Eve Hosley-Moore, Times Correspondent
In Print: Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The only thing that kept Dr. Mary Newport positive in the face of her husband's early onset Alzheimer's disease was that he didn't seem aware of how much ground he was losing.
"He didn't know the full ramifications of his decline — I hate to say it but that was the only blessing. I was watching my husband of 36 years simply fade away," said Dr. Newport, 56, a neonatologist and medical director of the newborn intensive care unit at Spring Hill Regional Hospital.
An accountant, Steve Newport left his corporate job the day his first daughter was born, allowing his wife to finish her medical training. As time went on, he worked from home, keeping the books for her neonatology practice and taking care of their two daughters, now age 22 and 26.
About six years ago, Newport began struggling with daily tasks. He took longer to complete the business' payroll and was making more mistakes.
"I didn't know what was happening to me. I was confused," Newport said of his prediagnosis days.
"There were big clues, and I knew that something was going on here," Dr. Newport said.
They saw his primary care physician, who referred him to a specialist. The diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's was a devastating blow. According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 4.5-million Americans have Alzheimer's. Early onset Alzheimer's strikes people age 30 to 60 and is rare, affecting only about 5 percent to 10 percent of those with Alzheimer's.
While there is no way to confirm an Alzheimer's diagnosis, Newport tested positive for the genetic marker that puts a person at higher risk for early onset Alzheimer's.
He was put on several FDA-approved medicines to help slow the progression of the disease, but he continued to decline. In August of last year, Dr. Newport said, her husband underwent a "drastic change," losing more than 10 pounds.
"He had completely lost interest in eating, and that was not a good sign," she said. He also abandoned the kayaking and gardening he loved so much.
Dr. Newport searched the Internet for clinical drug trials that would accept her husband. In May, he was set to apply for studies in St. Petersburg and in Tampa.
A fuel that nourishes the brain from birth
The evening before the first screening, Dr. Newport stayed up late researching both drugs. During that research she discovered a third that had shown unbelievable results — actual memory improvement.
"Most drugs talk about slowing the progression of the disease … but you never hear the word 'improvement.' Right then I knew I had to find out more," she said.
She began vigorously researching online and uncovered the new medication's patent application. She found an in-depth discussion of its primary ingredient, an oil composed of medium chain triglycerides known as MCT oil.
In Alzheimer's disease, certain brain cells may have difficulty metabolizing glucose, the brain's principal source of energy. Without fuel, these precious neurons may begin to die. But researchers have identified an alternative energy source for brain cells — fats known as ketone bodies, explained Dr. Theodore VanItallie, a medical doctor and professor emeritus at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in New York City. He has been researching ketones for more than 35 years.
"Ketones are a high-energy fuel that nourish the brain," VanItallie said, explaining that when you are starving, the body produces ketones naturally. When digested, the liver converts MCT oil into ketones. In the first few weeks of life, ketones provide about 25 percent of the energy newborn babies need to survive.
As Dr. Newport continued to read about MCT oil and the new medication, she discovered something surprising: Non-hydrogenated coconut oil is more than 60 percent MCT oil, and this medication derived its MCT oil from this readily available tropical tree.
Newport was not accepted for the first clinical trial. He was unable to remember the season, month or day of the week, and he scored a 14 out of 30 on the mini-mental state examination, a test used to screen for dementia and assess the level of impairment. He tested too low and, according to the results, had "severe" Alzheimer's.
One important test for Alzheimer's progression is to draw the face of a clock from memory. That afternoon, Newport could barely remember how the clock looked, said Dr. Newport.
"We were devastated," she said.
She tried to reassure herself and her husband by looking forward to the next day's second screening, but she was beginning to feel hopeless.
"And then it hit me," she said. "Why don't we just try coconut oil as a dietary supplement? What have we got to lose? If the MCT oil in it worked for them, why couldn't it work for us?"
Trying out coconut oil and testing result
On the drive home, she stopped at a health food store and bought a jar of nonhydrogenated, extra-virgin coconut oil. The experimental medication's patent application was complete with dosage information, and she did some quick math, converting the measurements.
