Feeding your brain: what about coconut oil and ketones?

In chapter 2 of Eat to Cheat Ageing I mention that your brain relies on glucose to fuel all its myriad activities and its true that anything that hampers that fuel supply is going to also see it struggling to keep up.

That is absolutely true, especially for healthy brains, but there is another fuel that brain cells can use in unusual circumstances and since I completed the research for the book there has been increasing interest in the possible involvement of this type of fuel (a group of substances called ketones) in the brains of people affected by dementia, especially Alzheimer's.  It's though that could be because their brains have a reduced ability to use available glucose so their brain cells are missing out on vital fuel. Ketones might possibly be able to take up some of the slack.

Of course we know that in dementia, it's the damage to brain cells and the way they are able to communicate with each other that causes most problems people encounter.

But if brain fuel supply is hampered at all it's going to have some affect and latest research suggests that might be a bigger factor than we have realised till now. Making sure your brain is well supplied with fuel wont cure dementia, but it may help people living with the early stages to make the most of their capacity and thus be able to keep up with day to day life better.

Unlike glucose, ketones are not something you eat, but instead they are made in a process called ketosis under unusual circumstances including prolonged fasting or starvation. but it now seems mild ketosis can also be triggered by eating enough of certain foods and maybe that's of some use in the early stages of dementia.

Naturally there is a lot of interest in this idea and many, many fabulous claims are being made online and in the media for various foods and diet plans that can induce ketosis and result in improved life quality in those living with dementia. One of the touted foods is coconut oil and since it's 'natural' and harmless its reasonable to think "why not give it a try?".

After all, as long as no harm is done, why not? As long as you accept that the claims made are based on 'anecdote' - which means its just people saying its helped rather than being based on scientific research, there's probably no harm except that eating large amounts will probably cause diarrhoea. But its important to not pin your hopes on a miracle cure or a long term strategy because we just don't know if any benefits will last.

There are other ways to induce ketosis and 'ketogenic' diet plans designed to do that. Most of these are more problematic because they rely on restricting lots of common foods and are often quite costly. The good thing about such diet plans is that they usually have plenty of protein to maintain muscle reserves, but can lack other nutrients because of the restrictions on grains, fruits and some vegetables.

Like most things in life, if it seems too good to be true it possibly is. But this is one many people are happy to try while the research catches up and adding a couple of spoonfuls of coconut oil to your food each day is unlikely to cause any harm for most.My grandma's chocolate crackles might just enjoy a resurgence in popularity with all that copha!

Discover more recipes that will help you cheat dementia and cognitive decline.