E-Mail Edition Volume 2 Number 2
Published Spring, 2005
Published by Piccadilly Books, Ltd., www.piccadillybooks.com.
Bruce Fife, N.D., Publisher, www.coconutresearchcenter.org
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Coconut Oil May Help Prevent Vision Loss
Macular degeneration is the most common cause of blindness in the U.S., affecting more than 10 million Americans. This isn’t just an American problem; it’s happening all over the world at an ever-increasing rate. If you are over the age of 55, your chance of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is about 1 in 10. Those aren’t good odds. Fortunately, new research is showing that AMD may be preventable.
Macular degeneration is caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina. The retina is the inside back layer of the eye that records the images we see and sends them by way of the optic nerve from the eye to the brain. The retina’s central portion, known as the macula, is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye, and it controls our ability to read, drive a car, recognize faces or colors, and see objects in fine detail. As people age, their chances of developing AMD increase dramatically.
The major reason for blindness in the United States 30 years ago was diabetes, and it was rare to find macular degeneration. Today the condition has overtaken diabetes fivefold and is now the leading cause of loss of vision in the United States as well as most other industrialized countries. Two-thirds of those who lose their vision are blind due to macular degeneration.
“I’ve seen an exponential rise from the early 1970s through to the 1990s,” says Dr. Paul Beaumont, an ophthalmologist with the Macular Degeneration Foundation. “If we look at Japan 40 years ago the disease was rare; now it’s common.”
“I don’t think there’s any doubt we have an epidemic.” Dr. Beaumont is horrified at the rate macular degeneration has multiplied. He’s seen a tenfold increase in the last 30 years.
Although the disease progresses slowly, macular degeneration can affect eyesight very quickly. “One day I was doing crosswords and the next day I couldn’t.” says Jillian Price. For Jillian, the disease has disabled her life as an active woman. “Two months is very fast to lose so much sight; I’ve lost a lot of my independence,” Ms. Price said. “The distance, everything is distorted, getting on the buses, shopping is very hard, I can’t read labels any more.”
For years researchers have sought for the cause and a cure. New research suggests that coconut oil may help prevent this condition. Studies are now showing that if your diet includes soybean, corn, and other processed vegetable oils, you may be at high risk for developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Over the past few years several studies have linked polyunsaturated vegetable oils with macular degeneration. The research shows that people who eat polyunsaturated vegetable oils get the disease twice as commonly as those who don’t. Even more convincing was a recent study where those eating a lot of vegetable oil progressed toward macular degeneration at 3.8 times the rate of those eating a little vegetable oil. Saturated fat has the lowest risk, and the higher the degree of saturation the better.
The macula sits at the back of the eye. The oils that you eat become part of your eye. Polyunsaturated vegetable oils are very susceptible to lipid peroxidation. Peroxidation is a chemical process that causes fats to become rancid. These rancid oils end up interfering with normal cell function, leading to macular degeneration.
When oils become rancid, they create destructive free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that literally rip other molecules apart, causing irreversible damage to cells. Our only means of self-defense against free radicals are antioxidants. Antioxidants help prevent lipid peroxidation and the formation of free radicals. Our bodies make antioxidants from the nutrients in our diet. The most common antioxidant nutrients are vitamins C, E, beta-carotene, and the mineral zinc. Lutein, another antioxidant nutrient, has been shown to be effective in slowing the progression of AMD. For this reason, a vitamin regimen high in antioxidant nutrients and especially lutein has been recommended as a possible means to treat macular degeneration.
Saturated fats are very resistant to peroxidation. A high concentration of saturated fat in eye tissue can protect against lipid peroxidation associated with AMD. Coconut oil is higher in saturated fat than any other dietary fat. For this reason, it is very stable and highly resistant to peroxidation. It is so stable that it acts as a protective antioxidant and helps protect against the formation of free radicals.
