2):352-356. doi: 10.20960/nh.780. PMID: 28421789

[xiii] Improvement of Main Cognitive Functions in Patients with Alzheimer's Disease after Treatment with Coconut Oil Enriched Mediterranean Diet: A Pilot Study.  de la Rubia Ortí JE, et al. J Alzheimers Dis. 2018;65(2):577-587. doi: 10.3233/JAD-180184. PMID: 30056419

[xiv] Improvement of Main Cognitive Functions in Patients with Alzheimer's Disease after Treatment with Coconut Oil Enriched Mediterranean Diet: A Pilot Study.  de la Rubia Ortí JE, et al. J Alzheimers Dis. 2018;65(2):577-587. doi: 10.3233/JAD-180184. PMID: 30056419

[xv] Improvement of Main Cognitive Functions in Patients with Alzheimer's Disease after Treatment with Coconut Oil Enriched Mediterranean Diet: A Pilot Study.  de la Rubia Ortí JE, et al. J Alzheimers Dis. 2018;65(2):577-587. doi: 10.3233/JAD-180184. PMID: 30056419

[xvi] Improvement of Main Cognitive Functions in Patients with Alzheimer's Disease after Treatment with Coconut Oil Enriched Mediterranean Diet: A Pilot Study.  de la Rubia Ortí JE, et al. J Alzheimers Dis. 2018;65(2):577-587. doi: 10.3233/JAD-180184. PMID: 30056419

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.

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