Can coconut fat keep brains from aging too fast?

If a diet high in the type of fats found in coconuts can slow down brain aging in mice, scientists suspect the fats might help children who are aging prematurely. (Credit: iStockphoto)

Mice placed on a high-fat diet appear to fight off symptoms of aging that affect the brain.

The mice had a defect in their DNA repair system. In humans, this defect causes the disorder Cockayne syndrome, where patients prematurely age as children and die at an age of 10-12 years.

Putting the mice on a high-fat diet postponed some of the symptoms, such as hearing and weight loss. Mice fed medium-chain fatty acids from coconut oil did particularly well.

Scientists say these results open the possibility of treating children, who are aging prematurely, as well as adults with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“The study is good news for children with Cockayne syndrome, because we do not currently have an effective treatment. Our study suggests that a high-fat diet can postpone aging processes,” says study leader Vilhelm Bohr, a professor from the Center for Healthy Aging at the University of Copenhagen and from the National Institute of Health.

“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.”

More fuel for brain cells

Our brain has a constant need for fuel in the form of either sugar or so-called ketones. Ketones are the brain’s fuel reserve, and, in particular, play an important role in periods of low blood sugar levels, for example, if you are fasting.


This is because the body breaks down fat if it needs sugar, and during this process it produces ketones.

“In cells from children with Cockayne syndrome, we have previously demonstrated that aging is a result of the cell repair mechanism being constantly active. 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,” says Morten Scheibye-Knudsen from the National Institute of Health.

The Nordea-fonden through the Center for Healthy Aging supported the research, which appears in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Source: University of Copenhagen