The next morning she stirred two tablespoons of coconut oil into her husband's oatmeal, and she tried it in hers, too.
On the way down to the second screening in Tampa, Dr. Newport quizzed her husband, asking him the day, month and year.
"I prayed harder than I'd ever prayed in my life," she said.
Her prayers were answered. Steve scored an 18 on the exam, the highest he'd scored for more than a year and four points higher than the previous day.
"It was like the oil kicked in and he could think clearly again," Dr. Newport said. "We were ecstatic."
Newport was accepted into the trial but more importantly, the coconut oil he'd ingested seemed to "lift the fog." He began taking coconut oil every day, and by the fifth day, there was a tremendous improvement.
"He would face the day bubbly, more like his old self," his wife said.
More than five months later, his tremors have subsided, the visual disturbances that prevented him from reading have disappeared, and he has become more social and interested in those around him.
Nothing can repair the brain damage he has sustained as a consequence of Alzheimer's disease, and there is no cure. But it appears the oil is helping, Dr. Newport said.
Studying effect of diet on other diseases
The Newports are not the only ones who have found positive results with ketones. In 2005, Dr. VanItallie studied the ketogenic diet's effect on Parkinson's disease. In his study, five patients stuck to the diet for one month, and all of the participants' tremors, stiffness and ability to walk improved, on average, by as much as 43 percent.
"Our study was very successful for our patients," Dr. VanItallie said, explaining that the one drawback is that the ketogenic diet mimics starvation. It is low carb, low protein and nearly 90 percent fat, he explained. "People can't really stay on this diet for long, it's too restrictive."
His study was preliminary, but he said he hopes it will "pave the way for future research."
Parkinson's is similar to Alzheimer's in that it is neuro-degenerative, and glucose metabolism may be affected, Dr. VanItallie said.
"We know that if we give patients ketones, we can bypass this glucose block," he said. However, researchers don't know if the effect is short term or long term. He is pushing for larger and more disciplined studies.
Since starting the coconut oil regimen with her husband, Dr. Newport has become somewhat of an expert on the subject. Though not a neurologist, her background as a medical doctor and her biochemistry classes in medical school have helped her understand the way MCT oil is converted into ketones, and how beneficial this dietary supplement can be for those unable to process glucose.
Additionally, ketones may be beneficial to those with Huntington's disease, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease, and Type I and II diabetes.
"I think (Dr. Newport) is quite courageous. Most people give up when they are facing severe Alzheimer's, but she feels she's got significant improvement," said Dr. Richard Veech, chief of the lab of metabolic control at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
Dr. Veech has been working with ketones for more than 40 years and has become a valuable resource to the Newport family. Currently, he is working for the military, looking into ketones as a way to improve the performance of troops in severe conditions.
He has written several articles about the subject and is convinced that ketones can provide more cellular energy than glucose and that they may be the key to aiding those with neuro-degenerative diseases.
He has helped guide Dr. Newport in her personal study and answers many of her questions. Though her experience with ketones is not the peer-reviewed, double-blind clinical work researchers like to see, Dr. Veech said her results are promising.
"(Dr. Newport) is getting the best she can with what she has," he said.
Dr. Veech stresses the importance of consulting a physician before trying coconut oil at home. He said ingesting too much of one type of fat can be dangerous and can also cause diarrhea and vomiting.
Dr. Newport realizes more research is needed, but she is pleased with what she's seen so far.
"I've got living proof that this will help people," she said. "I want to just tell everybody about this. It may help them improve, too.
"All I'm asking is to investigate this further. After living through Alzheimer's, anything that can stabilize or help improve (your loved one) will be worth every drop."
This is truly remarkable news, and I urge you to watch Dr. Newport's video in its entirety to get her full story. If her theory is accurate, this could be one of the greatest natural health discoveries in a long time. Backing up her claims is the remarkable recovery of her own husband.
Bear in mind however that contrary to Dr. Newport, I personally do NOT support using drugs to treat Alzheimer's, and based on his condition believe enrolling him in a vaccine study is completely contraindicated and ill advised.
That said, I believe Dr. Newport may have stumbled upon a powerful natural strategy to help prevent and treat Alzheimer's, and that's what I want to address here.
