in Healthy Eating

5 min read

Coconut oil has made an immense comeback in recent years as one of the healthiest types of fats for culinary use. However, the uses of coconut oils often exceed the commonly known ones. Let’s see what I’m talking about.

Article guide:

Coconut oil

I’ve written an article about the healthiness of coconut oil before. The greatest, if not all, of its health benefits are due to medium-chain triglycerides (or MCTs for short). Because they have a unique metabolic pathway compared to other types of oils and fats, they also exert different effects. MCTs are used as an energy source in a faster and more efficient way because they get turned into ketone bodies.

One MCT found in coconut oil is lauric acid. It represents roughly 40% of the saturated fat content in coconut oil. Moreover, there are other fatty acids (capric, myristic, palmitic) which add up substantially to the MCT percentage found in in coconut oil. In the previous article, I devoted a short paragraph to the health benefits of coconut oil and ketogenic diets for epileptic seizures.

Today, I’m devoting a whole article to this topic.

 

Ketosis and ketone bodies

Ketosis is defined as a metabolic state where you start using up ketone bodies as the primary source of energy for your energy needs. As you probably know, glucose is usually burned up for energy because the majority of people have high amounts of carbs in their diets. As a result, they rarely, if ever, transition into long-term ketosis. One exception being the short-term transition each night when we go to sleep. During that time, our bodies go into a state of ketosis. [1]

This metabolic state is probably very familiar with those of you who have spent a month or two in the gym. Namely, ketogenic diets are very popular with bodybuilders and different gym people alike.

Ketone bodies are molecules which are produced in our livers from fatty acids after long periods of carb restriction. When we have an increased number of ketone bodies in our system, our bodies switch into ketosis more easily. Consequentially, they are being used as the main energy source once our bodies make the switch.

 

Ketogenic diets and epilepsy

The most common characteristic of ketogenic diets is the presence of high amounts of fats, medium to high amounts of proteins, and low amounts of carbs; leaving the body with lower amounts of glucose in the system. The real ratio of the different macronutrients also depends on the used protocol.

I’m sure many of you are vaguely familiar with epilepsy, but I’d like to take a second to dot down some of its basic characteristics.

Epilepsy is a group of neurological disorders most commonly characterized by epileptic seizures of various durations. It affects around 1% of the population and it becomes more common with older age. The cause of epileptic seizures is excessive nerve cell activity in the brain, either in a specific place or diffusely throughout the brain.
Despite modern advances in science and the regular therapy for epileptic seizures, which involves anticonvulsant therapy, around 30% of patients still have seizures. [2]

This is where ketogenic diets enter the story.

I’ve previously mentioned that ketogenic diets are being increasingly used as a nutritional treatment for epileptic seizures in children. However, after some digging, it turns out they are being prescribed for adults as well. [3]

The reason why they are being prescribed as a treatment for chronic and acute epilepsy more and more is mainly because they work verly well [4, 5]. A review of studies shows around 50% of children have at least a 50% reduction in epileptic seizures [6]. That is an impressive reduction when we consider the only change in their treatment is their diet.

Similar results have been found in adult people too. Adults, who start following a ketogenic diet, report reductions in the amount of their epileptic seizures as well [7, 8]. In one study, 52% of the patients had significant reductions in seizure frequency and about 45% reported a more than 50% reduction in seizures. However, around 10% reported a more than 50% increase in seizures. The rest were either unable to start it, follow through it, or saw no reductions or improvements. [9]

 

MCT ketogenic diet

There are different iterations of ketogenic diets which are being used as a treatment. I’d like to focus on the one with an emphasis on MCTs. This variation mainly uses MCTs in oil form as a dietary supplement. The oil is one option, coconut oil with high amounts of MCTs is another. One interesting advantage of a MCT-enhanced ketogenic diet is its viability for people with a carnitine deficiency.

Carnitine, a compound synthesized from two amino acids, has an important role in our bodies because it processes long-chain fatty acids. On the other hand, medium-chain fatty acids don’t have to be processed by carnitine and are more efficient in terms of their ketogenic potential, as I’ve already mentioned. This allows people to eat more carbs and proteins, compared to typical ketogenic diets. Consequentially it also allows them to add more variety and flexibility to their dietary choices. [9]

Another interesting factoid is that MCT ketogenic diets are one of the most effective therapeutic approaches for children who have epilepsy when the usual approach with drugs doesn’t help. [10, 11]

Furthemore, this treatment is sometimes the first line of treatment. People who have a GLUT-1 transport deficiency or a pyruvate dehydrogenase deficiency are two groups who seem to reap the most benefits. [11]

 

Summary

With all that said, we can see ketogenic diets, and especially MCT ketogenic diets, have their place in the treatment of epileptic seizures for children and adults. Coconut oil with its high contents of MCTs is a practical addition to a ketogenic diet, at least when we compare the price of MCT oil and coconut oil. Moreover, it gives people who suffer from epilepsy more room for flexibility and variability in their diets, considering more proteins and carbs can be added to it.

What do you think about ketogenic diets? Have you ever tried one, how did it make you feel? Share your thoughts!

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  1. Hi I have seizures but they tell me they are from ptsd and non epileptic but further teats need to be ran. I’m trying the coconut oil because it was suggested by my sister in law, and I’m willing to try anything

    • Hi Barbara,

      This message will perhaps come late but I would like to point out, for other readers as well, that while there is some evidence on the benefits of coconut oil for epilepsy, I would remain very cautious and would advise you, if you would like to give this approach a try, to show some of the research papers to your doctors and let them make a more informed decision on what would be a beneficial addition to your treatment. In addition, it perhaps makes sense to point out that such articles should not be taken as medical advice related to health. They make help guide you in a better direction but the main treatment should always be that of your primary physician.

      Hope everything will turn out OK for you.