Sunday, January 20, 2013

Can coconut oil ease Alzheimer's? Families who've given it to loved ones swear by it

One morning last month, Vrajlal Parmar got up, washed and dressed himself, and at 10am boarded the council minibus to a nearby leisure centre. 
In the evening, the 67-year-old former production line worker from London took the bus home. 
Nothing remarkable there — except that nearly a year earlier Mr Parmar had been diagnosed as being in the late stages of Alzheimer’s.
Professor Kieran Clarke believes coconut oil and similar compounds might help by boosting the brain's energy supply
Professor Kieran Clarke believes coconut oil and similar compounds might help by boosting the brain's energy supply
He’d been given the standard pencil and paper test — called the Mini Mental State Examination — that doctors use to diagnose Alzheimer’s and measure how it’s progressing. 
A healthy person would score 30. 
The letter Mr Parmar’s family got back from the Cognitive Disorders Clinic at University College London stated that he was ‘too severely affected to score anything at all’. Any drug treatment would be ineffective.
‘Dad was so far gone he couldn’t do anything for himself,’ says his son Kal Parmar, a filmmaker who together with Vrajlal’s wife, Taramati, looks after him at their home in London.
‘He couldn’t wash himself, dress or go to the toilet without help. He had to be watched all the time — the idea of him catching a bus, even a special bus to a dementia centre, was out of the question. 
'Often at night he would become hyperactive. We were regularly woken up because Dad was pulling pots and pans off shelves in the kitchen or emptying the cupboards

What has made the difference, according to Kal, is a teaspoon of coconut oil twice a day mixed with his food, which Mr Parmar has been taking since July. 
The idea that a common vegetable oil — made from coconut meat and which you can buy in supermarkets — could make a difference seems ludicrous, yet in the U.S. there have been hundreds of similar anecdotes of dramatic improvements. 
Kal Parmar first heard about coconut oil via a video on YouTube — it was about a doctor in Florida whose husband’s Alzheimer’s had improved amazingly with coconut oil. 
Kal says he would probably have dismissed this as one more bit of internet hype if there hadn’t been a favourable comment about the oil from Kieran Clarke, professor of physiological biochemistry at Oxford University and head of the Cardiac Metabolism Research Group. 
‘That made me think there must be something in it,’ he says. ‘So I called her up.’


Professor Clarke, an expert on the way the body makes and uses energy, believes coconut oil and similar compounds might help by boosting the brain’s energy supply.
Most of the time our brains rely on glucose from carbohydrates, but if that isn’t available — because we haven’t eaten anything for a while or because we’re eating almost no carbohydrates — then our brain cells can switch to using the energy from our fat stores.
This energy comes in the form of small molecules called ketones.
As Professor Clarke explains: ‘Coconut oil contains a lot of a particular sort of fat that our bodies can use to make more of the ketone “brain food”.
'It’s known as MCT (medium chain triglycerides) and it’s not found in the fats most of us eat.’ 
One of the new ideas about Alzheimer's is that it is diabetes of the
One of the new ideas about Alzheimer's is that it is diabetes of the brain
There is now a food supplement — available only in the U.S. — which largely consists of MCT oil, and which might be a healthier source than coconut oil, as we shall explain later.
But why should ketones help people with Alzheimer’s? One of the new ideas about the disease is that it is diabetes of the brain. 
Just as diabetics have problems with glucose and insulin, so Alzheimer’s sufferers can’t get enough glucose into brain cells to give them the energy they need to lay down new memories and think clearly. 
If you have diabetes, you are three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
As the New Scientist magazine revealed last September, there is evidence that the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers become resistant to insulin. This is disastrous because insulin regulates the brain chemicals that are crucial for memory. 
When one U.S. researcher blocked insulin supplies in the brains of laboratory animals, they developed all the plaques and tangles that are a classic mark of Alzheimer’s.


