A diet high in healthy fats may actually slow the aging process, including stemming off the brain degeneration associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Center for Healthy Aging, University of Copenhagen and the Nationals Institute of Health, and published in the journal Cell Metabolism. The study was funded by the Nordea-fonden through the Center for Healthy Aging.
Because DNA damage occurs as a natural side effect of everyday environmental stresses and even the body’s own metabolic processes, the body is continually repairing minor genetic damage. Many of the effects of aging, including cognitive loss, are believed to occur when the body starts to lose the ability to repair all the damage, and little DNA errors start to build up. Such DNA damage is also believed to contribute to more specific diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
Ketones are key
For this reason, the researchers studied mice with a defective ability to repair DNA. An identical defect in humans causes the disorder known as Cockayne syndrome. Cockayne syndrome manifests in childhood and results in premature aging and death at an average age of 10-12.
The researchers found that, when the mice were placed on a high-fat diet, their symptoms of premature aging were postponed, including weight and hearing loss.
“The study is good news for children with Cockayne syndrome, because we do not currently have an effective treatment,” said lead researcher Vilhelm Bohr. “Our study suggests that a high-fat diet can postpone aging processes. A diet high in fat also seems to postpone the aging of the brain. The findings therefore potentially imply that patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease in the long term may benefit from the new knowledge.”
The researchers believe that a high-fat diet protects the brain by boosting supplies of its reserve fuel, known as ketones. While the brain subsists primarily on glucose, in times of sugar shortage it can instead operate off of ketones — which are made in the liver from the breakdown of fats, particularly medium-chain triglycerides such as coconut or palm oil.
In the current study, the researchers noted that coconut oil and other medium-chain triglycerides did indeed provide the greatest benefit.
“In cells from children with Cockayne syndrome, we have previously demonstrated that aging is a result of the cell repair mechanism being constantly active,” researcher Morten Scheibye-Knudsen said. “It eats into the resources and causes the cell to age very quickly. We therefore hope that a diet with a high content of coconut oil or similar fats will have a beneficial effect, because the brain cells are given extra fuel and thus the strength to repair the damage.”
The power of coconut oil
Preliminary evidence suggests that coconut oil may also be a powerful treatment for people already beginning to suffer the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. That’s because Alzheimer’s appears to interfere with the brain’s ability to process glucose, leading to starvation, cell death and worsened cognitive symptoms. Boosting the amount of ketones in the blood by eating coconut oil can therefore provide the brain with the energy it needs to prevent further cell death.
Indeed, Phase I and Phase II clinical trials showed that fats derived from coconut oil cause improvement in the cognitive function of Alzheimer’s patients. Unfortunately, the company backing the research chose not to proceed with the larger, more expensive Phase III trials required to receive FDA approval. Instead, the company now sells a “medical food” product called Axona, which is nothing more than coconut fats.
Because the research was halted early, mainstream medicine has yet to accept the power of coconut oil to slow or even reverse Alzheimer’s damage.
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