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.
In any case, other research suggests that the best oil for salads is olive oil while the best oil for cooking is coconut oil. Indeed we shouldn’t use olive oil at high temperatures.
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.'”
10 thoughts on “Coconut oil: after the cataclysm?”
Obhi- hi had a look here after your comment on my site at jeromeburne.com following my Daily Mail piece on coconut and Alzheimer’s. Didn’t know about the top models and coconut – excellent promotion – or the soyabean scandal. great background information.
Are some friends/relatives now using the oil? Be great if you kept a record of what happened. Not “evidence” of course but lots of people reporting similar effects does combine to make a case for further investigation.
Have you been in touch with Kal Parma – guy mentioned in the piece? He’s getting very involved in telling people about it, setting up a website etc.
Can give you his number.
Thanks for putting me and Kal Parmar in touch, Jerome. Yes, they are still using coconut oil. Beginning to track the changes on video.
My mothers husband is having problems with dimensia. Were you able to notice any changes? It would be nice to hear from someone first hand if it has helped in any way.
Basically, yes, though it seems to be more effective when combined with certain supplements. I’m just completing an investigative documentary called You must be nuts!, for which Jerome Burne was among those who kindly agreed to be interviewed. We’ve just published the part of his interview where he explains why coconut oil could ease Alzheimer’s: .
Thanks for your prompt reply! Has the documentary already been released….if so where can I watch it?
Thanks again, Michelle
After writing this blog post, I came across some more information about coconut oil. So here’s an update.
I had been wondering about the lack of funding for research into the effects of coconut oil on dementia. So I wrote to our MP, the former Health Minister Paul Burstow. He told me that £22 million has been awarded recently against a research call that he had launched when he was the Minister. He added that he will see whether the issue of coconut oil is being explored. He also initiated a Parliamentary Debate on dementia last month. He also drew my attention to the Economic and Social Research Council Dementia initiative. Last March, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron had announced plans to tackle dementia including a doubling of research funding into dementia to £66 million per annum by 2015. As part of the funding being made available, the ESRC and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) will be working together to support an initiative with up to £13 million funding available for social science research on dementia.
Last week, Paul Burstow received the following response from Alzheimer’s Research UK about research on coconut oil:
“At the moment, despite some anecdotal evidence available on the internet, there is no scientific evidence that coconut oil itself is effective for Alzheimer’s. Some research has looked at whether medium chain triglycerides, found in coconut oil (and presumably some other foods too), could be used as an alternative source of energy to glucose by brain cells. Much of this research has been at an early stage in animals. There have been several of small clinical trials using compounds derived from some of these medium chain triglycerides, but there has not been enough research done to know whether this kind of supplement could have benefits for Alzheimer’s. Also, with no research using coconut oil directly, it would be impossible to know whether any possible benefits from these compounds would also be gained from consumption of coconut oil.
We would always advise people to speak to a GP or consultant before undertaking any treatment but the current available evidence does not seem sufficiently strong. We would not rule out funding research in this area, but have not to date received any applications of direct relevance to this subject. Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Scientific Advisory Board recommends funding projects based on their quality and if a well designed, high quality proposal was put forward to investigate the possible benefits of coconut oil for Alzheimer’s, it would be considered for funding alongside other proposals.
Does that help? It sounds like Obhi has done a lot of research. We wouldn’t want to raise false hopes, but equally we wouldn’t dismiss it until we saw more conclusive evidence.”
This seems to be a slightly expanded version of the quote from the Alzheimer’s Society in the Daily Mail article: “The Alzheimer’s Society, which has just had its research funding boosted by the Government, says while it ‘wouldn’t discourage anyone from taking it . . . there is not enough evidence to suggest that coconut oil or ketones have benefits for people with Alzheimer’s, so we would not consider funding research into it’.” Last weekend, I wrote to the Alzheimer’s Society asking them to confirm that this was not their policy. However, their silence seems to confirm that it is.
It seems quite paradoxical to refuse to do research for lack of evidence. If there was already enough evidence for something, why would anyone still need to do research on it … ?
As it happens, the peer-reviewed article “A ketone ester diet exhibits anxiolytic and cognition-sparing properties, and lessens amyloid and tau pathologies in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease” by Kashiwaya et al was published in November in Neurobiology of Ageing. Professors Clarke and Veech were among its authors. They conclude that “Our preclinical findings suggest that a ketone ester-containing diet has the potential to retard the disease process and improve cognitive function of patients with AD.”
As health journalist Jerome Burne notes on his ‘Body of Evidence’ blog:
“The new synthesised ketones could eventually make the dietary approach more comfortable for neurologists and patients but it could take a while because what’s happening to epileptic children is essentially similar to what’s been happening to Dr Clarke herself.
