The study at hand was very small, only 20 participants. So results may not be reproducible. The Canadian researchers’ main conclusion: “This is the longest duration MCT Alzheimer Disease study to date. Eighty percent had stabilization or improvement in cognition, and better response with 9‐month continual MCT oil.”
MCT stands for medium chain triglycerides, which apparently are derived from coconut and palm oil. The MCTs provide a source of energy for the brain – ketones – as a partial substitute for the brain’s usual energy source, glucose.
Study participants as expected were elderly and had mild to moderate Alzheimer Disease. Folks with diabetes were excluded from participation.
The article introduction has some interesting facts:
The brain is an obligate glucose metabolizer using 120 to 130 g/day of glucose. It uses 16% of the body’s total O2 consumption, despite representing only 2.0% to 2.3% of adult body weight. In conditions of low carbohydrate intake or fasting, the body uses ketones (acetoacetate and beta hydroxybutyrate [BHB]) as an alternative energy source to glucose. Ketones are normally generated in fasting states from beta‐oxidation of adipose stores to maintain cerebral function. In long‐term fasting, ketones can supply > 60% of the brain’s energy requirements, and are preferentially taken up by the brain over glucose. This occurs in cognitively normal younger and older adults, as well as in those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and AD.
Ketones can also be induced with a very low carbohydrate high fat (VLCHF) diet. Medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil has the potential to produce a nutritional source of ketones for an alternative brain fuel to glucose, or by the consumption of MCT oil or esterases in freeze‐dried form. This is independent of the fasting state or carbohydrate intake. Long‐term compliance with fasting or VLCHF and LCHF diet regimes is challenging and requires strict medical supervision. Hence, the potential advantage of nutritional ketone sources (MCT) over these restrictive diets. Our recent study showed a clear dose‐dependent effect on ketone (BHB) generation with varying doses of MCT supplementation, and was found to be equivalent in young, elderly, and AD subjects.
In Alzheimer Disease (AD), the brain is unable to use glucose normally, causing hypofunction of 20% to 40% in key areas of the brain responsible for the symptoms in AD.
The MCT oil used was Bulletproof Brain Octane ® (NPN 80057199). Are other MCT oils just as good? Hell if I know. The goal dose was three tablespoons (15 ml) daily. My sense is that it was recommended as one tablespoon (15 ml) three times daily. The average consumption ended up as two tablespoons daily. Caregivers were in charge of dosing and they tended to forget or omit the lunchtime dose. Some study participants had limited dosing due to MCT side effects: abdominal pain, diarrhea, or vomiting.
This study shows that participants taking MCT supplementation for 11 months continuously did better cognitively than their peers who had their 11 months of MCT interrupted by 4 months of placebo (olive) oil. Given that most patients should experience a drop in their cognitive scores over the 15 months, the fact that those on longer continuous MCT did not, could be a sample size error for the outcomes other than Montreal Cognitive Assessment, but it could also be that the difference in scores (showing stability) is valid.
In other words, MCT oil didn’t improve cognition, but stabilized it. I.e., it prevented the usual expected decline over time.
Steve Parker, M.D.
PS: Another way to get ketones to the brain is with a ketogenic diet, which is an option in my books.