Coconut oil has made a resurgence in the health arena over the last few years and for good reason! There are many wonderful health benefits of coconut oil. One that is not often talked about is it’s ability to improve brain health. Here are 5 reasons why adding coconut oil into your daily regime may improve your overall brain function.
1. Coconut Oil is Ketogenic One of the main reasons that coconut oil is so beneficial for the brain is that it is ketogenic, meaning that it stimulates the production of ketones. You may be asking yourself what is a ketone and how exactly does it help the brain? Well a ketone is an organic compound that can act as an energy source for the brain. The brain’s main energy source is glucose, but when glucose is not present the brain utlizes ketones for energy. In fact, ketones can supply all of the energy needed to the brain in an individual with defects in their glucose metabolism. Ketones also stimulate blood flow to the brain which improves circulation and delivery of oxygen to brain cells improving overall brain function.
2. Stimulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNFs) The ketogenic properties of coconut oil are also beneficial because ketones trigger the activation of proteins known as brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNFs). These special proteins stimulate brain cell production and repair as well as help the brain reduce inflammation and remove toxins. BDNFs can also improve insulin sensitivity so that brain cells can take up more glucose for energy.
3. It contains Medium Chain Triglycerides Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) are a type of dietary fat that are composed of only 6-10 carbon links. Their unique size makes them an important energy source for the brain as many of them can cross the blood brain barrier as well as the double mitochondrial membrane in cells very rapidly without the presence of L-carnitine, as do their longer carbon link counterparts (known as long chain triglycerides). Because they do not require carnitine they leave an excess of acetyl coA floating around and ultimately will result in the production of ketones (which we know are excellent for the brain!)
4. Neuroprotective Effect Remember those MCTs? Well not only are they excellent energy sources, they also have been shown to have a neuroprotective effect on the brain. One MCT in particular called caprylic acid possesses anti-convulsant properties and has been shown to be useful in controlling epileptic seizures.
5. Improvement in Brain Function in Alzeimer’s Patients In many Alzeimer’s patients there appears to be a reduced ability to utilize glucose in certain parts of the brain, thus coconut oil’s ketogenic properties are especially beneficial. By increasing ketones, the brain cells will have a higher energy supply and can function without the use of glucose. More energy for those cells means improved memory function. In one 2006 study, consumption of coconut oil led to an immediate improvement in brain function in patients with milder forms of Alzheimer’s disease.