One of the primary fuels your brain needs is glucose, which is converted into energy.
The mechanism for glucose uptake in your brain has only recently begun to be studied, and what has been learned is that your brain actually manufactures its own insulin to convert glucose in your blood stream into the food it needs to survive.
As you may already know, diabetes is the condition where your body's response to insulin is weakened until your body eventually stops producing the insulin necessary to regulate blood sugar, and your body's ability to regulate (or process) blood sugar into energy becomes essentially broken.
Now, when your brain's production of insulin decreases, your brain literally begins to starve, as it's deprived of the glucose-converted energy it needs to function normally.
This is what happens to Alzheimer's patients -- portions of their brain start to atrophy, or starve, leading to impaired functioning and eventual loss of memory, speech, movement and personality.
In effect, your brain can begin to atrophy from starvation if it becomes insulin resistant and loses its ability to convert glucose into energy.
It is now also known that diabetics have a 65 percent increased risk of also being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and there appears to be a potent link between the two diseases, even though the exact mechanisms have yet to be determined.
It seems quite clear however that both are related to insulin resistance – in your body, and in your brain.
Fortunately, your brain is able to run on more than one type of energy supply, and this is where coconut oil enters the picture.
There's another substance that can feed your brain and prevent brain atrophy. It may even restore and renew neuron and nerve function in your brain after damage has set in.
The substance in question is called ketone bodies, or ketoacids.
Ketones are what your body produces when it converts fat (as opposed to glucose) into energy. And a primary source of ketone bodies are the medium chain triglycerides (MCT) found in coconut oil!
Coconut oil contains about 66 percent MCTs.
The benefits of ketone bodies may also extend to a number of other health conditions, according to Dr. Newport:
"Further, this is a potential treatment for Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease), drug resistant epilepsy, brittle type I diabetes, and diabetes type II, where there is insulin resistance.
Ketone bodies may help the brain recover after a loss of oxygen in newborns through adults, may help the heart recover after an acute attack, and may shrink cancerous tumors."
Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) are fats that are not processed by your body in the same manner as long chain triglycerides. Normally, a fat taken into your body must be mixed with bile released from your gallbladder before it can be broken down in your digestive system.
But medium chain triglycerides go directly to your liver, which naturally converts the oil into ketones, bypassing the bile entirely. Your liver then immediately releases the ketones into your bloodstream where they are transported to your brain to be used as fuel.
In fact, ketones appear to be the preferred source of brain food in patients affected by diabetes or Alzheimer's.
"In Alzheimer's disease, the neurons in certain areas of the brain are unable to take in glucose due to insulin resistance and slowly die off, a process that appears to happen one or more decades before the symptoms become apparent," Dr. Newport states in her article.
"If these cells had access to ketone bodies, they could potentially stay alive and continue to function."
Another way to increase ketone production in your body is by restricting carbohydrates.
This is what happens when you go on a high fat, high protein, low carbohydrate diet: Your body begins to run on fats instead of carbohydrates, and the name for this is ketosis.
This is also why you don't starve to death when you restrict food for weeks at a time, because your body is able to convert stored fat into ketones that are used as fuel instead of glucose.
Consuming medium chain triglycerides such as coconut oil is a better option, however, because the ketones produced by ketosis are not concentrated in your bloodstream, but are instead mostly excreted in your urine.
The mechanism of this MCT-ketone metabolism appears to be that your body treats MCTs as a carbohydrate and not a fat. This allows the ketone energy to hit your blood stream without the normal insulin spike associated with carbohydrates entering your bloodstream.
So in effect coconut oil is a fat that acts like a carbohydrate when it comes to brain fuel.
Therapeutic levels of MCTs have been studied at 20 grams per day. According to Dr. Newport's calculations, just over two tablespoons of coconut oil (about 35 ml or 7 level teaspoons) would supply you with the equivalent of 20 grams of MCT, which is indicated as either a preventative measure against degenerative neurological diseases, or as a treatment for an already established case.
Remember though that people tolerate coconut oil differently, and you may have to start slowly and build up to these therapeutic levels. My recommendation is to start with one teaspoon, taken with food in the mornings. Gradually add more coconut oil every few days until you are able to tolerate four tablespoons.
