Two subjects generate the most traffic on my blog: coconut oil and curcumin—the active ingredient in the curry spice turmeric—so I thought it was time for a quick update on both topics.
Coconut oil and curcumin have been touted as potential cures for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other neurological disorders. I recently saw an excellent introduction to these issues, a four-part video interview entitled "Q&A with Dr. Rudy Tanzi: Alzheimer's Risk and Prevention."
Dr. Tanzi is the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. One of the ten most-cited Alzheimer's researchers, he has co-authored over 340 research articles and won many honors, including the two highest awards for Alzheimer's research. With Deepak Chopra, he co-authored the best-seller, “Super Brain.”
Here are a few excerpts from Dr. Tanzy’s interview:
Q: Do vegetarians get Alzheimer's at lower rates than meat-eaters?
Dr. Tanzy: We don't know that. Most vegetarians still eat dairy products, so they're still getting animal fat in their diets. It'll be interesting to see whether vegans, who eat no animal products, get Alzheimer's. That study hasn't been done yet. The only data about vegetarianism is with animals—old carnivores get Alzheimer's; old herbivores don't (so far).
Q: Thoughts on turmeric?
Dr. Tanzy: Turmeric lowers amyloid production and aggregation, in a petri dish. The problem with turmeric (or more specifically, the 'active ingredient' curcumin), is that it doesn't get into the brain very well and therefore can't help much with Alzheimer's pathology. There are other good things about curcumin, though—some studies say it could have anti-cancer effects. At Cure Alzheimer's Fund, we're developing some curcumin-like compounds that can get into the brain. If these can be made safe, they may be effective against Alzheimer's.
Q: What about coconut oil?
Dr. Tanzy: I'd like to see a real trial. I'm intrigued by the anecdotes, but as a scientist, you get burned by anecdotes all the time. There are companies doing some trials now. Non-virgin coconut oil can have negative health effects—it raises your triglycerides.
Q: What do you, Dr. Tanzi, do to lower your own risk of getting Alzheimer's?
Dr. Tanzy: I stay intellectually and socially engaged. I'm a vegetarian—we don't know for sure, but I do think that will help. The only supplement I take is called ashwagandha, which has anti-amyloid effects. Unfortunately, most of the ashwagandha you'll find online does not work. The best one comes from Douglas Labs, but you need to get it through a doctor.
A few footnotes from me
Curcumin: Great progress is being made on creating enhanced versions that significantly improve the compound's ability to cross the blood/brain barrier. More on that topic soon.
Coconut oil: A "real trial" of coconut oil and Alzheimer's is underway at the University of South Florida.
Ashwagandha: The supplement is now available from Douglas Labs without a prescription. In spite of my "less is more" position on supplements, I ordered a bottle of ashwagandha pills. With Tanzi's credentials and lack of a financial interest in the supplement, he strikes me as a lot more trustworthy than Dr. Oz. Will I get an energy boost from the supplement? I'll let you know.