Can you help test whether vegetable oil benefits memory and thinking?


By Ed Pinches | Wednesday 29 January 2020

Researchers at Bournemouth University are looking for volunteers to take part in research investigating whether vegetable oils could hold any benefits on memory for people with mild memory problems.

There have been some claims that certain oils, could be used for prevention or even treatment for diseases like Alzheimer’s. However, there is currently not enough good evidence to back up these claims.

The claim is based on the finding that the brain cells of people with Alzheimer’s disease are unable to use glucose to produce energy properly. Some scientists think, providing an additional source of fuel to brain cells could potentially limit decline in memory. Eating some vegetable oils such as coconut oil can increase ketone bodies in the blood, providing an alternative source of energy that the brain can use when glucose is less available.

There is currently no good evidence to suggest that supplementing your diet with a specific oil holds any benefit for people with memory problems. Coconut oil is particularly high in saturated fats and the NHS recommends limiting intake of these types of fat as they may raise cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. However, new studies have shown that the composition of fats in coconut oil have no effect on blood cholesterol levels.

PhD student Raysa El Zein, supervised by a multi-disciplinary team (Prof Jane Murphy, Dr Shanti Shanker and Prof Peter Thomas), are conducting a new study, which will explore the possibility of using certain vegetable oils (coconut and sunflower oils) as an additional source of energy in the diet.

Up to 60 participants will be split into two groups and asked to either consume 30 ml of coconut or sunflower oil daily for six months incorporated into food. Participants will be provided with some recipes to help incorporate the oil into their diet. The researchers will meet the participants three times during the study to conduct a series of tests.  If successful it would provide the evidence needed to develop a larger future study to evaluate the effect of vegetable oils on memory.

There are an estimated 87,000 people in the South West living with dementia, and this number is set to rise.

While the risk factors for dementia are complex, the latest research shows that there are things within people’s control that could help reduce dementia risk, including eating a balanced diet.

Professor Jane Murphy, from Bournemouth University, said:
“A diet that is low in meat and dairy but rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, fish and ‘healthy’ fats like olive oil, has been linked to a range of health benefits.

“This trial is looking at whether certain vegetable oils will have any potential protective effects against worsening memory problems.”

“While there have been many claims made about potential benefits of these oils, it’s important that these claims are put to the test through research.”

Raysa El Zein, PhD student from Bournemouth University said:
“The participants who have already volunteered for the study are enjoying being part of a study that could make a difference and benefit others in their situation. I am looking forward to working with new volunteers.”

The trial is currently recruiting volunteers with MCI in Wessex and the South West of England, via an easy-to-use volunteer service called Join Dementia Research.

Join Dementia Research is an innovative UK-wide service, run by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and supported by Alzheimer’s Research UK, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer Scotland. The service allows anyone to register their interest in dementia research, so they can be matched to studies they may be able to take part in.

Dr Katy Stubbs, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“By signing up to register your interest in taking part in dementia research you are helping bolster efforts to end the fear, heartbreak and harm of dementia. It’s only with the dedicated support of research volunteers that we will be able to make the discoveries that change people’s lives.

“Anyone wanting to register their interest in this study or other dementia research can, by ringing the Alzheimer’s Research UK Dementia Research Infoline on 0300 111 5111. Alternatively, you can sign up online at



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Ed Pinches