Today we witness the perils which attend on the insolence of might; one day shall be borne out the full truth of what the sages have proclaimed: ‘By unrighteousness man prospers, gains what appears desirable, conquers enemies, but perishes at the root.’ From Civilisation’s crisis – the last speech of Rabindranath Tagore, 7 May 1941.
Early last year, a neighbour in London sent me a link to a video news clip suggesting that coconut oil could help to reverse Alzheimer’s disease. It sounded like an unlikely potential solution to a fairly widespread health problem – at least two of our friends and relatives suffer from Alzheimer’s or from dementia.
The clip was based on the research efforts of Dr Mary Newport who had started giving her husband 2 tablespoons of coconut oil per day after her husband was diagnosed as having advanced Alzheimer’s in 2004. It had a noticeable effect within 2 weeks. The news item followed the publication of her book What if there was a cure for Alzheimer’s and no-one knew? in late 2011. This was also the title of an article she had written in 2008 based on her experience and her research. In 2010, she had done a study of the effects of giving coconut oil/MCT oil to people with dementia.
One relative with fronto-temporal dementia, who had been advised to try alternative therapies as there is no known medication for it, started taking coconut oil after I did some research about its possible side effects. Essentially, the main side effect I’ve come across is that, for some people, it can lead to diarrhoea or stomach cramps initially unless you start with a little and increase the quantity of coconut oil gradually. Another is weight loss.
Earlier this month, a follow-up video news clip was published and the UK Daily Mail published an article entitled Can coconut oil ease Alzheimer’s? Families who’ve given it to loved ones swear by it. From what we have seen with our relative, the answer is ‘yes’ … and, since dementia can start 10-20 years before the symptoms appear, we have started to use it too.
What type of coconut oil?
There are different types of coconut oil. The main distinction is between refined and unrefined (also referred to as virgin or extra virgin coconut oil). The specific characteristics depend on the process used to create the coconut oil. Some coconut oils are refined using a chemical process involving hexane.
Virgin (or extra virgin) coconut oil is quite expensive, even if you buy in bulk. The one we are using at the moment is Coconoil organic virgin coconut oil, which costs £7.50 per 460ml tub if you order 12 tubs. We have tried other virgin coconut oils from health food shops but these have been more expensive.
We use the virgin coconut oil ‘neat’, with porridge or yoghurt, but use a refined coconut oil for cooking. The refined coconut oil we are using is KTC pure coconut oil, which is “not hydrogenated in any way and hexane is not used in the refining process“. Both Coconoil and KTC pure coconut oil come from Sri Lanka.
How much coconut oil?
In the original video, Dr Newport had mentioned giving her husband 2 tablespoons of coconut oil per day. However, more recently, I came across the article Conquering Alzheimer’s with coconut ketones by Dr Bruce Fife. According to him “The simple of act of adding coconut oil into the diet can both prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease. For treatment purposes a total of 5 tablespoons (74 ml) a day taken with meals is recommended. Add a portion of the coconut oil to each of the three meals consumed during the day. For prevention, take 2-3 tablespoons (30-44 ml) daily.”
Combining coconut oil with a low carbohydrate diet
Dr Fife insists that coconut oil would need to be combined with a low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet. His book Stop Alzheimer’s now! goes on to claim that this would prevent and reverse not only dementia but also Parkinson’s, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, and other neurodegenerative disorders.
Wait, but isn’t coconut oil supposed to be bad for the heart?
In mid-2011, when it emerged that the then 27-year-old Australian supermodel Miranda Kerr attributed “her blemish-free skin and glossy hair”, as well as her slim figure, to taking coconut oil since she was 14, supposedly credible doctors, including at the World Health Organisation, asserted that, since coconut oil contains high levels of saturated fat and calories, it could lead to an increased risk of coronary heart disease. Unfortunately, those doctors seem to have an “elementary school understanding of the subject of fats” because the “saturated fats in coconut oil are medium chain triglycerides which means they are converted by the body into immediate energy, not as added weight!”
In fact, as Dr Joseph Mercola pointed out in his article Coconut Oil Benefits: When Fat Is Good For You, a study back in the 1930s found “South Pacific Islanders whose diets were high in coconut to be healthy and trim, despite high dietary fat, and heart disease was virtually non-existent. Similarly, in 1981, researchers studying two Polynesian communities for whom coconut was the primary caloric energy source found them to have excellent cardiovascular health and fitness.”
Moreover, rather than being a threat to coronary health, “the naturally occurring saturated fat in coconut oil is actually good for you and provides a number of profound health benefits, such as:
• Improving your heart health.
