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Ask Tufts Experts October 2011 Issue

Q: My husband, who’s been on medication for early Alzheimer’s, went to the emergency room for an unrelated ailment, and the ER doctor told him he should stop taking his Alzheimer’s drugs and switch to coconut oil. Is this good advice?

Answer :  You should never stop taking any medication without checking with your own physician. As for coconut oil, it’s touted as a source of caprylic acid, which the body breaks down into “ketone bodies” thought to provide an alternative energy source for brain cells that have lost their ability to use glucose (sugar) as a result of Alzheimer’s. Glucose is the brain’s chief energy source, and imaging studies show reduced glucose use in brain regions affected by Alzheimer’s. Small clinical studies of an experimental treatment based on capryilic acid were initially promising (most participants were also taking FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drugs). But the manufacturer opted to skip larger followup trials and instead market its product as a “medical food.” The Alzheimer’s Association Medical and Scientific Advisory Council has expressed concern that there is not enough evidence to assess the potential benefit of medical foods for Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association www.alz.org, “Some people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers have turned to coconut oil as a less expensive, over-the-counter source of caprylic acid. A few people have reported that coconut oil helped the person with Alzheimer’s, but there’s never been any clinical testing of coconut oil for Alzheimer’s, and there’s no scientific evidence that it helps.”

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