By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
[A few] years ago an unusual story in the media caught my attention. It was about a doctor who was treating her husband’s early onset Alzheimer’s disease with, of all things, coconut oil.
Steve Newport was 58 at the time. He was an accountant who had left his corporate job when the first of his two daughters was born while his wife finished medical school. For twenty years he worked at home, taking care of the girls, and managed the finances and books for his wife’s neonatology practice. Around 2001-2 he began struggling with the work, making mistakes, and procrastinating on doing the tax returns. Then he started forgetting if he’d been to the bank and the post office.
Mary Newport, his wife, has a neonatology practice and is also medical director of the newborn intensive care unit at Spring Hill Regional Hospital, north of Tampa. She sought medical advice for her husband. A specialist diagnosed Steve with early onset Alzheimer’s.
Early Onset Alzheimer’s
As the name implies, it means that thinking and memory problems that typically affect people 65 and older start developing at a younger age than normal. Frequently, the illness is more challenging because it comes at a time when most people are still in midstride of life, actively working and with family responsibilities. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 500,000 people in their 30s, 40s and 50s have Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. In Steve Newport’s case, he tested positive for the genetic marker indicating a higher risk for the early onset version of the illness.
Dr. Newport tried several FDA-approved drugs. They failed to slow down his decline. Two experimental medications being put to the test in clinical trials didn’t seem all that encouraging. Meanwhile, he was losing ground to the disease. He was unable to remember the season, month or day of the week, and his score on a widely used examination put him in a “severe” Alzheimer’s category. He had lost interest in eating as well as his hobbies of kayaking and gardening.
One night in May 2008 Mary Newport was searching the Internet desperately for some hope, some possibility, something at all that could help. She came across the work of Theodore VanItallie, M.D., a professor emeritus at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.
For years, Dr. Van Itallie’s had been researching ketones, fatty metabolites produced by the liver. In newborn babies, they provide about a quarter of the energy needed for survival. In the 1960s, circulating ketones were discovered to readily replace glucose as the brain’s major fuel during prolonged fasting. Three decades later, ketones demonstrated effectiveness in the treatment of rare genetic disorders that interfere with normal neuronal utilization of glucose, in other words a possible substitute. As a growing body of evidence suggested that mitochondrial dysfunction and impaired ATP production occurs in the brains of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients, Dr. VanItallie pondered and wrote about the potential use of ketones to improve ATP generation in brain cells and protect vulnerable cells from oxidative damage. He felt ketones could benefit patients with neurodegenerative disorders. A small Parkinson’s study that he conducted showed positive results, and he hopes to do larger trials.
Mary Newport’s research also turned up the details of an experimental patented “medication” involving medium chain triglycerides (MCT oil) that had generated actually memory improvement. The liver converts MCT into ketones, and as she further learned, non-hydrogenated coconut oil contains more than 60 percent MCT oil. The patented product derived its MCT oil from the “meat” of coconuts, harvested from the common coconut palm (cocos nucifera), a primary source of fat in the diets of millions of tropical peoples throughout the world.
Her desperate research had turned up a clue. She decided to try coconut oil for her husband’s condition. There was nothing to lose. The information she found contained dosage information. She went out the next day and bought a container of coconut oil at a nearby health food store and then put it in her husband’s oatmeal.
To her delight, the oil kicked in immediately. Within a week, it lifted a mental fog, and improved his cognition and mood. His ability to make conversation improved. Gradually, other symptoms improved. He became more social and interested in life.
I met Mary Newport at a medical conference [a few years back] and was very impressed by her presentation. Afterwards, we had a long talk. I called her to see how things were going with her husband two years after introducing him to coconut oil.
“I feel the oil helped bring Steve back in time to where he was about two or three years before he was at the worst,” she told me. “He had a number of physical symptoms that disappeared and have not returned. He used to have a tremor. When eating, his hand would tremble, making it hard for him to use utensils. When he talked, his jaw would tremble. He used to have a weird gait where he would walk slowly and lift his feet up a little higher than normal. That completely resolved. He walks normally now. He had a visual disturbance. He couldn’t read for about a year and a half because the words would kind of move around erratically on the page for him. He couldn’t focus on the words. After about three or four months, that problem disappeared and hasn’t come back. Steve’s memory also gradually improved some.
