Coconut oil and dementia
Presently, we have a lack of evidence in displaying coconut oil playing any role in treating dementia or its symptoms.
Albeit, there have been some claims regarding coconut oil that it could be used as a treatment, or even a cure, for Alzheimer's disease. But, currently, there is not enough experimental evidence to bolster these claims. The claim is on the basis 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 that the coconut oil may act as a substitute energy source for the brain.
How to reduce your risk of dementia
Though getting old is the biggest risk factor for dementia, evidence displays there are things like keeping active, eating healthily and exercising your mind that you can do to help reduce your own risk.
Is there any evidence behind the coconut oil claims?
A clinical trial was conducted in the US for the potential effects of coconut oil. Unfortunately, this trial had to be discontinued in 2017. There were not enough people enrolled for the trial to fully comprehend whether coconut oil has any benefit to 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. The researchers have realised that the level of acetylcholinesterase is higher in people with Alzheimer's disease and current treatments are aiming to lower the protein level. This could mean that coconut oil may actually be harmful to people with Alzheimer's disease. It is imperative to ensure that any potential treatment is safe for people with Alzheimer's disease, and this is why treatments go through large clinical trials before approval.
Ketogenic diets and cholesterol levels
In the ‘keto’ diet, carbohydrates are strictly restricted and substituted by high-fat intakes, compelling the body to use fat as a primary energy source. The coconut oil is used to allow a slightly higher level of carbohydrate intake, making the strict diet slightly easier to follow, but still averting 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 very 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 a large amount of coconut oil as it contains high levels of saturated fat, which can lead to high cholesterol levels.