By John Schappi
For about five years, Florida neonatologist Dr. Mary Newport regularly described how eating several spoonfuls of coconut oil every day had created a miraculous turnaround for her Alzheimer's-afflicted husband Steve. Then, for about a year, she fell silent.
Last week, she re-emerged with a blog post suggesting—as far as coconut-oil-for-Alzheimer's was concerned—that she was moving on.
But her story about husband Steve created a sensation. During my internet research, I was forever seeing links to the coconut oil video that showed the "new Steve" vacuuming their living room carpet.
First aired on Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcast Network, the video was seen by more than five million viewers and became CBN's most popular show of 2012. As Dr. Newport continued to tell her miracle story, many other promoters jumped on the bandwagon.
Then all of a sudden . . . silence. At first, we heard that Steve had suffered a stroke. That story turned out to be wrong, but it was clear that Steve had experienced some kind of health setback
Dr. Newport returns
Last week, Dr. Newport posted on her blog for the first time in over a year.
In her comments (shown in full at the bottom of this post), Dr. Newport summarizes the results of Steve's use of coconut oil. Prior to starting on coconut oil in 2008, Steve had spent five years in declining health from Alzheimer's disease. After the coconut oil regimen began, Steve had a few fairly good years. Then the decline resumed.
Dr. Newport reported that she has received over 400 testimonials from others about coconut oil and Alzheimer’s. These reports came from people who tried "coconut oil and/or MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil.” It was Dr. Newport who counted and interpreted these testimonials.
Four hundred reports? It seems an awfully low number in light of all the publicity that Newport (and then others) generated. Surely tens of thousands of desperate families struggling with Alzheimer’s would have tried the coconut oil cure. The placebo effect alone might have generated hundreds of raves.
Dr. Newport's recent update includes few references to coconut oil. She talks instead about ketones and MCT oil and "food-based interventions" as reasons for hope. In fact, coconut oil is not mentioned in that context.
While Dr. Newport seems to be moving on, watch out for her re-emergence as the spokeswoman for something called "Alzheimer's Awareness"—a concept she begins to tout in her "farewell to coconut oil."
Dr. Newport's reports on coconut oil, and mine on 5-HTP
In May 2008—five years after Steve's Alzheimer’s diagnosis--Dr. Newport came up with the idea of trying coconut oil when her research led her to reports about ketones as a possible therapy for Alzheimer's.
An early feature of AD is a decline in glucose, the prime fuel for the brain. A promising approach for intervention therapy involves supplementing the glucose supply in the brain with ketone bodies, which people normally produce from stored fat when glucose is limited. Ketones rise when you fast or go on a very low carbohydrate diet.
Another way to boost ketones is to consume fats called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), of which coconut and palm kernel oils are good sources. MCTs are converted in the liver into ketones. They are a more immediate source of energy than other fats and are not as readily stored as body fat.
This information first encouraged Dr. Newport to feed Steve coconut oil. She later combined it with more concentrated MCT oil.
So far so good. I can't fault Dr. Newport for doing the research and coming up with a plausible theory that initially appeared to work for Steve. Her use of coconut oil isn't much different from my use of the serotonin-booster 5-HTP, which I've found very helpful. But there is real scientific evidence supporting my use of 5-HTP. That kind of evidence has been conspicuously absent in the coconut-for-Alzheimer’s arena.
There's also a big difference between us in the way we discuss our "miracle" supplements. Whenever I've talked about my 5-HTP benefits, I note that I haven't seen reports about other people experiencing similar results . . . that my response seems pretty unique. I regularly describe Parkinson's as a very idiosyncratic disease, and—as a result—those of us with Parkinson’s are apt to produce very different anecdotal reports about therapies. Here's something else: I am not making any money from my blog posts about 5-HTP.
Dr. Newport's promotion of coconut oil
Dr. Newport's coconut oil therapy for Steve began in May 2008. Here are a few of the promotional efforts that followed:
- In 2011, Newport gave an online interview, the first of many. That same year, her book—“Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Were a Cure?”—was published. Dr. Newport says over 50,000 copies have been sold.
- In 2012, the coconut oil bandwagon got its biggest boost when Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network produced a six-minute video on Mary, Steve and coconut oil. This is the video that attracted over five million viewers.
- In 2013, CBN followed up on the success of the initial clip by posting a 12-minute video on Robertson's 700 Club. During the show, the CBN "reporter" comments: "I think the Lord is behind it."
Where are the cautions?
Nowhere in all this coconut-oil-for-Alzheimer’s hype will you find any caveats like the ones I typically cite when I discuss my experience with 5-HTP.
Here are a few of my reservations about the claims for coconut oil:
- Lots of good research is being done on ketones, but none of it involves coconut oil.
- It's a leap of faith to think that coconut oil would yield enough ketones to have a meaningful and persistent effect.
- Coconut oil is high in calories—115 per tablespoon. At one point, Steve Newport was taking 11 tablespoons a day.
- Dr. Newport's personal, subjective observations about her husband's condition are a world apart from large, randomized, double-blind, longitudinal, placebo-controlled studies.
- The progression of Alzheimer’s is often not a steady downward cycle. It usually includes periods of stability and even improvement—which can muddy possible therapeutic benefits.
But here's the most important caution: Be very careful about buying into a miracle cure when it is based on anecdotal reports only . . . and especially when the promoter—like Newport—stands to make big bucks from marketing the cure.
Dr. Newport's latest blog post reads more like a farewell to coconut oil than anything else.