Coconut oil and dementia
There is currently a lack of evidence to show that coconut oil plays any role in preventing or treating dementia or its symptoms.
Does coconut oil help prevent dementia?
There have been some claims that coconut oil could be used as a treatment, or even a cure, for Alzheimer's disease. However, there is currently not enough experimental evidence to back up these claims.
The claim is based on the theory that the brain cells of people with Alzheimer's disease are unable to use glucose to produce energy properly, and so the nerve cells 'starve'.
Some believe coconut oil may act as an alternative energy source for the brain. However, there is not enough scientific evidence to know whether this is the case.
Is there any evidence behind the coconut oil claims?
A clinical trial into the potential effects of coconut oil was being conducted in the US.
Unfortunately this trial had to be discontinued in 2017. There were not enough people enrolled on the trial for researchers to fully understand whether coconut oil has any benefit for people affected by dementia.
There is some evidence to suggest that fats like coconut oil could indirectly result in higher levels of a protein called acetylcholinesterase.
Researchers have found that the level of acetylcholinesterase is higher in people with Alzheimer's disease and current treatments aim to lower the level of this protein.
This could mean that coconut oil may actually be detrimental to people with Alzheimer's disease.
It is important to ensure that any potential treatment is safe for people with Alzheimer's disease.
This is why treatments go through large clinical trials before approval for widespread use.
What is the theory behind coconut oil?
Researchers think the brain cells in the brains of people with dementia have problems with the way they make energy from glucose which led to the theory that coconut oil could make up for this.
Insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar and glucose, has been linked to changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease.
However, it is not clear yet exactly what role insulin has in the disease. We are funding research in this area and hoping to find out whether drugs that stimulate the insulin system could help slow down dementia.
Researchers don’t know whether the problem brain cells seem to have with making energy is a cause of the disease or the result of other disease-related processes.
Ketogenic diets and cholesterol levels
In the ‘keto’ diet, carbohydrates are strictly limited and replaced by high fat intakes, forcing the body to use fat as a primary energy source. This is a similar idea behind the Atkins diet.
Coconut oil is used to allow a slightly higher level of carbohydrate intake, making the very strict diet slightly easier to follow, but still preventing the body using sugar from carbohydrates as the main energy source. This works only because the body is forced to metabolise fats.
The ketogenic diet must be incredibly strict because the body will always preferentially use glucose for metabolism instead of fats. This means that simply adding coconut oil to the diet would not provide brain cells with an alternative energy source.
The keto diet is also linked to very high cholesterol levels, which is known to increase risk factors for stroke, heart disease and dementia.
In fact, the NHS and World Health Organisation advise against consuming large amount of coconut oil as it contains high levels of saturated fat which can lead to high cholesterol levels.
What should I do if I have questions about coconut oil and dementia?
If you have a question about coconut oil and dementia, we’d suggest discussing it with your GP.
Coconut oil is a popular topic within our online community forum. Visit Talking Point to connect with other people affected by dementia, and share your thoughts and experiences.
Understanding risk factors
Learn more about risk factors and prevention of dementia.