Coconut Oil - Healthy Gifts from the 'Tree of Life'
By Karen Lee Richards* •
January 28, 2011
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The coconut palm is known as the "Tree of Life" in Asia and the South Pacific Islands where it is valued for both its nutritive and medicinal qualities.
The inhabitants of these areas who follow the traditional native diet tend to be remarkably healthy and are largely free of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis. A key component of their diet is coconut. In fact, 30% to 60% of their calories come from coconuts and coconut oil.
Unfortunately, coconut oil has not received the recognition it deserves in the U.S. Instead, the history of coconut oil in America is a sordid one. Sadly, coconut oil fell victim to the “3 Ps” that drive so many of the world's injustices: Profit, Politics and Pride.
Scammed by Junk Science
Coconut oil is a highly saturated fat. I know... for decades we've been taught that saturated fats are bad for us – at least that's what some would have us believe. As we'll discover, that's actually quite far from the truth.
The problem began with some flawed studies performed in the 1950s. In an article published in the September 1995 issue of Indian Coconut Journal, Mary Enig, PhD, world-renowned biochemist best known for her pioneering research on healthy fats and oils, explained:
The problems for coconut oil started four decades ago when researchers fed animals hydrogenated coconut oil that was purposely altered to make it completely devoid of any essential fatty acids...
The animals fed the hydrogenated coconut oil (as the only fat source) naturally became essential fatty acid deficient; their serum cholesterol increased. Diets that cause an essential fatty acid deficiency always produce an increase in serum cholesterol levels as well as in increase in the atherosclerotic indices.
The same effect has also been seen when other...highly hydrogenated oils such as cottonseed, soybean or corn oils have been fed; so it is clearly a function of the hydrogenated products, either because the oil is essential fatty acid (EFA) deficient or because of trans fatty acids.
How could a couple of flawed studies result in nearly 60 years of misinformation? Borrowing the words reportedly uttered by Deep Throat (of Watergate fame), “Follow the money.”
Fearing competition from lower-priced tropical oil imports, in 1986 the domestic edible oil industry banded together and launched a series of attacks on saturated fats that became known as the "tropical grease campaign." Coconut and palm oils were their prime targets. Using the flawed studies, they managed to convince consumers that tropical oils were dangerous to their health.
We were instructed to replace saturated fats like coconut oil, palm oil and animal fats with polyunsaturated fats like canola, soybean, safflower, and corn oil. We were also told that margarine was healthier for us than butter. Consumer and political pressure soon forced food producers to reformulate their products using what were described as the “healthier” polyunsaturated oils.
The Misinformation Campaign Continues
Despite much evidence to the contrary, nearly six decades later, we continue to be told that saturated fats will increase our cholesterol levels and cause heart disease.
The most amazing thing is, the “fact” that eating saturated fat leads to heart disease is actually not a fact at all, but rather a hypothesis that began with those first flawed studies. Now, almost 60 years later, a link between saturated fat and heart disease still has never been proven. Quite the contrary, in fact.
To make matters worse, the polyunsaturated fats we have been told are better for us are proving to be far more unhealthy than most saturated fats.
All Fats Are Not Created Equal
All fats are composed of fat molecules called fatty acids. Two methods are used to classify fatty acids. The one we're most familiar with is based on saturation – saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. The second classification method is based on molecular size or the length of the carbon chain in the fatty acid. There are short-chain, medium-chain and long-chain fatty acids. When three fatty acids join together, they form a triglyceride, so we also have short-chain, medium-chain and long-chain triglycerides.
The vast majority of edible fats and oils are long-chain triglycerides. Coconut oil is unique in that is composed primarily of medium-chain triglycerides.
When we eat oils made of long-chain fatty acids, they must be emulsified by bile salts in the small intestine before they can be absorbed into our body.
However, short- and medium-chain fatty acids, like those in coconut oil, are absorbed quickly and transported to the liver, where they are immediately available to the body.
Because they are so easily digested, medium-chain triglycerides are given to critically ill patients in hospitals to provide nourishment when they have trouble digesting fat. Medium-chain fatty acids and triglycerides are also less likely to result in weight gain because they are immediately used by the body and don't have a chance to be stored as excess fat.