“After about 10 months, Steve plateaued and since that time he’s remained pretty much stabile at that level. Considering where I thought we were going to be at this point, we’re way ahead. About a year ago he started volunteering at the hospital. He’s doing work in a warehouse where he puts stickers on supplies. It’s fairly repetitive, simple work but he was bored and wanted desperately to do something.”
To be sure the Newport case is anecdotal. However, it nevertheless offers hope, through a simple and natural approach to neurodegenerative disorders, and certainly something worth a try. For more information on the Steve Newport’s ongoing situation, and to see his wife’s collection of relevant research and personal papers, visit her website at www.coconutketones.com/
In response to media exposure and her website, Dr. Newport has received about 200 responses from caregivers who have tried the coconut oil approach. She documented 47 of them in a presentation at a recent international Alzheimer’s conference in Europe.
“Almost 90 percent of the responses I have gotten, whether involving early or late onset Alzheimer’s cases, were positive with reports of some kind of improvement,” she told me. “Caregivers speak of improvements in memory, mental ability, mood, behavior, conversation, interactions with other people, appetite, sleep, and physical symptoms. A couple of people reported improved vision. All kinds of things. One lady’s story sticks out in my mind. She’s in her 80s. Her daughter told me that the elderly woman had been in bed pretty much around the clock, barely talking, not eating, and not recognizing anybody. Over a two month period, she started eventually getting up out of bed, eating, talking again, and recognizing her family.”
When I spoke to Dr. Newsport I suggested she start giving her husband the “awesome foursome” to further promote ATP production in the brain and try to rev up his mental firepower. In this case, I recommended acetyl-L-carnitine as the form of carnitine she should use because of its greater ability to pass through the blood-brain barrier. Carnitine helps to metabolize medium chain triglycerides. I think the combination might be even more effective than coconut oil alone.
Coconut oil has many benefits, as Mary Newport’s experience shows. For starters, it holds up the best against oxidation from heat when cooking. I cook with it most of the time now except for dishes that call for a light sautéing with low heat. In those cases I use olive oil. Coconut oil’s fatty content is very heat stabile. You can take it straight—a tablespoon three times a day—or add to cereal, steamed vegetables, or cook with it. Dr. Newport suggests starting slowly, with perhaps a teaspoon with meals and then working up. If you encounter diarrhea along the way, just cut back a bit. Buy your coconut oil unrefined and organic. Health food stores have it.
*Sept 2010 – Coconut Oil and Alzheimer’s Update*
In the [article above] I wrote about the case of Steve Newport, the Florida accountant whose doctor wife used coconut oil to help ease his symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. While working on the article, I recommended to his wife, neonatologist Mary Newport, M.D., that she try adding the “awesome foursome” to his program. As you know, the combination of CoQ10, L-carnitine, magnesium, and ribose is a cornerstone of my metabolic cardiology supplement program. In this case I suggested she use the acetyl-carnitine form of carnitine as it possesses an enhanced ability to impact brain tissue. I strongly feel that these four nutraceutical can boost cellular energy and not just for the heart muscle but everywhere throughout the body, including the brain. I thought the combination would be even more beneficial than coconut oil alone.
I recently heard back from Dr. Newport. She confirmed my expectations and said that after adding the four supplements her husband’s speech is more fluent.
“This was one of his primary symptoms,” she said. “He is now able to find the words easier and more consistently initiate a conversation. He can now pull his thoughts together, find the appropriate words, and complete sentences, rather than losing the thought midway through, and then go on to engage in a lengthy conversation. This improvement happened within a few days of putting him on this regimen.”
Over the years I have heard similar feedback, particularly with early cases of dementia. So if you know of anybody close to you in this situation, don’t forget the awesome foursome.
The awesome foursome not only restores and rejuvenates cells but also help repair cells. They do so by supplying the energy substrates—the raw materials—needed by the cells to produce Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the body’s basic fuel. Thus, their impact is top to bottom, the whole body, and explains why I see improvements in so many areas, including the heart, the eyes, the brain, muscle function, overall energy, and even recovery from surgery.
- VanItallie TB, Nufert TH. Ketones: metabolism’s ugly duckling. Theodore B. VanItallie, M.D., and Thomas H. Nufert, B.A.Nutrition Reviews 2003;61(10): 327-41.
This article and the subsequent update originally appeared in the respective July 2010 and Sept. 2010 issues of Dr. Sinatra’s monthly written newsletter, Heart, Health & Nutrition. HMDI has reprinted this article with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC (© 2010 Healthy Directions, LLC).