The doctor in Florida in the YouTube video is Dr Mary Newport, a paediatrician who began using coconut oil to treat her husband, Harry, four years ago. 
He had been suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s for eight years. She claims the results after he started taking the oil were remarkable. 
‘He began to get his short-term memory back,’ says Dr Newport.
‘His depression lifted, he became more like his old self. The problem he’d had with walking improved. An MRI scan showed his brain had stopped shrinking.’
So what prompted her to use the oil in the first place? 
‘Some years ago, I came across a small study suggesting that Alzheimer’s patients had a problem using glucose in the brain and that ketones could be an alternative source of fuel. 
The study suggested a patented drink that boosted ketone levels improved memory and thinking skills in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.’ 
A follow-up paper on this was published in the journal BMC Neuroscience in 2008. Dr Newport found out the patented drink contained MCT oil extracted from coconuts.
‘The patented product still wasn’t on the market, so I thought it would be worth trying coconut oil itself,’ she says. 
Her accounts of Harry’s improvement, illustrated with videos on YouTube, prompted hundreds of people to share their positive experience of the oil (traditionally used in the tropics for everything from cooking to protecting wood).
One carer of a man with dementia reported: ‘His ability to speak and recall words is better, but not his ability to make good decisions.’ 
The carer of another man who’d had dementia for ten years said: ‘His reaction to the oil was very gradual, but his mood is so much better.’ 
Dr Newport recently added MCT oil to her husband’s regime because the combination gives a more steady supply of ketones, she says. 
While MCT supplies more ketones, most are gone from the body in three hours. Coconut oil provides fewer ketones, but they last up to eight hours. 
Let us be clear, coconut oil doesn’t appear to be a cure. Furthermore, none of these accounts prove anything scientifically.
They are just anecdotes and until there is a proper controlled trial against a placebo, few medical professionals will feel the case for coconut oil has been made.


These stories, however, do suggest pure coconut oil — and the MCT oil that can be extracted from it — is worth investigating. 
Currently, the only type of drug available for Alzheimer’s patients, known as a cholinesterase inhibitor, works by boosting the amount of a brain chemical they are lacking.
It slows memory decline in about a third of patients for between six months and a year.
Currently, the only type of drug available for Alzheimer's patients works by boosting the amount of a brain chemical they are lacking
Currently, the only type of drug available for Alzheimer's patients works by boosting the amount of a brain chemical they are lacking
Last year, the NHS spent more than £70 million on the most widely used brand, Aricept. Its potential side-effects include nausea, diarrhoea and slow heart rhythms, which can lead to fainting. 
Hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent trying to develop drugs to clear the plaques of damaged protein in the brain that are the classic sign of Alzheimer’s, but all have failed to get a licence.
So could tackling the energy supply to the brain be another option? 
One expert who thinks it’s worth investigating is Professor Rudy Tanzi, director of the Genetics and Ageing Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. 
In a recent article for the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, he explained why coconut oil might work. 
‘Virgin coconut oil contains the fats that can be converted into ketone bodies, which can serve as an alternate energy source for the brain. 
'The ketone bodies could potentially provide energy to  the glucose-deprived brains of Alzheimer’s patients.’


He stressed that, as yet, there was no evidence —– and warned that coconut oil itself has its own down-side. 
‘The fats (found in coconut oil) can be potentially harmful to the heart, so it would be wise to regularly monitor cholesterol and triglyceride levels if you are taking it.’
Anyone interested in boosting their ketone supply in this way has three options — at least in the U.S. 
As well as coconut oil there is MCT oil, which can be bought over the counter and has been used by some athletes for years (ketones also power muscles), and the patented food supplement drink that triggered Dr Newport’s original experiment. 
The more expensive patented supplement is called Axona, and has a licence from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use as a medical food for patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s who are taking a drug such as Aricept. It’s not available in the UK.
‘The attraction of Axona for doctors is that it provides a well-studied, pure and concentrated dose of the ketone-producing properties found in coconut oil, while eliminating the multitude of triglyceride-elevating components it can contain,’ says Dr Richard S. Isaacson, associate professor of clinical neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. 
Food company Nestle recently bought a stake in the manufacturer, Acera, and is planning the sort of large, expensive clinical trial that, if successful, could get Axona a drug licence. 
‘This would encourage more doctors to use it and insurance companies would pay for it — at the moment most don’t,’ says James Galvin, a professor of neurology and psychiatry at New York University. 
Professor Galvin is the author of an article in the June edition of Neurodegenerative Disease  Management that recommends taking Axona in combination with the Aricept-type drugs. (He, like Dr Isaacson, is a consultant for the manufacturer Acera).
‘It’s a rational approach that may result in maximum preservation of cognitive function,’ he says. 
‘The ketone-boosting approach to Alzheimer’s seems to work in about half the patients. I’d recommend coconut oil as well if there was some good trial evidence for it.’
This evidence could soon be coming from the first coconut trial now being set up by Dave Morgan, professor of molecular pharmacology and physiology and head of the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute in Florida. 
‘I was very impressed by the anecdotal evidence gathered by Dr Newport,’ he says. ‘Patients want to know if it works and who is going to benefit, but our physicians have no scientific basis to advise them. 
‘It will be a placebo-controlled trial on patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. I don’t expect it to slow the progression of the disease, but it does seem to improve some of the symptoms.’