She first produced ketones in the lab about a decade ago and it was obvious from the start that they had a huge range of possible applications (as set out in the article). Apart from epilepsy, they could help with diabetes and several degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
Imagine the funds that [would] have been pouring into ketone research and follow up trials if they were a drug. As it is Clarke still hasn’t even got the funding needed to scale up production so that large trials can be run. At the moment the synthesised ketones cost £80 per drink and they are only available for research.”
In contrast, drug-based solutions appear to be undergoing trials and are sometimes even licensed for sale based on what is apparently slim evidence, as illustrated by the case of Aricept 23 highlighted by the British Medical Journal last year. According to this LA Times article, even the original evidence was unconvincing for the two dementia drugs approved by the US Food & Drug Administration (donepezil and memantine, “which together account for more than 90% of the anti-dementia drug market. The most popular brand-name versions, Aricept and Namenda, make up 75% of the market.”).
“Examine the documents supporting the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Aricept, and you will see upon what a slim reed this drug’s empire was built. Those taking the drug scored, on average, three points better on a 70-item cognitive assessment scale. That’s about a 4% difference, mostly reflecting a slower decline rather than positive improvement. And the differences disappear when the drug is discontinued — indicating that the drugs “do not represent a change in the underlying disease.” At best, these effects may be only marginally more effective against dementia than garlic was against the Black Death in the 14th century.”
A 2004 LA Times article had suggested that the reasons for the enthusiasm for Aricept and Namenda were less than scientific.
Visiting the Alzheimer’s Research UK website, I remembered that best-selling author Sir Terry Pratchett had donated $1 millon to it a few years ago after discovering how little was spent on dementia research. So I’ve written to ask whether he could persuade Alzheimer’s Research UK to be more open to researching alternative therapies. Apparently, I wasn’t the first to mention coconut oil to him: many people have suggested it to him.
I should mention that Alzheimer’s Research UK did finance a major study into the effects of Vitamin B supplements on Alzheimer’s. Although the results of the study were positive and published in 2010, it seems that no funding has been found subsequently to take the research further.
Meanwhile, I had a long discussion with Kal Parmar, whose father’s story was told in the Daily Mail article. He told me that their story had originally appeared in the Harrow Observer. Since then, he has been contacted by over 300 people who have tried out coconut oil in connection with dementia and seen an improvement. I look forward to watching the major film he is preparing based on his father’s real-life experience of Alzheimer’s.
Although I’d mentioned the sources of coconut oil I’ve found in the UK (I’d be happy to hear about better/cheaper alternatives, of course), I’ve been asked where people can buy virgin coconut oil in North India. Coconut oil is more widely available in South India, where it’s part of their normal diet. The only source I have found so far is for Merit ‘VCO’ (virgin coconut oil), which seems to be produced in the most appropriate way and is available with free shipping within India from Excel Combine. This is the source we are starting to use for our relatives in North India with dementia.
Finally, I also came across this in-depth article Coconut oil: It’s good for you after all. This sets out the research which disproves the alleged connection between coconut oil and heart disease. They suggest that the reason for earlier negative findings may have been that the tests had been done with partially hydrogenated coconut oil, rather than with virgin coconut oil.
In this video, English professional Rugby Union player James Haskell talks about how the team has started to use virgin coconut oil.
“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.”
– Always the case, trash the good, replace with the unhealthy. It is sickening.
I’ve looked at coconut oil a good bit. While there is lots of good to say there are one or two things that are wrong in the general narrative. Perhaps most significant is that coconut oil is not good at high cooking temperatures. It has a relatively low smoke point especially virgin coconut oil. Virgin coconut oil has some advantages in terms of phenol content but refined coconut oil’s higher smoke point probably makes it a better bet for cooking and for high temperature cooking another oil entirely might be even better. You don’t want to increase cancer risk from carcinogens in burnt cooking oil.
Thanks for your comment. Actually, I did mention this in the section ‘What type of coconut oil?’, although without going into the details. It’s covered in more detail in the article I mentioned above: Coconut Oil Benefits: When Fat Is Good For You.
The smoke point of virgin coconut oil is around 175C (350F). As I mentioned in my original post, we use refined coconut oil for cooking. Its smoke point is around 232C (450F). (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoke_point) . However, there are different types of refined coconut oils and one should avoid coconut oil refined with hexane or hydrogenation, as mentioned above.
Of course, it depends what cooking oil you are trying to compare it to. Almost all other cooking oils with a high smoke point are associated with trans fats, which are now acknowledged to increase the risk of coronary heart disease and are estimated to be responsible for 100,000 deaths in the US each year. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans_fat)
As a result, polyunsaturated fats, which include common vegetable oils such as corn, soy, safflower, sunflower and canola are regarded as the worst oils to cook with.
There is a new online forum for people sharing experiences of possible treatments of Alzheimer’s/dementia, including coconut oil.