Five Ways Palm Oil Protects Your Brain

The human brain is composed of at least 60 percent fat, and much of that is saturated fat. Dietary fats are essential to our brain health, and the role of omega-3 fatty acids in the prevention of cognitive decline is well-documented. New evidence shows th

The human brain is composed of at least 60 percent fat, and much of that is saturated fat. Dietary fats are essential to our brain health, and the role of omega-3 fatty acids in the prevention of cognitive decline is well-documented. New evidence shows that the beneficial nutrients in red palm oil work hard to keep brains healthy in five important ways.

Brain fats

First, a Mayo Clinic study on the relationship of diet to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia showed that the risks of MCI or dementia decreased with a higher intake of saturated fats and some polyunsaturated fats, both of which are found in palm oil. Participants whose diets had the highest percentage of such fats were much less likely to develop cognitive impairment than those whose diets had the lowest percentage of fat. The study concluded: “A dietary pattern with relatively high caloric intake from carbohydrates and low caloric intake from fat and proteins may increase the risk of MCI or dementia in elderly persons” (Roberts, 2012).

These results are consistent with those quoted by neurologist David Perlmutter, MD, author of the bestselling Grain Brain. He explains, “The brain thrives on a fat-rich, low carbohydrate diet, which unfortunately is relatively uncommon in human populations today.” Perlmutter believes that we not only protect our brains but may also heal cell damage within the brain by removing inflammatory carbohydrates from the diet and increasing our consumption of healthy fats.

Circulation and thrombosis

Second, red palm oil is the best-known nutritional source of tocotrienols, a potent form of vitamin E. They improve circulation and blood flow to brain cells, which may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Third, the abundant tocotrienols in red palm oil have been shown to be antithrombotic, meaning they prevent dangerous blood clots that can dislodge and cause strokes.


Fourth, if a stroke does happen, the tocotrienols in red palm oil prevent neurodegeneration—injury to the brain due to cell death. One review of scientific studies explained the neuorprotective properties of tocotrienols from palm oil in detail.

“Dietary supplementation of the α-tocotrienol (αTCT) isoform uniquely protects against acute ischemic stroke injury in vivo. At a nanomolar concentration range achievable by dietary supplementation, αTCT derived from palm oil prevents inducible neurodegeneration by regulating specific mediators of cell death. To date, the observed neuroprotective properties of palm oil–derived αTCT are the most potent function of any natural form of vitamin E on a concentration basis. . . .

“To date, the neuroprotective qualities of αTCT in neurodegenerative disorders of the CNS [central nervous system, consisting mainly of the brain and the spinal cord] are well characterized. . . . Originating from a dietary source with a long history of safe consumption in humans, the oil palm represents the richest source of αTCT known today. . . .

Enrichment of αTCT from crude palm oil for dietary supplementation is achievable, and to date represents the most cost-effective and readily available source of natural αTCT” (Chandan, 2010).

Antioxidant power

Fifth, red palm oil is exceptionally high in antioxidants like carotenoids such as lycopene, which seem to have a protective effect in ischemic brain injury. Carotenoids help protect fats in the body (for example, the brain’s unstable omega-3 fats) and help decrease inflammation caused by oxidation.

Dr. Bruce Fife, director of the Coconut Research Center, sums up several of the ways palm oil’s antioxidants and tocotrienols help the brain: “The antioxidant power of palm oil has also shown to be of benefit in protecting against neurological degeneration. Two of the most significant factors that affect brain function are oxidative stress and poor circulation. Oxidative stress generates free radicals that damage brain and nerve tissue. Poor circulation affects the brain by restricting oxygen and glucose which are vital for proper brain function. Researchers have found correlations between oxidative stress and reduced blood flow to the brain to senile dementia, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, and even schizophrenia. All of these conditions involve brain cell death.

“Researchers can mimic much of the destruction seen in the above neurological disorders by feeding test animals glutamate--an amino acid that in large amounts kills brain cells. The primary action of cell death is caused by free radicals. Ordinary vitamin E is not strong enough to prevent glutamate-induced cell death. But palm tocotrienols can quench the destructive action of glutamate. In laboratory studies tocotrienol-treated neurons maintain healthy growth and motility even in the [presence] of excess glutamate (Khanna, 2003).”

It’s clear that palm oil is a powerful ally in our quest for optimum brain health. Its qualities make it a desirable nutritional supplement, but it’s also a versatile, stable cooking oil. Simply replacing some of the other fats in your diet with organic, sustainably-sourced, unrefined red palm oil is a simple way to ingest moderate amounts of good fats and help protect the body’s most valuable organ—your brain.

For more information, see “Red Palm Oil: A Daily Dose of Vitamins From Cooking Oil” by Bruce Fife, ND,in the Fall 2007 Price-Pottenger Journal of Health and Healing. Become a member today to receive access to this journal along with many other health and nutrition resources. 

Works cited

Rosebud O. Roberts, MD, ChB, MS, Lewis A. Roberts, Yonas E. Geda, MD, MSc, Ruth H. Cha, MS, V. Shane Pankratz, PhD, Helen M. O’Connor, MS, David S. Knopman, MD, and Ronald C. Petersen, PhD, MD. “Relative Intake of Macronutrients Impacts Risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment or Dementia,” 2012, January 1.

Dr. Perlmutter. “What is the ideal diet for optimal brain function?”

Elson CE. “Tropical oils: nutritional and scientific issues.” 1992.

Cameron Rink, PhD, Chandan K. Sen, PhD, and Savita Khanna, PhD. “Palm Oil-Derived Natural Vitamin E a-Tocotrienol in Brain Health & Disease.” 2010 June, 29.!PO=87,500

Chou DS, Fong TH, Hsiao G, Lin KH, Sheu JR., Tzu NH. “A potent antioxidant, lycopene, affords neuroprotection against microglia activation and focal cerebral ischemia in rats.” 2004 May-June.

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