There has been a great deal of controversy in the last year over the question: Is coconut oil good for you, and should it indeed be considered a superfood? This recent downtrend in public opinion was mostly spurred on by an American Heart Association report in June 2017 effectively advising against the use of coconut oil. We decided to look into this matter and of course into the report to try to analyse whether it is:
- Based on sound, impartial scientific evidence
- Not motivated by industry, pharma or lobbyist groups
- Objective and not discriminatory
First, we’ll expand on and give a brief explanation of the acronyms used in this text:
- AHA – American Heart Association.
- CAD – Coronary Artery Disease.
- CVD – Cardio Vascular disease.
- HDL-C – High-density lipoprotein cholesterol is considered good cholesterol because it removes excess cholesterol from arteries.
- LDL-C – Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, commonly referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol, because elevated LDL levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
The report entitled “Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association” opens with the following statement:
Cardiovascular disease is the leading global cause of death, accounting for 17.3 million deaths per year. Preventive treatment that reduces CVD by even a small percentage can substantially reduce, nationally and globally, the number of people who develop CVD and the costs of caring for them. This American Heart Association presidential advisory on dietary fats and CVD reviews and discusses the scientific evidence, including the most recent studies, on the effects of dietary saturated fat intake and its replacement by other types of fats and carbohydrates on CVD.
The essence of the statement regarding coconut oil follows:
Both butter and coconut oil raised LDL cholesterol compared with safflower oil, butter more than coconut oil, as predicted by the meta-regression analysis of individual dietary saturated fatty acid. Another carefully controlled experiment found that coconut oil significantly increased LDL cholesterol compared with olive oil. A recent systematic review found 7 controlled trials, including the 2 just mentioned, that compared coconut oil with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated oils. Coconut oil raised LDL cholesterol in all 7 of these trials, significantly in 6 of them. The authors also noted that the 7 trials did not find a difference in raising LDL cholesterol between coconut oil and other oils high in saturated fat such as butter, beef fat, or palm oil. Clinical trials that compared direct effects on cardiovascular disease of coconut oil and other dietary oils have not been reported. However, because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD, and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil.
So What Are They Saying?
Dr Frank M. Sacks, Professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and lead author of the AHA report says, “The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats and tropical vegetable oils, such as coconut oil, containing high levels of saturated fats.” He went on further to say that rigorous clinical trials and observational studies both show that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats helps reduce heart disease and related deaths. “The more important thing to remember is the overall dietary picture,” Sacks said. “Saturated fats are just one piece of the puzzle. The American Heart Association recommends eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and eating fewer calories if you need to lose weight.”
Are They Misleading the Public?
It has been stated that the AHA has been cherry-picking data and misrepresenting the very science they claim to be defending. Naturally, the charge of the AHA is the reduction of incidences of heart conditions, after all, their motto is “Keeping hearts beating gets our hearts pumping”. However, the question of whether their publications are strictly unbiased remains unclear. A place to start unravelling this question is to find out where their money comes from; in other words, who is keeping the lights on and the paychecks flowing? Let’s take a look at that in this document 2016-2017 National Center Support from Pharmaceutical Companies and Device Manufacturers and AHA Total Corporate Support. The list is a veritable A-Z of Big Pharma and Big Agriculture. So, would it be unrealistic to assume that said mega corporations didn’t have at least a little sway in the inclination of the report?
Snopes.com in an article entitled Is the American Heart Association Misleading the Public About Coconut Oil? concludes:
To be sure, many of the studies on the list do not show any evidence that reducing saturated fat in one’s diet reduces one’s risk of heart disease. Those studies all make use of observational designs or clinical trials that do not replace the saturated fat with another fat (at least in part), which — as the AHA themselves acknowledges in their position statement — have not generally shown any benefit to heart health from reducing saturated fat.
Introduction: saturated fat restriction has been recommended for coronary arterial disease, but the role of coconut oil (Cocos nucifera L.) extra virgin, lauric acid source in the management of lipid profile remains unclear.
