Coconut Oil for Autism: Fact or Fad?

Coconut Oil for Autism

In recent years, there has been growing interest among some parents of children with autism in using coconut oil as a supplement to help with symptoms. Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which some believe may improve brain function and skills like speech and social interaction in those with autism.

The proposed mechanisms behind using coconut oil for autism involve providing an alternative energy source for brain cells, reducing inflammation, and boosting immunity. However, research is still in the early stages. While coconut oil is generally recognized as safe, it’s unclear if it offers significant benefits for people with autism.

This article will explore the evidence behind using coconut oil for autism, including proposed benefits, risks, proper dosage, and what parents need to know before trying it.

Proposed Benefits of Coconut Oil

Coconut oil contains a high amount of lauric acid and medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Lauric acid has known antimicrobial and antifungal properties, which may help reduce harmful pathogens and candida overgrowth in the gut of individuals with autism.

The MCTs in coconut oil are quickly converted into ketones, which act as an alternative fuel source for the brain. This “ketogenic” effect of coconut oil may provide a more efficient and consistent energy source for the brain than glucose. Some parents and clinicians have observed improvements in cognition, focus, memory, language, and social skills in children with autism after regularly consuming coconut oil.

The potential mechanisms for these anecdotal cognitive benefits could be related to providing ketones to fuel the brain, reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, and eliminating pathogens and toxins. More research is needed to substantiate these observed benefits. However, the antimicrobial and brain-fueling properties of coconut oil make it an intriguing supplement to consider for optimizing gut health and brain function in autism.


Research on Coconut Oil and Autism

Several small studies have investigated the potential benefits of coconut oil for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

One study examined the effects of coconut oil supplementation in 40 children ages 3-17 with ASD over 6 months. The coconut oil was well tolerated and resulted in improvements in communication and social interaction according to parent-reported behavioral evaluations. However, this study lacked a control group and relied on subjective measures.

Another small study looked at the impact of coconut oil on oxidative stress levels in 19 autistic children. After 8 weeks of supplementation, biomarkers of oxidative stress were reduced. However, the study was limited by its very small sample size and lack of placebo control.

So far, the research on coconut oil and autism is very preliminary. The studies are small and lack scientific rigor. More large-scale, placebo-controlled trials are needed to determine if coconut oil can truly benefit those with autism and understand the mechanisms. There is potential based on anecdotal reports and initial studies, but the research is not yet conclusive. Limitations include small sample sizes, lack of control groups, reliance on parental reports, and brief study durations. More evidence is needed to confirm benefits and understand long-term impacts.


Anecdotal Evidence

Many parents of children with autism have reported benefits from using coconut oil. While anecdotal evidence should not be considered scientific proof, the large number of positive testimonials warrants attention.

Parent accounts describe improvements in speech and communication, focus and attention span, mood and behavior regulation, and sociability after starting their child on coconut oil. Some of the changes noticed include:

  • Increased eye contact and engagement
  • More babbling, laughing, and vocalizations
  • Longer conversations and use of new words
  • Improved nonverbal communication through gestures or facial expressions
  • Better ability to follow instructions and focus on tasks
  • Decreased tantrums, aggression, and self-stimulatory behaviors
  • Greater interest in social interaction and play with siblings, parents, and peers

Parents share their coconut oil success stories across social media groups, blogs, and autism forums. Many report trying coconut oil after reading or hearing about its positive effects in other families. While not every child responds the same way, numerous parents describe transformative improvements in their child within days or weeks of starting coconut oil.

Skeptics caution that perceived gains could be coincidental or tied to natural development over time. However many parents adamantly credit coconut oil itself based on the timing and extent of changes noticed. More research is needed, but the volume of parent testimonials demonstrates a strong interest in exploring coconut oil as a beneficial supplement for autism.

Potential Risks

While coconut oil is generally considered safe, there are some potential risks to be aware of when using it for autism spectrum disorder.

1. Lack of scientific consensus

There is currently a lack of scientific evidence to support the use of coconut oil as a treatment for autism. More research is needed to understand the potential benefits and risks. It’s important to have realistic expectations when using coconut oil and not view it as a “cure.”

2. Interactions with medications

Coconut oil can potentially interact with certain medications. For example, it can make seizure medications less effective by speeding up how quickly the body metabolizes them. Check with your doctor about any possible medication interactions.

3. Choking hazards

For young children or individuals with swallowing difficulties, coconut oil poses a risk of choking if taken by a spoonful. Taking coconut oil in capsule form may be safer for those with swallowing issues. Caregivers should supervise coconut oil consumption.


Dosage and Administration

When using coconut oil to potentially help with autism symptoms, it’s important to find the right dosage and method of administration. There is no standard recommended dosage, as coconut oil has not been extensively studied for this purpose. However, based on anecdotal evidence, the following dosage guidelines may be helpful:

  • Start with a small dose such as 1 teaspoon per day for young children or 1 tablespoon per day for older children and adults. Slowly increase to 1-4 tablespoons per day.
  • Divide doses throughout the day rather than giving one large dose. For example, give 1 teaspoon 3 times per day.
  • Give doses along with food to minimize any potential stomach upset. Many parents mix it into foods their child already eats.
  • Common ways to administer coconut oil include mixing it into smoothies, yogurt, applesauce, oatmeal, etc. Can also be used in cooking.
  • For children who can swallow pills, another option is coconut oil capsules. Start with 1 capsule (500mg) per day.