The oils you need to watch out for are the types people normally use every day—soybean, safflower, corn and other polyunsaturated oils, including margarine and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Even canola oil, a monounsaturated fat, isn’t safe. Olive oil is better because it has a higher percentage of saturated fat.
It’s not just the oils you use in cooking or salads. Packaged convenience foods and junk foods are loaded with hidden polyunsaturated oils. Look at the ingredients in any sauce, dip, bread, cracker, cake mix, or frozen dinner. Vegetable oil is hidden in all of them. Most of us have been consuming these processed foods from the time we could walk.
“I think we could halve the number of people going blind with macular degeneration if we could change their diet, cut out the vegetable oil,” Dr. Beaumont says.
Gwen Oliver was diagnosed with macular degeneration two years ago. She was astonished when Dr Beaumont told her to steer clear of vegetable oils. “I was surprised about diet and all the products that we’ve been eating in the past,” Oliver said. “We’ve always had it advertised that vegetable oil was far better for us.”
Dr. Beaumont says he doesn’t envision vegetable oil being removed from all foods, but says there should be a consumer health warning. “I think we have to have a warning on the packages similar to a warning of a cigarette package: vegetable oil can lead to macular degeneration.”
With the latest research pointing to vegetable oils as the main culprit, it may be possible to fend off this disease by simply changing our diets. The first step you should take to defend yourself from age-related macular degeneration is to eliminate most polyunsaturated oils from your diet, including foods made with these oils. Read ingredient labels. The second step is to use coconut oil and other healthy saturated fats for most of your food preparation. The third step is to make sure you get plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidant nutrients into your diet. The general recommendation is at least five servings per day. Some doctors are recommending 8 to 9 servings a day. I do too.
Dr. Beaumont has lobbied the federal government to help fund awareness of this huge problem. “I think they should move fairly urgently,” he said. “I don’t think we can afford to delay in informing the public about something which can be affecting their vision.” To date, however, nothing has happened. You, fortunately, don’t need to wait for the government to step in and do something. That may take a long time. You can do something right now by carefully selecting the foods you eat. ■
Seddon, J.M., et al. 2003. Progression of age-related macular degeneration: association with dietary fat, transunsaturated fat, nuts, and fish intake. Arch Ophthalmol 121(12):1728-1737.
Ouchi, M., et al. 2002. A novel relation of fatty acid with age-related macular degeneration. Ophthalmologica 216(5):363-367.
Seddon, J.M., et al. 2001. Dietary fat and risk for advanced age-related macular degeneration. Arch Ophthalmol 119(8):1191-1199.
Ask Dr. Coconut TM
Dr. Bruce Fife a.k.a. “Dr. Coconut” answers two of the most often asked questions about coconut oil.
How Do You Identify A Good Quality Coconut Oil?
To be honest with you, I have tasted some very poor quality coconut oils. In fact, some have been so bad I had to spit them out. Oils like this give the coconut oil industry a bad name. I have also tasted many good quality and a few extraordinary quality coconut oils. So how do you tell the difference? How can you avoid the “not-so-good” ones? I won’t tell which brands to avoid, but I will give you some guidelines to help you distinguish the good from the not-so-good. There are four things you can look for in a quality coconut oil. I’ll discuss each one briefly.
The first thing to look for is a Virgin coconut oil. I recommend virgin coconut oil over non-virgin or RBD oil. RBD stands for refined, bleached, and deodorized. The less processing a food undergoes, the higher the nutrient content and the healthier it is. Processing removes and destroys nutrients. Virgin coconut oil is made from fresh coconut without high heat or chemicals. The resulting product is less refined than RBD oil and retains more of its natural phytonutrients, which gives coconut its distinctive aroma and flavor. In RBD oil, all the phytonutrients have been removed, so it is tasteless and odorless.
Although virgin coconut oil, in general, is superior to RBD oil, not all virgin oils are of equal quality. In fact, there is a wide range of quality among them. There are many different ways to make virgin coconut oil. The methods and care used in the process determines the final quality of the product.