Here in the UK most experts are, perhaps understandably, sceptical of the coconut oil claims. 
‘There is a huge placebo response in Alzheimer’s,’ warns Professor Robert Howard, professor of old age psychiatry and psychopathology at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.
‘It’s a remitting and relapsing disease, so there are often times when things seem to be getting better. 
‘It is important to protect patients from false hope and not expose them to quackery. I’m not sure there is a problem with glucose getting into brain cells but if I were to follow that line I think an existing diabetes drug like metformin would be a better bet than coconut oil. 
‘All sorts of things can help patients feel better — music, massage, having a kitten. If people believe coconut oil improves symptoms it probably won’t do any harm.’
However, in some people large amounts can cause diarrhoea.
The charity Alzheimer’s UK, which has just had its funding boosted by the Government, says while it ‘wouldn’t discourage anyone from taking it . . .  there is not enough evidence to suggest that coconut oil or ketones have benefits for people with Alzheimer’s, so we would not consider funding research into it’. 
However, David Smith, professor of pharmacology at the Physiology Institute at Oxford University and director of Optima (Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing), insists this  is a mistake. 
‘We have no way of knowing if coconut oil is truly effective, but given the scale of the Alzheimer’s crisis facing us, and that there’s a rational mechanism for why it could work, it’s obviously crying out for a proper trial.’
And people are hungry for information on anything that might help with Alzheimer’s.
When Kal Parmar talked to a local newspaper about his father’s improvement, he received more than 150 emails asking for help. 
So far about a dozen people in the UK have come back to him saying they had someone in their family on coconut oil, in some cases with impressive results following Dr Newport’s reports.
Recently, following Dr Newport’s example, Kal has added a  teaspoon of MCT oil twice a day to his father’s regimen. 
Mr Parmar says: ‘Before we started him on coconut oil, Dad’s speech was gone and he couldn’t remember his name or his date of birth. 
'Now you can have a simple conversation with him. We go for walks. 
'He even remembers his national insurance number. We’re so happy.




Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Cancer Symptoms Most Ignored

Annual checkups and tests such as colonoscopies and PSA assays are important, but it’s not a good idea to rely on tests alone to protect you from cancer.

It’s just as important to listen to your body and notice anything that’s different, odd, or unexplainable.

(You should also listen to those close to you, such as a wife or partner, because others sometimes notice things we’re unaware of–or don’t want to admit.) You don’t want to join the ranks of cancer patients who realize too late that symptoms they’d noticed for a long time could have sounded the alarm earlier, when cancer was easier to cure.

1. Upset stomach or stomachache
One of the first signs colon cancer patients remember experiencing when they look back is unexplained stomach aches.

Those with pancreatic cancer describe a dull ache that feels like it’s pressing inward. Many liver cancer patients say they went in complaining of stomach cramps and upset stomachs so frequently that their doctors thought they had ulcers. Liver cancer patients and those with leukemia can experience abdominal pain resulting from an enlarged spleen, which may
feel like an ache on the lower left side.

If you have a stomachache that you can’t attribute to a digestive problem or that doesn’t go away, ask your doctor to order an ultrasound.

Finding a liver or pancreatic tumor early can make all the difference in treatment.

2. Chronic “acid stomach” or feeling full after a small meal. The most common early sign of stomach cancer is pain in the upper or middle abdomen that feels like gas or heartburn. It may be aggravated by eating, so that you feel full when you haven’t actually eaten much. What’s particularly confusing is that the pain can be relieved by antacids, confirming your conclusion that it was caused by acid in the stomach, when it’s more than that.

An unexplained pain or ache in lower right side can be the first sign of liver cancer, known as one of the “silent killers.” Feeling full after a small meal is a common sign of liver cancer as well.