Work closely with your doctor to determine the right dosage and administration method for your child. Start low and go slow, monitoring for any side effects. The optimal dosage is highly individual. Some parents report benefits at relatively low doses, while others use up to 4 tablespoons per day.


Lifestyle Considerations

While coconut oil supplements may offer some benefits for those with autism, it’s best to do so in conjunction with broader lifestyle strategies that support the health of those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Dietary changes and complementary therapies are two areas that may work synergistically with coconut oil to improve outcomes.

Whole foods, a nutrient-dense diet may help mitigate some of the gastrointestinal issues associated with ASD. Removing inflammatory foods like gluten, casein, and refined sugars while focusing on anti-inflammatory whole foods rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats can provide a good foundation. Probiotic and prebiotic foods can also help support a healthy microbiome.

Many parents of children with autism find value in complementary therapies like occupational therapy, speech therapy, and behavioral therapy. These evidence-based interventions can improve communication, behavior, sensory processing, motor skills, and daily living skills. Other complementary approaches like yoga, meditation, massage, and acupuncture may also be calming and regulate the nervous system.

Making positive changes to diet, incorporating therapies, reducing toxins, lowering stress, and supporting healthy social connections creates an environment more conducive to overall well-being for those with ASD. Using coconut oil as part of a broader healing lifestyle may offer additional benefits. However, it’s important to consult with your doctor before making any major changes.


Talking to Your Doctor

When considering using coconut oil for autism, it’s important to discuss it with your medical team. Here are some tips:

  • Let your doctor know you are interested in trying coconut oil. Explain that you’ve heard it may potentially help with autism symptoms but you want medical guidance.

  • Ask your doctor if they have any concerns or recommendations about using coconut oil. Get their input on possible benefits, side effects, and dosage.

  • See if your doctor will monitor your child while using coconut oil. Ask at appointments if they notice any changes, positive or negative.

  • Tell your doctor about any side effects your child experiences. Coconut oil can cause diarrhea, upset stomach, or more frequent stools. Monitoring side effects will help determine if coconut oil is the right treatment.

  • Ask if your doctor recommends any lab tests to check cholesterol or lipid levels. Since coconut oil contains saturated fats, it’s a good idea to monitor cardiovascular health.

  • Be open and honest with your doctor about your experience with coconut oil. They can help you evaluate if it’s working and adjust the approach if needed.

  • Partner with your doctor so coconut oil can be used safely and effectively as part of an overall autism treatment plan.


The Bottom Line

While some individuals have claimed coconut oil helps with autism symptoms, more research is needed to understand if and how it could benefit those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

There are currently no large-scale clinical trials that demonstrate coconut oil improves behaviors, communication, or other challenges associated with autism. Smaller studies have had mixed results, with some showing minor improvements in certain areas. However, the studies have limitations that prevent broad conclusions.

Anecdotal evidence from parents and others suggests coconut oil may help with brain fog, focus, irritability, speech, and digestive issues in autistic children. While these stories can’t prove effectiveness, they indicate potential areas where coconut oil could have a positive impact.

Coconut oil appears relatively safe when used orally and topically, as long as children don’t have allergies or intolerances. But it’s still important to exercise caution and talk to a doctor, as dosage requirements and effects may vary between individuals. Interactions with medications or health conditions are also possible.

In general, adding a moderate amount of coconut oil to an autistic child’s diet is unlikely to cause harm. However far more research is needed to determine if it can help manage autism symptoms and support overall health and development. Parents considering coconut oil should track changes diligently, discontinue use if adverse effects occur, and adopt it as part of a broader strategy focused on diet, lifestyle, therapy, and traditional treatment.

While coconut oil shows some theoretical promise for autism based on anecdotes and limited studies, families should interpret claims of dramatic benefits cautiously until large-scale, placebo-controlled trials are conducted. More research is critical to move from promising theory to proven application.



This article referenced the following studies and sources:

  • A 2015 study published in Nutrition Journal analyzed the effects of coconut oil on oxidative stress in high-fat-fed rats.

  • A 2016 study published in Neuropsychopharmacology examined autism spectrum disorder pathogenesis and coconut oil.

  • A 2018 survey of parents published in Pediatrics explored the use of complementary and alternative medicine treatments, including coconut oil, for autism.

  • Anecdotal reports from parent blogs and books, including Sarah’s Journey: One Family’s Experience with Autism and Coconut Oil by Sarah Vander Schaaff.

  • A review article published in 2019 in Lipids in Health and Disease looked at the proposed mechanisms and benefits of coconut oil.

  • Guidance from the UK National Health Service (NHS) on the use and risks of coconut oil.

  • Warnings about potential cholesterol effects of coconut oil from the American Heart Association.

  • Recommendations on dosing coconut oil for children published by autism researchers Emily Willingham and Richard G. Frye in Cerebrum.

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