Sunday, May 5, 2013

Taking Axona, MCT Oil or Coconut Oil for Alzheimer's

MCT oil label What do Axona, Coconut Oil and MCT Oil have in common? They all share a key ingredient popular in dementia diets called "Medium Chain Triglycerides". What are the benefits of each? Which source is best?

Why MCTs Might Boost a Faltering Brain

In Alzheimer's, brain cells often cannot get enough energy to do their job.

Mitochondrial dysfunction is the technical term for this problem. Basically, mitochondria are the "power plants" or "batteries" from which human cells draw power. Mitochondria make the energy by burning glucose, a type of sugar, wich explains why we love sugar. When the brain's mitochondria malfunction, the sugar we eat does not get turned into energy for the cells, so parts of the brain slow down or stop working.

The body can also use a backup fuel called ketones. Normally, the body generates ketones when there is not enough glucose around. However, in Alzheimer's, there may be plenty of glucose around, but the brain cannot get to it, as decribed in the last paragraph. If the brain had ketones, it could hypotehitcally use them as a backup fuel, but the body is not producing any, because there is plenty of glucose around.

There is a way to get around this problem using foods rich in Medium Chain Triglycerides, or MCTs for short.

MCTs are converted by the body into ketones. So the hypothesis is that if a person eats MCTs, their brain will soon be swimming in ketones. This will give brain cells access to an ample supply of ketones as a backup fuel. In other words, it won't fix anything, but backup systems in the brain can kick-in and noticeably compensate for other systems that are not working properly.

Why MCTs Might Not Work

It needs to be said that Alzheimer's is a complex disease and there are a lot of stages and many systems that are affected. Nothing yet exists that has been shown to help everyone who has Alzheimer's, nor at all stages of Alzheimer's. This includes all the FDA-Approved medications, which according to Consumer Reports, help less than half the people who take them. At the same time, many different therapies offer dramatic improvements to different people at various stages of Alzheimer's.

It is also worth noting that doctors try to reduce triglycerides in Alzheimer's because lower fat levels are good for the disease. This would make MCT oil and Axona less of a problem than cocout oil. To keep this all in perspective, Axona, MCT oil and cooconut oil all appear to be far more mild with less potential for side effects than all the major Alzheimer's medications.

How Can I Get MCTs?

Axona is an FDA Medical Food that is an MCT milkshake for Alzheimer's. It has been shown to work in clinical trials. As a boost to its credibility, Nestle Health Science acquired a stake in Axona in 2012.

Today, the three most common sources of MCTs for Alzheimer's are:
  • Axona®
  • MCT Oil
  • Coconut Oil
There are a lot of similarities and differences between these three products. They have different costs, a variety of side-effects and different mixes of MCT types. These distinctions have led to many questions from our readers, such as:
“I have been hearing about MCTS as an effective in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and understand that it is the main ingredient of Axona®. Would using a lower cost source such as coconut oil be as effective as the higher priced Axona®? Thanks,
To begin answering this question, we put together two charts.
  1. The first chart shows the difference formulations of various MCTs in Axona®, MCT oil and coconut oil. 
  2. The second compares the daily cost to use each product. 
These charts assume a serving size that includes 20 grams of MCT, which is the amount of MCTs in one packet of Axona®.  For reference, there are 5 grams in a teaspoon and 15 grams in a tablespoon. (In U.S. nutrition labeling, a tablespoon is 15 ml.)

What Type of MCT Makes Up Each Product?


Three Products

Type of MCT



Coconut Oil

Caprylidene [C8]



Caprylic Acid [C8]


Capric Acid [C10]


Lauric Acid [C12]



Total amount of the product made out of MCTs

What do 20 Grams of MCTs Cost?

Amount needed to get 20gm
40 gm
(1 packet)
22 ml
39 ml

Typical daily cost
$ 2.30
$ 0.84
$ 0.22

To get the most out of this article, get more scientific and dietary background by reading, “The Coconut-Oil-Dementia Diet.” These articles are for informational purposes only. Ask your doctor before using these ingredients or products.)

MCT is the Common Denominator

To review, the common denominator in the three products above is a compound called MCT, which stands for Medium Chain Triglyceride. MCTs are quickly converted by the liver into ketones, which serve as a backup fuel for our bodies as well as our brains.

In most dementias, the system that metabolizes glucose (the preferred fuel) in the brain steadily loses its effectiveness. It seems that by raising the level of the backup fuel, or ketones, in the brain, one may compensate for this loss of primary fuel for quite some time. This seems to be achievable by consuming MCTs.

Four Types of MCTs

For the purposes of this discussion, there are four types of MCTs. Each one is commonly referred to by the number of carbon atoms in the medium-sized chain that holds it together. They are:
  • C6
  • C8
  • C10
  • C12
Look at the chart above and you can see how Axona®, MCT oil and coconut oil are similar in that their active ingredients for treating dementia are MCTs. At the same time, the types and mix of MCTs in each are different.

Four Facts on MCTs and Ketones

With this understanding, let’s take a look at a few facts.
  1. The Coconut-Oil-Dementia Diet article references a number of respected studies showing the effectiveness of a ketones in improving symptoms of dementia.
  2. MCTs convert into ketones quickly.
  3. The active ingredient in Axona® is an MCT called caprylidene, which is powdered caprylic acid.
  4. Axona® has passed clinical trials demonstrating it to be an effective ketone therapy.

Three Questions on Axona vs. Coconut Oil

Now we can run through some questions and answers which should clear up the picture.
  1. Is there an active ingredient in coconut oil that can provide the brain with ketones? Yes.
  2. Is coconut oil’s active ingredient exactly the same as the active ingredient in Axona®? No.
  3. Would using a lower cost coconut oil be as effective as the higher priced Axona®?
The best way to answer this last question may be with an analogy. If my daughter turned 18, had to have a car and money were no object, I would buy her a Volvo. Why? It’s not the best car in the world and in certain situations it may not even be the safest. At the same time, Volvo has the reputation as the best-studied best-built car for safety.

Just like any car can get us to the supermarket, any of the 3 MCT products above will get ketones to our brains. Notwithstanding, there can be side-effects, interactions and other unknowns. Like the Volvo, Axona® may be costly, but it is the best-studied MCT treatment for dementia. We simply have far more scientific research regarding its safety and benefits than any other MCT treatment.

Coconut oil is common in health food stores and needs no prescription. It sounds safe. Notwithstanding, when using it as a therapy for a dementia such as Alzheimer's, do not take its safety for granted. That’s not coconut oil’s normal use, so it calls for professional supervision. It is the reason why Axona® DOES need a prescription. It is safe to say that medical supervision is needed when using any MCT to treat a dementia such as Alzheimer’s.


  • There is plenty of science backing the use of MCTs for many types of dementia.
  • Prior to treating dementia with a ketogenic diet, MCT oil or coconut oil, be certain to ask your doctor.


  1. Hi Everyone- I am very interested in coco-nut oil, and I am very interested in comments about, if others have tried it, and if they seen any diferences in their dementia ?

    1. Kelly,
      My husband has been using Coconut oil for the last year and a half if not longer. It has definitely helped him when he faithfully takes it.

    2. @Ruth - That's great the coco-nut oil helping ur husband,& yes I bought some containers myself & it helped. I think this article spoke of sorting out the MCTs or Ketones from coco-nut oil or just getting packages of Axona. I am very price-wearaly on new stuff,especially when guessing. Any advice or suggestions ?


Comment here: