Coconut oil supports brain health – here’s how
10/13/2021 / By Joanne Washburn / Comments
Coconut oil supports brain health – here’s how

Coconut oil, once vilified for its fat content, has fast become one of the most popular health foods worldwide. It is derived from the flesh of coconuts and is uniquely high in saturated fats compared to most plant-based oils.

Like other trendy health foods, coconut oil has enjoyed a burst of popularity in recent years, mostly due to the wide range of health benefits it has been linked to. Some of those benefits have a lot to do with brain health.

In particular, the oil is thought to boost cognitive performance, restore brain function and slow brain aging.

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Your brain on coconut oil

There’s a lot of buzz about how coconut oil is good for your brain. The idea is that coconut oil is full of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which your brain can use as fuel to function properly.

MCTs are a healthy type of saturated fatty acid. They are well known for supporting healthy cardiovascular and cognitive functions. They can even help you achieve reasonable weight management goals. Your body either burns MCTs for energy or stores them for future use.

Your body breaks down MCTs more easily than other fatty acids, which is why they can help you maintain healthy energy levels. Unfortunately, MCTs are said to be largely missing from the diets of those eating a Western-style diet or the standard American diet, possibly because we have been led to believe that all saturated fat is bad.

There are few natural sources of MCTs. These include coconuts (i.e., oil, meat and milk), palm oil and dairy products. Of all these, coconut oil is the best source of MCTs.

Under normal circumstances, brain cells use glucose for energy. Your brain is important to your survival, so there’s a backup plan. If you’re running low on glucose, your liver converts stored fats into ketones. Ketones readily cross the blood-brain barrier to provide instant energy to the brain.

Aside from providing the brain with energy, coconut oil and MCTs have shown great potential for treating a slew of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.

In a 2017 study, Spanish researchers looked at the effect of daily coconut oil consumption on brain function. The study involved 44 patients with Alzheimer’s disease, half of which took 40 milliliters (ml) of coconut oil with their breakfast every day for 21 days.

The researchers evaluated the participants’ cognitive performance before and after the experiment. They found that the oil improved some of the patients’ cognitive abilities, especially those involved in orientation and language.

In another study, researchers from Australia and New Zealand discussed the use of coconut oil for treating and preventing Alzheimer’s disease. They attributed the oil’s benefits to its high levels of MCTs.

Alzheimer’s patients often suffer from cognitive decline, partly because their brains lose the ability to utilize glucose for energy. The researchers hypothesized that giving the brain an alternative source of energy in the form of MCTs may help prevent or reverse cognitive decline caused by Alzheimer’s.

Another reason why coconut oil is good for your brain is that it’s rich in phenolic compounds and cytokinins or plant hormones. These compounds have been reported to assist in preventing the accumulation of amyloid-beta peptides. Amyloid-beta are protein fragments linked to the development of Alzheimer’s. They are often found in large amounts in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Coconut oil is also thought to help protect against depression, a mood disorder characterized by feelings of sadness and loss of interest. Brain inflammation is a contributing factor to depression. Luckily, MCTs in coconut oil help fight inflammation by elevating levels of anti-inflammatory proteins called cytokines.

How to use coconut oil

Coconut oil can be a healthy addition to your diet. However, coconut oil should still be treated like other fats or oils because it is, after all, high in fats. It’s recommended to keep your total saturated fat intake from all food sources, including coconut oil, to under 10 percent of your total daily calories. That would amount to some 200 calories based on a typical 2,000-calorie diet.

One tablespoon of coconut oil provides about 117 calories, so it’s best to limit yourself to two tablespoons a day. However, keep in mind that this leaves little room for other food sources of saturated fat, such as butter.

In stores, you’ll usually see both virgin and refined coconut oil. Virgin coconut oil is less processed than refined coconut oil, which is why it has a sweeter and more tropical flavor.

You can easily substitute coconut oil for your current cooking oil when frying and baking. For some recipes, it’s best to warm coconut oil to its liquid state first to ensure precise measurements. If substituting coconut oil for solid fats like butter, use 1/4 less coconut oil than the recipe calls for because coconut oil has more fat solids.

Coconut oil benefits your brain in many ways because of its impressive MCT content. As such, using coconut oil instead of vegetable oil for cooking is one of the easiest lifestyle changes you can make to ensure a healthy brain.

Sources:

BeBrainFit.com

Journals.LWW.com

PubMed.NCBI.NLM.NIH.gov

Cambridge.org

Healthline.com

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