Coconut Oil and Green Tea Lead to Gait, Balance Gains in MS Patients

Supplements also seen to improve endurance in pilot study

Lindsey Shapiro, PhD avatar

by Lindsey Shapiro, PhD |

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Supplementation with coconut oil and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a green tea extract, in combination with a Mediterranean-style diet, was associated with improvements in balance and gait in people with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Those were the findings of a small pilot study in Spain, which also found that all participants, including those receiving a placebo in combination with a Mediterranean diet, experienced gains in endurance after four months.

“The administration of EGCG and coconut oil seems to improve gait speed and balance,” the researchers wrote, adding that the “healthy Mediterranean diet followed by all the patients in the study could explain the improvement in gait resistance [endurance].”

The study, “Improvements in gait and balance in patients with multiple sclerosis after treatment with coconut oil and epigallocatechin gallate. A pilot study,” was published in Food & Function

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MS patients took coconut oil and green tea extract supplements

The inflammatory environment that characterizes MS contributes to the dysfunction of mitochondria — cellular components that function as energy production centers and are known as the powerhouses of cells. Ultimately, the energy balance of nerve cells can’t be maintained.

This can lead to oxidative stress, a type of damage caused by an impaired clearance of reactive oxygen molecules by the body’s antioxidant defenses.

Ketone bodies, molecules that are produced from fatty acids in the liver, have been shown to restore mitochondrial activity. These molecules can be obtained from dietary sources, which form the basis of the ketogenic diet that has been found to benefit MS patients.

The largest source of ketone bodies are medium-chain triglycerides like coconut oil.

Meanwhile, EGCG, the main component of green tea, has demonstrated a range of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects in preclinical studies.

Researchers believe that coconut oil and EGCG supplementation in combination with an anti-inflammatory diet may be beneficial to neurological and muscle function in MS.

To find out, a pilot clinical trial (NCT03740295) was conducted in Spain to evaluate this dietary supplement combination against a placebo among 51 adults with MS. The participants also were all instructed to adhere to an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean-style diet, which has shown meaningful benefits in MS patients.

All of the patients were using standard MS medications, including glatiramer acetate (sold as Copaxone, among others) or interferon beta (e.g. Rebif, Betaseron).

Their specialized diet consisted of five small meals per day, with 20% protein, 40% carbohydrates, and 40% healthy fats.

The supplement group also took 60 mL of coconut oil (30 mL twice a day) and 800 mg of EGCG (a 400 mg capsule twice per day). Participants in the control diet group were given 60 mL of another type of oil and placebo capsules in place of EGCG.

This diet and supplementation were maintained for four months.

Results previously published demonstrated that the treatment led to significant increases in blood levels of beta-hydroxybutyrate, a type of ketone body with neuroprotective properties. Patients receiving the supplementation also experienced significant functional improvements, according to researchers.

In the new study, the team reported other results related to balance and gait after four months of treatment. These findings showed that patients using the supplements experienced significant improvements in objective balance, assessed with the Berg Balance Scale, whereas those in the placebo group did not see improvements.

However, patients’ perceptions of balance were not improved in either group.

The supplement group also exhibited significant increases in gait speed. Specifically, their speed increased from a median 1.56 meters per second (m/s) in the 10-meter walk test before treatment to 1.73 m/s after four months. That’s an increase of more than half a foot, from about 5.1 feet to about 5.7 feet.

The placebo group, in contrast, experienced a non-significant reduction in their walking speed, from 1.7 m/s to 1.61 m/s (about 5.6 feet to about 5.3 feet).

The nutritional intervention in the present pilot study achieved a significant improvement in both balance and gait in MS patients.

Endurance, as measured by the two-minute walk test, was significantly improved in both groups, with patients seeing an increase in the distance they could walk in two minutes after four months.

Likewise, both groups saw significant improvements in muscle strength in their right lower legs. However, only the group receiving the supplements experienced gains in right thigh muscle strength.

Overall, “the nutritional intervention in the present pilot study achieved a significant improvement in both balance and gait in MS patients,” the researchers wrote.

The team noted that gains in balance and speed in the intervention group could be due to a combination of muscle and neurological impacts, including benefits to the brain’s frontal lobe for improving balance and a boost in muscle fibers involved in large and forceful movements.

The fact that both groups saw gains in endurance may be due to “the change in diet of all the study participants,” the researchers wrote, noting that a Mediterranean diet has been “linked to improvements in gait resistance, and not to other variables such as speed.”