If you have frequent bouts of acid stomach, an unexplained abdominal ache, or a full feeling after meals even when you’re eating less than
normal, call your doctor.

3. Unexplained weight loss
If you notice the pounds coming off and you haven’t made changes to your diet or exercise regime, it’s important to find out why. Unexplained weight loss can be an early sign of colon and other digestive cancers; it can also be a sign of cancer that’s spread to the liver, affecting your appetite and the ability of your body to rid itself of waste.

4. Jaundice
Pancreatic cancer, another one of the “silent killers,” is often discovered when someone notices jaundice and asks the doctor to do a battery of tests. Jaundice is most commonly thought of as a yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes, but darker-than- normal urine that’s not the result of dehydration is also a sign. Clay-colored stools are another little-known sign of jaundice. Oddly, jaundice can also cause itching, because the bile salts in the bloodstream cause the skin to itch.

Some people with pancreatic cancer say they noticed the itching before they noticed the jaundice itself.

5. Wheezing or shortness of breath
One of the first signs lung cancer patients remember noticing when they look back is the inability to catch their breath. “ I couldn’t even walk to my car without wheezing; I thought I had asthma, but how come I didn’t have it before ? ”, is how one man described it. Shortness of breath, chest pain, or spitting blood are also signs of testicular cancer that’s spread to the lungs.

6. Chronic cough or chest pain
Several types of cancer, including leukemia and lung tumors, can cause symptoms that mimic a bad cough or bronchitis. One way to tell the difference:

The problems persist, or go away and come back again in a repeating cycle. Some lung cancer patients report chest pain that extends up into the shoulder or down the arm.

7. Frequent fevers or infections
These can be signs of leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells that starts in the bone marrow. Leukemia causes the marrow to produce abnormal white blood cells, which crowd out healthy white cells, sapping the body’s infection-fighting capabilities. Doctors sometimes catch leukemia in older adults only after the patient has been in a number of times complaining of fever, aches, and flu-like symptoms over an extended period of time.

8. Difficulty swallowing
Most commonly associated with esophageal or throat cancer, having trouble swallowing is sometimes one of the first signs of lung cancer, too. Men diagnosed with esophageal cancer look back and remember a feeling of pressure and soreness when swallowing that didn’t go away the way a cold or flu would have. Consult your doctor also if you have a frequent feeling of needing to clear your throat or that food is
stuck in your chest; either of these can signal a narrowing of the esophagus that could mean the presence of a tumor.

9. Chronic heartburn
If you just ate half a pizza, heartburn is expected. But if you have frequent episodes of heartburn or a constant low-level feeling of pain in the chest after eating, call your doctor and ask to be screened for esophageal cancer.

Gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) — a condition in which stomach acid rises into the esophagus, causing heartburn and an acidic taste in the throat — can trigger a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which can be a precursor of esophageal cancer...

10. Swelling of facial features
Some patients with lung cancer report that they noticed puffiness, swelling, or redness in the face. The explanation for this is that small cell lung tumors commonly block blood vessels in the chest, preventing blood from flowing freely from the head and face.

11. Swollen lymph nodes or lumps on the neck, underarm, or groin Enlarged lymph nodes indicate changes in the lymphatic system, which can be a sign of cancer. For example, a lump oran enlarged lymph in the neck or underarm is sometimes a sign of thyroid, head, or throat cancer. A painless lump on the neck, underarm, or groin can be an early sign
of leukemia.

12. Excessive bruising or bleeding that doesn’t stop This symptom usually suggests something abnormal happening with the platelets and red blood cells, which can be a sign of leukemia. One man with leukemia noticed that his gums bled when he brushed his teeth; another described bruising in strange places, such as on his fingers and hands.

The explanation : Over time, leukemia cells crowd out red blood cells and platelets, impairing the blood’s ability to carry oxygen and clot.

13. Weakness and fatigue
“I had to stop halfway across the yard and sit down when I was mowing the lawn,” said one man when describing the fatigue that led to his discovery of pancreatic cancer. Generalized fatigue and weakness is a symptom of so many different kinds of cancer (and other ills) that you’ll need to look at it in combination with other symptoms.

But any time, you feel exhausted without explanation and it doesn’t respond to getting more sleep, talk to your doctor.

14. Rectal bleeding or blood in stool
“I thought it was hemorrhoids” is one of the most common statements doctors hear when diagnosing colorectal cancer. Blood in the toilet alone is reason to call your doctor and schedule a colonoscopy.