Coconut oil is best taken with food, to avoid upsetting your stomach.
According to a small Finnish study recently published in the journal Neurology, people who consume foods rich in B12 may also reduce their risk of Alzheimer's in their later years. For each unit increase in the marker of vitamin B12 (holotranscobalamin) the risk of developing Alzheimer's was reduced by 2 percent.
However, I strongly disagree with the dietary advice published by CNN Health on this topic, which included fish and fortified cereals.
Fortified cereals are most definitely NOT a good source of dietary B vitamins. They also have inorganic iron added. This is the worst type of iron to use as a supplement and it will raise already elevated iron in those that don't need it, like most adult men and postmenopausal women.
Elevated iron levels will actually increase your risk of Alzheimer's
Additionally, most fish are today so contaminated, I cannot recommend increasing consumption of fish either. One exception would be sardines, which are high in B12 and small enough to typically be less contaminated, compared to larger fish.
Instead, your ideal dietary sources of B12 vitamins would include:
- Liver from organic calf
- Wild caught salmon
- Organic, grass-fed beef
- Lamb (which are typically grass-fed even if not specified as organic)
- Organic, free-range eggs
Vitamin B12 is present in natural form only in animal sources of food, which is one of the reasons I advise against a strict vegetarian or vegan diet. The few plant foods that are sources of B12 are actually B12 analogs. An analog is a substance that blocks the uptake of true B12, so your body's need for the nutrient actually increases.
Meanwhile, besides incorporating ketone therapy (coconut oil), as either a preventative step or as a treatment, there are other steps you can take to help minimize your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease decades from now.
For instance, it's important to know what foods to avoid, in order to protect the health of your brain.
These four foods in particular can be pinpointed as enemies of optimal brain health:
- Sugars, especially fructose -- Excessive sugar and grain consumption are the driving factors behind insulin resistance, and the strategies that protect your brain are very similar to those for avoiding diabetes.
There is simply no question that insulin resistance is one of the most pervasive influences on brain damage, as it contributes massively to inflammation, which will prematurely degenerate your brain.
Ideally, you’ll want to restrict your total fructose consumption to below 25 grams a day. This includes refraining from eating too many fruits, if you normally eat a lot of them. If you consume more than 25 grams a day of fructose you can damage your cells by creating insulin and leptin resistance and raising your uric acid levels.
Berries tend to be lower in fructose, and wild blueberries, for example, are also high in anthocyanin and antioxidants, and are well known for being beneficial against Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases.
- Grains – Even whole, organic grains will convert to sugar in your body and spike your insulin levels.
Ideally you’ll want to devise a nutritional plan geared to your specific nutritional type to maximize your health benefits, as grain carbs are far more detrimental to some than others. I believe this is essential to everyone’s health, and I’m very pleased to now be able to offer the full online nutritional typing program for free. We’ve previously charged $29 for this test, so please do take advantage of this free offer.
- Artificial sweeteners – Aspartame, for example, is an excitotoxin that can literally destroy your brain cells. There are many studies showing the dangers of aspartame. For example, one study published in 2000 found that aspartame shortens the memory response, impairs memory retention and damages hypothalamic neurons in mice.
And the results from a 2002 study published in the journal Nature suggest that aspartame may cause mental retardation, although the mechanism by which it does that is still unknown.
Other animal studies have linked aspartame to brain damage and brain tumors, even in low doses. I believe aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are dangerous to your health in so many ways, I even wrote an entire book on this topic called Sweet Deception.
- Soy -- Unfermented soy products are another common food that should be avoided if you want to maintain healthy brain function.
One well-designed epidemiological study linked tofu consumption with exaggerated brain aging. Men who ate tofu at least twice weekly had more cognitive impairment, compared with those who rarely or never ate the soybean curd, and their cognitive test results were about equivalent to what they would have been if they were five years older than their current age.
What's more, higher midlife tofu consumption was also associated with low brain weight. Shrinkage does occur naturally with age, but for the men who had consumed more tofu showed an exaggeration of the usual patterns you typically see in aging.