Objective: to evaluate the effect of nutritional treatment associated with the consumption of extra virgin coconut oil in anthropometric parameters and lipid profile.
Conclusion: it was observed that the nutritional treatment associated with extra virgin coconut oil consumption reduced the CC [sp. circunferencia de la cintura / circumference of the waist] and increased HDL-C levels in patients with CAD.
A research paper entitled Low cholesterol is associated with mortality from stroke, heart disease, and cancer: the Jichi Medical School Cohort Study found:
BACKGROUND: We investigated the relationship between low cholesterol and mortality and examined whether that relationship differs with respect to cause of death.
CONCLUSIONS: Low cholesterol was related to high mortality even after excluding deaths due to liver disease from the analysis. High cholesterol was not a risk factor for mortality.
An article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine entitled Saturated fat does not clog the arteries: coronary heart disease is a chronic inflammatory condition, the risk of which can be effectively reduced from healthy lifestyle interventions has some interesting findings regarding saturated fats:
Coronary artery disease pathogenesis and treatment urgently requires a paradigm shift. Despite popular belief among doctors and the public, the conceptual model of dietary saturated fat clogging a pipe is just plain wrong. A landmark systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies showed no association between saturated fat consumption and (1) all-cause mortality, (2) coronary heart disease (CHD), (3) CHD mortality, (4) ischaemic stroke or (5) type 2 diabetes in healthy adults.
Decades of emphasis on the primacy of lowering plasma cholesterol, as if this was an end in itself and driving a market of ‘proven to lower cholesterol’ and ‘low-fat’ foods and medications, has been misguided. Selective reporting may partly explain this misconception.
What Are the Health Benefits of Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil contains fatty acids, of which more than 50 per cent are medium chain fatty acids, including lauric acid, which can raise HDL or good cholesterol. According to Dr Axe in his paper entitled 20 Proven Coconut Oil Benefits:
- Proven Alzheimer’s Disease Natural Treatment
- Prevents Heart Disease and High Blood Pressure
- Treats UTI and Kidney Infection and Protects the Liver
- Reduces Inflammation and Arthritis
- Cancer Prevention and Treatment
- Immune System Boost (Antibacterial, Antifungal and Antiviral)
- Enhances Memory and Brain Function
- Promotes Energy and Endurance
- Improves Digestion and Reduces Stomach Ulcers and Ulcerative Colitis
- Reduces Symptoms of Gallbladder Disease and Pancreatitis
- Improves Skin Issues (Burns, Eczema, Dandruff, Dermatitis and Psoriasis)
- Prevents Gum Disease and Tooth Decay
- Prevents Osteoporosis
- Improves Type II Diabetes
- Coconut Oil for Weight loss
- Building Muscle and Losing Body Fat
- Coconut Oil Benefits for Hair Care
- Candida and Yeast Infections
- Coconut Oil for Anti-Aging
- Coconut Oil for Hormone Balance
- The AHA report has unnecessarily alarmed many people and negatively impacted the public impression of coconut oil.
- The AHA states that coconut oil can raise LDL “bad cholesterol” levels, but what’s strange is that the report fails to mention that studies have also concluded that it can increase HDL “good cholesterol” levels.
- The AHA advises against coconut oil is because LDL cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease, but the study quoted above found that of 12,000, it was low cholesterol that was a risk factor for mortality.
- The AHA recommends eating more canola, corn or soybean oil. Interestingly these are the oils made from crops of which over 90% is GMO. Soybean oil is partially hydrogenated and a huge source of harmful trans-fats. Corn oil has been shown to have an excessive ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, around 49:1, and western diets are already extremely heavy in omega-6. Olive oil, while consumed uncooked is very good for you, when cooked can form carcinogenic compounds that lead to cancer.
- Coconut oil contains around 82% saturated fatty acids. Our cell membranes are composed of at least 50% saturated fatty acids.
- So is coconut oil good for you? The truth is, coconut oil contains over 82% saturated fats, and we need saturated fats as part of a healthy diet, but as with anything, too much of a good thing is not good, so moderation is key.