USF Battles Alzheimer’s With Coconut Oil
SPRING HILL — In those first two years, her husband used chopsticks again. He also oiled door hinges, slow danced at a party, remembered his hairdresser’s name. He rewatched When Harry Met Sally and blurted “I’ll have what she’s having!” before the woman in the diner did.
Mary Newport, who is a physician, didn’t think she had found a cure to reverse her husband’s early onset Alzheimer’s disease. But she was convinced the coconut oil she had begun giving Steve in May 2008 had eased his symptoms.
The Newports’ story, first told in the Tampa Bay Times in 2008, went global. Mary Newport heard from thousands of people. She lobbied researchers, politicians and support groups to study the effects of coconut oil on Alzheimer’s patients. She even wrote a book she says sold more than 50,000 copies.
Over the next five years, Steve, now 63, got worse, then got better — a cycle repeated many times. Last week, a seizure thought to be related to his Alzheimer’s landed him in the hospital for three nights.
The disease won’t go away. But neither will Dr. Newport.
Taking coconut oil is a scientifically untested and unproven treatment for Alzheimer’s, dismissed by much of the scientific community. But Dr. Newport’s collection of positive anecdotes about nearly 275 patients who used coconut oil intrigued researchers at the University of South Florida’s Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute.
Byrd researchers recently received a $250,000 grant from a private foundation to conduct what is thought to be the first clinical trial of the effects of coconut oil on mild to moderate cases of Alzheimer’s disease.
“There are people who, when I tell them we’re running a coconut oil study, they chuckle,” said David Morgan, the chief executive officer of Byrd. “But there’s a rational basis for it.”
Mary Newport, now 61, is a neonatologist who runs the newborn intensive care unit at Spring Hill Regional Hospital. More than a decade ago, Steve Newport, an accountant, began having problems. He forgot appointments, got lost driving, couldn’t finish payroll reports. He was 54 when he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.
A handful of drugs help relieve symptoms of Alzheimer’s. But the medications do nothing to stop the disease’s progression and, eventually, lose their effectiveness for most people.
Steve seemed like “a cross between a frail elderly man and a 2-year-old, but without the energy,” his wife would later write. Around 2004, he was put on Alzheimer’s drugs, but she saw no obvious effect.
When she wasn’t dealing with sick newborns, Dr. Newport burrowed into anything she could find on Alzheimer’s. In 2008, she read a report on a small study of a new medicinal drink. The brew’s key ingredient is a type of fat known as a medium chain triglyceride. The liver converts part of those fats into an energy source called ketones.
One hallmark of Alzheimer’s is that some parts of the brain stop processing glucose, the primary source of energy. What could plug that fuel gap and keep the brain cells alive?
One theory: ketones.
At that time, the medicinal drink in the study had not yet hit the market. Dr. Newport learned that nonhydrogenated coconut oil is made up mostly of medium-chain triglycerides. She bought a jar of coconut oil and started spooning it into her husband’s oatmeal.
She says she started seeing results within days. Steve improved his score on an exam used to screen for dementia. His drawings of clock faces — an important test for Alzheimer’s progression — improved. His tremors subsided. He could engage with others.
“He got his life back,” said his wife.
But as a doctor, she knew anecdotal evidence is not proof.
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