Dr. Kaayla Daniel has written an excellent book, The Whole Soy Story, which covers the health dangers of soy in great depth and I highly recommend it to anyone still under the illusion that soy is a health food.
Clearly, the best-known "treatment" for Alzheimer's disease is prevention, not drugs.
There is no question that insulin resistance is one of the most pervasive influences on brain damage as it contributes massively to inflammation, which will prematurely degenerate your brain -- just as it destroys the rest of your body and contributes to degenerative and chronic diseases of all kinds.
As a general rule for optimal physical and mental health, you'll want to keep your fasting insulin levels below 3.
Interestingly, normalizing your body's insulin and leptin levels will typically help raise your production of brain insulin, which is a good thing.
In addition to the dietary recommendations already discussed above, the following seven guidelines can further help you prevent Alzheimer's disease and keep your mind sharp as you age:
- Optimize your vitamin D levels through safe sun exposure, a safe tanning bed and/or vitamin D3 supplements.
- Take a high-quality animal-based omega-3 fat. I recommend consuming high quality krill oil to meet the optimal amount of omega-3 fats needed to achieve good health and fight Alzheimer's. I recently did an interview with Dr. Rudi Moerck, an industry expert, which goes into great detail as to why I am strongly recommending krill.
- Exercise. You probably know that exercise is good for your cardiovascular system, but studies have found that exercise can also protect your brain, thereby warding off Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.
According to one study, the odds of developing Alzheimer's were nearly quadrupled in people who were less active during their leisure time, between the ages of 20 and 60, compared with their peers.
Similar to a healthy diet, regular physical activity is one of those actions that can significantly improve many aspects of your physical and emotional health. For the elderly, simple activities such as walking and lightweight training would likely provide benefits. For those who are younger, more strenuous exercise will radically improve the benefits.
- Avoid and remove mercury from your body. Even trace amounts of mercury can cause the type of damage to nerves that is characteristic of the damage found in Alzheimer's disease.
Dental amalgam fillings are one of the major sources of mercury, however you should be healthy prior to having them removed. Once you have adjusted to your improved diet, you can follow my mercury detox protocol and then find a biological dentist to have your amalgams removed.
- Avoid aluminum. Aluminum has been widely associated with Alzheimer's disease. Your main sources of exposure are likely through drinking water and antiperspirants.
Aluminum cookware may also be a source of exposure. Although aluminum pots are probably less problematic than the sources mentioned above, I personally would not use aluminum cookware.
- Challenge your mind. Mental stimulation, such as traveling, learning to play an instrument or doing crossword puzzles, is associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's. Researchers suspect that mental challenge helps to build up your brain, making it less susceptible to the lesions associated with Alzheimer's disease.
- Avoid anticholinergic drugs. Drugs that block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter, have been shown to increase your risk of dementia. These drugs include certain night-time pain relievers, antihistamines, sleep aids, certain antidepressants, medications to control incontinence, and certain narcotic pain relievers.
A recent study found that those who took one drug classified as a 'definite anticholinergics' had a four times higher incidence of cognitive impairment. Regularly taking two of these drugs further increased the risk of cognitive impairment.
The damage done to your brain from the wrong foods and from unbalanced insulin and leptin levels actually begins decades before you show any of the telltale signs of Alzheimer's. So it's vitally important to make healthy decisions now, before you unwittingly do decades of damage to your brain and nerves that you may not be able to reverse.
If you undertake a coconut oil or MCTs therapy protocol, be sure to start slow with the oil, and always take it with food to minimize stomach discomfort. If it takes you a few weeks to work up to the four tablespoons of coconut oil required for a therapeutic dose, that's normal. Not everyone can tolerate so much coconut oil in a single dose right from the start.
The coconut oil or MCTs should also be taken in the morning, as it takes a minimum of three hours for the oil to convert to ketones and reach your brain. Repeating the dose of four tablespoons of coconut oil twice a day may be beneficial for those already suffering from pre-Alzheimer's or Alzheimer's conditions.
With 15 million cases of Alzheimer's predicted in the United States by the year 2050, you can help ensure you are not one of the victims of this tragic disease by taking steps now to take charge of your health.