• Boosting your thyroid.
• Increasing your metabolism.
• Promoting a lean body and weight loss if needed.
• Supporting your immune system.”
This is a relatively short list compared to the 333 uses for coconut oil. That notes that coconut oil contains the “good” cholesterol
So where does the bad reputation of coconut oil come from?
According to this and other articles, it is the result of a campaign to discredit coconut oil which was started in the mid-1980s by the American Soybean Association to increase sales of soybean oil by eliminating competition from imported coconut and palm oils. Up to that point, coconut and palm oils were common ingredients in many foods and were used extensively because they gave foods desirable properties.
“The media started warning the public about a newly discovered health threat – coconut oil. It was proclaimed that coconut oil was a saturated fat and would cause heart disease. In response to this anti-coconut oil campaign, movie theaters began cooking their popcorn in soybean oil. Food makers began using soybean oil and partially hydrogenated soybean oil (margarine) instead of the tropical oils they had used for years. Restaurants stopped using tropical oils in favor of soybean and other vegetables oils. The ASA set out to scare people away from using tropical oils. In 1986, the ASA sent a “Fat Fighter Kit” to soybean farmers encouraging them to write to government officials, food companies, etc. protesting the use of highly saturated tropical fats. The wives and families of some 400,000 soybean farmers were encouraged to lobby touting the health benefits of soybean oil. Misguided health groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPI) joined this lobby, issuing news releases referring to tropical oils as “artery-clogging fats.” By the early 1990s, the tropical oils market was only a fraction of what it once was.”
This had a fairly devastating effect on the countries which exported coconut oil. “Factories closed down, coconut farms were abandoned, the trucking and shipping industry was adversely affected, literally millions of people found themselves out of work and unable to find employment. In the island countries of the South Pacific, coconut production contributes to as much as 80% of their economy. So when coconut sales fell, these countries were thrown into an economic depression. In the Philippines, one-third of the population depends on coconut for their livelihoods. That amounts to about 25 million people. The majority of these people barely made a living as it was, now with the drop in demand for coconut oil and other coconut products the majority were thrust into complete poverty.”
As a result, the coconut oil and palm oil in people’s diets were replaced by vegetable oils. Unfortunately, “many of the domestic [US] oils are predominantly polyunsaturated, which makes them quite unstable, and subject to oxidation. To make them more stable, they need to be hydrogenated. A major portion of soybean oil, for example, is hydrogenated.”
As Dr Mercola explains, “Hydrogenation manipulates vegetable and seed oils by adding hydrogen atoms while heating the oil, producing a rancid, thickened substance that really only benefits processed food shelf life and corporate profits — just about all experts now agree, hydrogenation does nothing good for your health. These manipulated saturated fats are also called trans-fats — and you should avoid them like the plague. … And polyunsaturated fats, which include common vegetable oils such as corn, soy, safflower, sunflower and canola, are absolutely the worst oils to cook with.”
According to recent scientific research, hydrogenated vegetable oil “may be responsible for an unknown, but certainly very large, number of heart attacks”. So, ironically, having branded coconut and palm oils as “artery-clogging fats” without scientific evidence, the oils that were used to replace coconut and palm oils in the 1980s for essentially trade reasons have turned out to be “an artificially produced fat form that contains rich amounts of trans-fatty acids, or trans-fats. Trans-fats can increase your LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol and reduce your HDL, or “good,” cholesterol. Managing your cholesterol is important, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, because high cholesterol can lead to clogged arteries, which is associated with heightened risk for Alzheimer’s disease.”
Fortunately, coconut oil has started to make a comeback over the past 10 years, as illustrated by this interesting list of The top 10 celebrities who use virgin coconut oil. Coconut oil is also widely available at health food shops, Asian groceries, larger supermarkets and even Amazon. Thanks to the Internet, I was able to read the articles linked here and suggest that our friends and relatives, not to mention ourselves, try coconut oil. Thanks to the Internet, people around the world are helping to set the record straight about coconut oil.
In the early 1900s, Tagore famously sought a “heaven of freedom” “where knowledge was free” – rather like the late Aaron Swartz, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and others. In his last speech some 30 years later, he had looked forward to a period “after the cataclysm is over and the atmosphere rendered clean with the spirit of service and sacrifice. Perhaps that dawn will come from this horizon, from the East where the sun rises. … Today we witness the perils which attend on the insolence of might; one day shall be borne out the full truth of what the sages have proclaimed: ‘By unrighteousness man prospers, gains what appears desirable, conquers enemies, but perishes at the root.'”