TAMPA - Dr. Mary Newport cherishes sweet moments. Her husband, Steve, has Alzheimer's, a brain-wasting disease that robs him of his ability to live his normal life.
"He was 51 when he began having symptoms and 54 when he was officially diagnosed," said Newport, "and he started on Alzheimer's medications at that point."
Dr. Newport says she didn't see much improvement. "By 2006, Steve wasn't able to do simple math, even with a calculator."
Being a doctor herself, she did some research. "I found a medical food coming out that's now called Axsona. When I dug for information, I found the main active ingredient was medium chain triglyceride oil or MCT oil. I recognized this because of my profession. I'm a neonatologist and we used to add this to the feeding of our premature newborns."
She learned MCT was extracted from coconut oil. So she calculated a dose equivalent to what was in the medical food and started giving it to Steve.
The day before she gave him the coconut oil, he drew a picture of a clock that was little more than circles and numbers that made no sense. After two weeks on the oil, the picture looked more like a clock and after a month it was clear to his wife that he was improving.
His ability to draw objects wasn't the only improvement his wife noticed. "His tremors started to improve. He was more alert in the morning. The animation returned to his face. His personality came back."
Why does she think the coconut oil worked to improve some symptoms? "Basically what this is all about is Alzheimer's is a type of diabetes of the brain." She says the coconut oil helps get more energy into brain cells.
She went public with her theory, and e-mails and letters started pouring in. She began recording statistics and researchers at Byrd Alzheimer's Institute at the University of South Florida took notice.
A private foundation granted $250,000 to the institute for what is thought to be the first clinical trial of coconut oil on humans with Alzheimer's. And it's about to get underway.
"I've been working on this for five years now. I even wrote a book to bring awareness of this about. I'm extremely excited about this. The whole point of the book was to try and bring clinical trials around and that's about to happen."
it's important to note, taking coconut oil is a scientifically untested and unproven treatment. But the study at USF may be a part of proving whether it works or not.
The clinical trial begins June 13. Researchers are currently enrolling participants if you'd like more information, go to alz.health.usf.edu , or call Jill Smith at 813-974-4355.