There is one more type of fat not mentioned yet because it is not a fat found naturally in food. Trans fats are man-made, hydrogenated fats and are never good for us. They not only raise LDL (bad) cholesterol but they also lower HDL (good) cholesterol, which combines to make them a very unhealthy type of fat.
The problem with many of the polyunsaturated fats used in food production is that they are unstable and subject to oxidation. To make them more stable and extend shelf life, they have to be hydrogenated, which turns them into trans fats.
Revelations from the Framingham Heart Study
In 1948, one of the most ambitious projects in health research was undertaken. Boston University, under the direction of the National Heart Institute (now known as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute), set out to identify the common factors or characteristics that contribute to cardiovascular disease by following its development over a long period of time in a large group of participants who had not yet developed overt symptoms of CVD or suffered a heart attack or stroke.
The researchers began by recruiting 5,209 men and women between the ages of 30 and 62 from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. The subjects returned to the study every two years for a detailed medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests. Since then, the participants' children and grandchildren have also been enrolled in the study.
Since it began, the Study has produced approximately 1,200 articles in leading medical journals. The extensiveness and thoroughness of this study makes the following quotes regarding the relationship between saturated fat intake and heart disease even more significant.
• Framingham Heart Study Co-Director, Dr George Mann has called the hypothesis that saturated fats lead to heart disease “the greatest health scam of the century.”
• Another Framingham researcher, William P. Castelli in the Archives of Internal Medicine (1992), stated that, “ ...in Framingham, Mass, the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person's serum cholesterol... the opposite of what the equations provided by Hegsted et al. (1965) and Keys et al. (1957) would predict...”
• Castelli further noted, “...we found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least, and were the most physically active.”
Health Benefits of Virgin Coconut Oil
Virgin Coconut Oil is a supplement rich in lauric acid, which comprises about 50% of its essential fatty acids. The only other abundant source of lauric acid found in nature is mother's milk. The body converts the lauric acid into monolaurin, a powerful antimicrobial agent that is effective against a broad range of bacteria, viruses, fungi, yeasts and protozoa.
Another essential fatty acid found in Virgin Coconut Oil is caprylic acid, which also acts as an antimicrobial and fungicidal agent.
Many studies have shown that, contrary to what we heard in the past, coconut oil has numerous important health benefits.
Effects of Coconut Oil on Cardiovascular Health, Diabetes and Weight Loss
Coronary heart disease, diabetes and obesity are inextricably linked. Diabetes is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and obesity is a significant risk factor for both diabetes and heart disease. The good news is, many years of research have shown that coconut oil can have a positive effect on all three.
• A 1986 article in the Journal of Environmental Pathology, Toxicology and Oncology analyzing research on medium-chain triglycerides as they relate to aging and arteriosclerosis noted, “The Demographic Yearbook of the United Nations (1978) reported that Sri Lanka has the lowest death rate from ischemic heart disease. Sri Lanka is the only one of the countries giving reliable data where coconut oil (containing over 50% medium chain fatty acids) is the main dietary fat.”(1)
• Several very interesting discoveries came out of the famous Framingham Heart Study. Researchers found there was an inverse association between dietary fat intake and the development of ischemic stroke in men. As dietary fat intake, particularly saturated and monounsaturated fats, increased, the risk of ischemic stroke decreased. The same inverse relationship did not exist for those who consumed mostly polyunsaturated fats.(2)
• A 2002 study of type 2 diabetics taking the drug metformin looked at how replacing starches in the diet with saturated fats would affect blood glucose control. The diet group of 151 patients was instructed to consume high levels of saturated fats but to avoid starches. The 132 control subjects were allowed unlimited monounsaturated fat but had restriction of starch in their diets. After one year, the diet group had a greater decrease of A1c levels, greater weight loss, and decreased total cholesterol levels. The researchers concluded, “Addition of saturated fat and removal of starch from a high-monounsaturated fat and starch-restricted diet improved glycemic control and were associated with weight loss without detectable adverse effects on serum lipids.”(3)
