The Benefits of Coconut Oil

A couple weeks ago, one of my co-workers left an article on my desk for me. She gave it to me after I mentioned having a friend whose child was displaying behavioral issues. The article (actually a case study), written by Mary T. Newport, MD, a neonatologist discussed coconut oil and its benefits when dealing with neurologic issues. Specifically, the article was referring to Alzheimer’s disease, but based on the findings, one could surmise that the benefits could also be seen in those diseases that effect children, for example, Asperger’s syndrome. It’s important to note, as well, that when I mention coconut oil, I am referring to virgin coconut oil, as it contains less saturated fats, therefore making it healthier and nearly eliminating the adverse effects (I would say completely, but I don’t want to overreach).

Reading Dr. Newport’s article, “What If There Was a Cure For Alzheimer’s Disease and No One Knew?” which was published on July 22, 2008, was a real eye-opener. First of all, it made sense. Her theory on coconut oil was born from research she did into an investigational drug to treat Alzheimer’s, because of her husband’s own battle with the disease. Dr. Newport learned that the “promising” ingredient in the investigational drug, Ketasyn, was Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT) oil at a level of about four teaspoons. The Eli Lilly investigational drug, from what I can tell, is still going through clinical studies (and therefore not available). But, what is available is MCT oil, or rather what it’s derivatives—coconut oil and palm kernel oil. Summing up Dr. Newport’s case study—she found that adding virgin coconut oil to her husband’s diet improved his cognitive ability… significantly.

There was a sentence in Dr. Newport’s article that stood out to me. “The largest producer of coconut oil is the Philippines, where coconut and its oil are food staples,” and “The Philippines has one of the lowest incidences of cardiovascular disease in the world.” This prompted me to dig a little deeper, and after digging some more, I still came up empty-handed. I was trying to find some reliable statistics with the rates of Alzheimer’s disease in a number of countries, including the US and the Philippines. It seems that nothing concrete exists. Everything I found was based on estimates which tried to say that every country has the same rate of everything. Doubtful.

The lack of data comparing rates of Alzheimer’s and other disorders like those on the Autism spectrum (ASD) is troubling. I wanted to see if there was a lower rate of autism and other ASDs in countries like the Philippines. I want to know if something as simple as diet could be contributing to the huge increase we’ve seen in Autism and Alzheimer’s over the past several years. Thinking about coconut oil, and how it has been labeled as an oil that will clog your arteries, leading to a steep decline in its use makes you wonder. In addition, think about how many people have cut back on their fatty oil intake—substituting margarine for butter, or  anything low-fat for the fattier counterpart that was once a staple in American diets.

As a mom of two healthy kids, I can’t help but wonder if my apparent disregard for “low-fat” has helped my family. While I’m not saying you need to make fat the main ingredient of your diet, I am saying that Dr. Newport’s article has inspired some serious thought, and led me to the conclusion that fats, in moderation, are essential for our well-being.

Dr. Newport discussed in the Frequently Asked Questions section of her website who should try using coconut oil to improve their neurological health. Her answer: “People who have a neurodegenerative disease that involves decreased glucose uptake in neurons could benefit from taking higher amounts of coconut and/or MCT oil to produce ketones which may be used by brain cells as energy.  These diseases include Alzheimer’s and other dementias, Parkinson’s, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s), multiple sclerosis, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, autism, Down’s syndrome and Huntington’s chorea.”

My feeling is, what have you got to lose by adding coconut oil to your family’s diet? Use it instead of another oil to cook with, or add a little bit to some dishes. Who knows, it may help prevent your family from developing one of these debilitating diseases somewhere down the road.

Jennifer Azzariti