Another sign of blood in the stool many people miss is stools that are darker in color.

15. Bowel problems
Constipation, diarrhea, and changes in stools can all be signs of cancer. As with many other cancer symptoms, the way to tell if this is cause for concern is if it goes on for more than a few days without a clear cause, such as flu or food poisoning.

People diagnosed with colon cancer say they noticed more frequent stools, as well as a feeling that their bowels were not emptied completely.

One of the early signs of pancreatic cancer is fatty stools, which can be recognized as frequent, large stools that are paler than normal and smelly. This is a sign that your body’s not absorbing your food normally, and it should be brought to your doctor’s attention.

16. Difficulty urinating or changes in flow
Hands-down, the most common early sign of prostate cancer is a feeling of not being able to start peeing once you’re set to go. Many men also report having a hard time stopping the flow of urine, a flow that starts and stops, or a stream that’s weaker than normal. Any of these symptoms is reason to call your doctor for an exam and a screening test for prostate-specific antigen.

17. Pain or burning during urination
This symptom can also indicate a urinary tract infection or sexually transmitted disease, of course, but in any case it warrants an immediate trip to the doctor. This symptom is often combined with the feeling that you need to go more often, particularly at night. These same symptoms can also indicate inflammation or infection in the prostate or benign prostatic hyperplasia, the name for what happens when the prostate grows bigger and blocks the flow of urine. However, you need to get checked out to tell the difference.

18. Blood in urine or semen
Men are often warned about blood in the urine, but they may not realize that blood in semen is also a danger sign for prostate cancer. Blood in the urine or semen isn’t always visible as blood; urine may just be a pink, dark red, or smoky brown color, while blood in the semen may just look like a pinkish streak.

19. Erection problems
As prostate cancer progresses, another very common sign is difficulty getting or sustaining an erection. This can be a difficult subject to talk about, but it’s important to bring it to your doctor’s attention. It could be a sign of sexual dysfunction with another cause, of course, but it’s a reason to have an exam and a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test.

20. Pain, aching, or heaviness in the groin, hips, thighs, or abdomen One sign of prostate cancer is frequent pain in the hips, upper thighs, or the lowest part of the back. Men with testicular cancer report noticing a heavy, aching feeling low in the belly or abdomen, or in the scrotum or testicles bthemselves. They sometimes describe it as a feeling of downward pulling or as a generalized ache throughout the groin area.

Prostate cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes often makes itself known as discomfort in the pelvis or swelling in the legs.

21. Testicular swelling or lump
The lumps that indicate testicular cancer are nearly always painless. It’s also common for a testicle to be enlarged or swollen, but lacking any specific lump that you can see or feel.

Some men report feeling discomfort from the enlargement, but not an outright pain.

22. Unexplained back pain
Back pain can mean all sorts of things, of course — most often pulled muscles or disc problems. But unexplained, persistent back pain can be an early sign of cancer as well, so get it checked out.

Pain in the lower back and hips can be a sign of prostate cancer, while pain in the upper back can signal lung cancer. A pain in the upper abdomen and back is one of the few early signs of pancreatic cancer.

23. Scaly or painful nipple or chest, nipple discharge Men do get breast cancer; they also get a condition called gynecomastia, which is a benign lump in the breast area. Breast cancer is usually detected as a lump, but if it’s spreading inward it can also cause chest pain.
Other signs of breast cancer include patches of red, scaly, or dimpled skin or changes to the nipple such as turning inward or leaking fluid.

Bring any lump, swelling, or skin or nipple problem, or any chest pain, to your doctor's attention.

24. A sore or skin lump that doesn’t heal, becomes crusty, or bleeds easily Most of us know how to watch moles for changes that might indicate skin cancer. But other signs, such as small waxy lumps or dry scaly patches, are
easier to miss.

Familiarize yourself with the different types of skin cancer — melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma — and be vigilant about checking skin all over the body for odd-looking growths or spots.

25. Changes in nails
Unexplained changes to the fingernails can be a sign of several types of cancer. A brown or black streak or dot under the nail can indicate skin cancer.

A newly discovered “clubbing,” which means enlargement of the ends of the fingers, with nails that curve down over the tips, can be a sign of lung cancer.

Pale or white nails can be an indication that your liver is not functioning properly.