• In 2007, 40 moderately overweight type 2 diabetes patients were studied to determine the effects of dietary medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) on weight loss and insulin sensitivity. The subjects were randomized into 2 test groups, with one being given MCT and the other corn oil as control for long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). After 90 days, a comparison of the two groups showed that the MCT group had reduced body weight, waist circumference and insulin resistance.(4)
• In 2009, researchers studied the effects of coconut oil supplementation on women with abdominal obesity. Forty women, aged 20 to 40 years who had a waist circumference greater than 88 cm (34.6 inches), received a daily dietary supplement including 30 mL of either coconut oil or soybean oil for 12 weeks. At the end of the 12-week period, only the coconut oil group had experienced a reduction in waist circumference. Notably, there were no changes in cholesterol levels in the coconut oil group, but the soybean oil group exhibited a decrease in HDL levels and an increase in both LDL levels and LDL:HDL ratios. The scientists concluded that “dietetic supplementation with coconut oil does not cause dyslipidemia [high cholesterol and triglycerides] and seems to promote a reduction in abdominal obesity.”(5)
• A 2003 double-blind randomized study investigated whether a structured diet containing medium- and long-chain triglycerides (MLCT) - like those found in coconut oil - could decrease accumulation of body fat in healthy humans. Participants in the MLCT group ate bread made with 14 g of MLCT containing 1.7 g medium-chain fatty acids at breakfast every day, while the control group consumed bread made with long-chain triacylglycerols (LCT). At the end of 12 weeks, significant decreases of body weight, the amount of body fat, subcutaneous and visceral fat were noted in the MLCT group as compared with those of the LCT group. Furthermore, a significant decrease in serum total cholesterol was noted in the MLCT group as compared with that of the LCT group. The researchers concluded that the daily intake of an MLCT diet could result in a reduction in both body weight and accumulation of body fat, and, moreover, it could reduce serum total cholesterol.(6)
Additional Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
Laboratory tests have shown that the medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil are effective in destroying a wide range of viruses, bacteria, fungi, yeast and parasites. Coconut oil has also shown promise as an adjunct therapy for a number of serious illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, liver disease, cancer and epilepsy. Of course, more tests and human studies need to be done, but the results thus far are very encouraging.
You can find links to many of these studies at the Coconut Research Center's Website: http://www.coconutresearchcenter.org/coconut-research.htm
The oil in ProHealth's Virgin Coconut Oil is extracted by cold pressing. It is organic and pure, is produced without solvents, and contains no trans fats.
Recommended Dosage: Take 3 softgels 2 to 3 times daily, on an empty stomach or as recommended by your healthcare professional.
Side Effects: Coconut oil is a natural food and has no known side effects.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Coconut oil is safe for use by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. In fact, coconut oil is used in most infant formulas because of its high lauric acid content (similar to mother's milk), which supports a strong immune system.
* Supplement research writer Karen Lee Richards is the Lead Expert specializing in Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS for HealthCentral's ChronicPainConnection. Karen is co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) and was Executive Editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE magazine for four years.
1. Kaunitz H. Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) in aging and arteriosclerosis. J Environ Pathol Toxicol Oncol. 1986 Mar-Apr;6(3-4):115-21.
2. Gillman MW, et al. Inverse association of dietary fat with development of ischemic stroke in men. JAMA. 1997 Dec 24-31;278(24):2145-50.
3. Hays JH, et al. Results of use of metformin and replacement of starch with saturated fat in diets of patients with type 2 diabetes. Endocr Pract. 2002 May-Jun;8(3):177-83.
4. Han JR, et al. Effects of dietary medium-chain triglyceride on weight loss and insulin sensitivity in a group of moderately overweight free-living type 2 diabetic Chinese subjects. Metabolism. 2007 Jul;56(7):985-91.
5. Assuncao ML, et al. Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity. Lipids. 2009 Jul;44(7):593-601.
6. Kasai M, et al. Effect of dietary medium- and long-chain triacylglycerols (MLCT) on accumulation of body fat in healthy humans. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2003;12(2):151-60.
Note: This information has not been reviewed by the FDA. It is generic and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any condition, illness or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.
| (1 existing comment)
Stories like this make me mad
|Posted by: uxordepp
Feb 9, 2011
because I can see how often we are sold "bills of goods" by those we should be able to trust!
I remember the campaign against coconut oil. I believed it.
Another vital substance which has been demonized in a similar fashion is iodine.
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