People living with multiple sclerosis (MS) are often curious about natural remedies and dietary supplements to help with their symptoms. No single food or diet has been proven to cure or slow MS progression, but some recent research on coconut oil has MyMSTeam members talking. There is not enough evidence at this time to draw conclusions about using coconut oil to manage MS symptoms, but some members are trying it out themselves.
One member of MyMSTeam wrote, “I came across an article which highlighted the benefits of coconut oil for spasticity. So, I quickly obliged. Swallowed a spoonful, and I began oil pulling again using that very same oil. And voila, I must admit, it loosened me up a bit.”
Coconut oil has some health benefits, but it’s also very high in saturated fat and might not be a safe choice for everyone. Read on for six things you should know about MS and coconut oil.
Coconut oil is plant-based and consists of 100 percent fat, almost all of which is saturated fat. That’s why it often looks firm at room temperature. It’s extracted from kernels of mature coconuts harvested from coconut palm trees.
Coconut oil is primarily produced in Asia, with the Philippines as the highest-volume producer, followed by Indonesia and India. The United States and Europe are among its largest consumers.
Coconut oil comes in many forms, but it shouldn’t be confused with coconut water or coconut milk. Coconut oil is also not the same as other types of oils usually used in food or cooking. This is because it’s made up of medium-chain fatty acids, also called medium-chain triglycerides. Most other oils are made up of long-chain fatty acids. These molecular differences change the way the body processes the oil.
Research has shown that the lauric acid in coconut oil has some anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects — at least when used topically (on the skin). MS is an autoimmune disease that attacks the myelin sheath covering the nerve fibers, which leads to inflammation and condition’s neurological symptoms. While it’s too early to tell from the research, there is interest in studying coconut oil to treat inflammation for people with MS.
There is very little solid research on how coconut oil may impact MS symptoms. At this point, most claims about coconut oil’s benefits in MS are from individual accounts. The exception to this is a recent research study conducted in Spain.
This clinical trial of 51 people with MS who were being treated with standard MS medications asked participants to take coconut oil and green tea extract (epigallocatechin gallate) while eating an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet over a period of four months. A control group ate a Mediterranean diet but took a placebo instead of the supplements.
The study found that those who took the coconut oil and green tea extract had measurable improvements in walking speed, balance, and muscle strength. However, many participants reported that they couldn’t personally perceive the improvement in balance the researchers noticed.
The researchers found study participants also had lower levels of depression, anxiety, and abdominal fat at the conclusion of the study. However, because this study group was small and included diet changes and green tea extract as well as coconut oil, it’s hard to know how much coconut oil alone was related to these benefits.
One member of MyMSTeam reported they “take a teaspoon of organic coconut oil every morning to help ward off cognitive issues.” Another member wrote, “I have been trying to eat coconut oil, and I think I am remembering names and words for details better!”
While it is possible that coconut oil can help with cognitive issues, there have been no large reliable studies looking at this. Emerging research suggests that, through its anti-inflammatory effects, coconut oil might also have antidepressive effects which could improve cognition. More research is needed to prove this theory.
Coconut oil has a very high amount of saturated fat — 50 percent more saturated fat than butter and far more than in common cooking oils like olive or canola. Saturated fats are known to cause your body’s cholesterol levels to rise. A recent meta-analysis of research on eating coconut oil found it significantly increased the amount of LDL cholesterol — also known as “bad cholesterol” — in the body, compared to other more common vegetable oils.
When bad cholesterol levels rise, plaques can accumulate in your arteries, leading to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. This is particularly important for people living with MS, since having MS already puts you at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting your daily intake of saturated fats to less than 10 percent of the total number of calories you consume. Oils that have been verified as heart-healthy — such as extra virgin olive oil — may be better choices than coconut oil for daily cooking. Eating too many calories, or too many calories from fat, can lead to weight gain as well. Maintaining a healthy weight is important to helping with MS symptoms like fatigue and daytime sleepiness.
If you plan to add coconut oil to your diet, you’ll find different types available on the market. These oils are classified as refined or unrefined coconut oil, terms that have to do with how the oil is processed.
Unrefined oil — also known as virgin coconut oil — is made by pressing the coconut meat. It typically has a mild coconut aroma and taste. Refined coconut oil undergoes additional processing, which may include filtering, deodorizing, and more. Which one to choose depends on your cooking needs.
If you’re planning to cook with coconut oil, be aware of which type you’ve purchased because they heat up differently. Unrefined coconut oil has a smoke point of approximately 350 degrees, which means you can use it for baking or quick sauteeing at low heat, but you cannot use it for deep-frying. Refined coconut oil, however, has a higher smoke point of about 450 degrees, so it can be used in a more versatile way when cooking.
Maintaining a healthy diet and a balanced weight are important for managing your MS symptoms. The Wahls Protocol diet for MS recommends limiting dairy intake and replacing cow’s milk with coconut milk or almond milk. It also suggests cooking with coconut oil instead of butter. As with any diet, however, moderation and balance are key.
While coconut oil may help with some symptoms of MS, it certainly can not cure MS or slow its disease progression. Only disease-modifying treatments are known to effectively treat MS.
Any supplement or food you take for MS, including coconut oil, should be in addition to your regular MS treatment plan you create with your neurologist. Even though it is generally safe to try a new food, having an allergy to coconut is a risk and should be taken into consideration. Always ask your doctor before making changes to your diet because even natural foods and supplements can interfere with your prescribed medications.
MyMSTeam is the social network for people with MS and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 198,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.
Are you living with MS and curious about coconut oil? Have you tried it? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.