When looking for the best quality oil the appearance is very important. The second thing you look for in a high quality coconut oil is purity.
If you are familiar with coconut oil you know it naturally has a high melting point. At 76 degrees F and lower it becomes solid; at higher temperatures it turns into a liquid. It’s much like butter: when it’s in the refrigerator it’s solid but if left out on a hot day, it melts. High quality virgin coconut oil should be snow white in color when it is solid and water clear when liquid. If the oil is some shade of yellow, it is of an inferior quality. Pure coconut oil is colorless. Any discoloration is a sign of contamination or excessive heating during processing. Contamination can be from mold or smoke residue.
If sun-dried coconuts (copra) are used to make oil, it will almost always contain mold. The mold isn’t considered harmful because temperatures used in processing are high enough to essentially sterilize it. If the heat used comes from open flames, smoke can be absorbed into the oil.
The third thing to look for in a high quality coconut oil is aroma and flavor. Virgin coconut oils should always retain a mild coconut smell and taste. If not, they have been highly refined. If they have no flavor, they are essentially RBD oil, even if they did come from fresh coconut.
Some virgin coconut oils have a very strong flavor or smell. These are almost always of poor quality. The smell and taste comes primarily from contaminates and not coconut. If the oil does not taste and smell like fresh coconut, beware. Some of the nastiest oils I have tasted were strong flavored and did not taste at all like coconut.
Many virgin coconut oils use some type of heat in processing. Often smoke from the heating process contaminates the oil, giving it a roasted or smoky smell and taste. Some oils, when I open the jar, smell like roasted coconut, which I like, but tastes like ash, which I don’t like.
The very best virgin coconut oils do not have a strong roasted or smoky taste or smell. They should have a very mild coconut aroma and flavor. The flavor should not be overpowering, but just mild enough to enjoy without overpowering the flavor of the foods it’s used with.
The fourth criteria is price. You get what you pay for. Obviously, a very inexpensive oil is going to be of inferior quality. From my experience the cheapest oils are the most disagreeable tasting, and usually tainted with residual contaminants.
In summary, the four things to look for are 1) virgin, 2) appearance, 3) taste and aroma, and 4) price.
What Brand of Coconut Oil is Best?
Another question I am often asked is which brand of coconut oil is best or which one I use. I don’t endorse any one particular brand of oil. I support the entire coconut industry and recommend them all. Even the refined, bleached, and deodorized coconut oils are far superior to most other vegetable oils. If this is all you can get, it is better than no coconut oil at all.
The best judge of quality is taste. If you like the taste, then that’s a good oil for you. Choose a brand you like, one you would enjoy using every day in cooking, baking, salads, and spreads. I firmly believe that if the oil you use doesn’t taste good to you, you won’t be using it for long. If you have children, they won’t eat it or will complain if they do. Why put them through the torture if you don’t have to? Some people tell me they don’t like the taste of coconut oil. When I hear this, generally the problem is that they are using a poor quality oil that has a strong flavor, often from residual contaminants. If they use a more natural coconut oil such as an extra virgin coconut oil, they would enjoy it much more. Some people just don’t like the taste of coconuts or don’t like coconut flavor in all their foods. For these people a more bland tasting virgin coconut oil may suit them better. These are generally referred to as "expeller pressed." ■
Coconut Research Center Website
The Coconut Research Center is a not-for-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to educating the public and medical community about the many benefits of coconut. The Coconut Research Center is operated under the direction of Bruce Fife, N.D., the author of The Coconut Oil Miracle, Coconut Lover’s Cookbook, and Eat Fat, Look Thin.
The Coconut Research Center has launched a new website to aid in its goal of providing an accurate, non-commercial source of information about the health aspects of coconut products. Most all coconut related websites currently online are overly commercialized and in some cases provide misleading or inaccurate information. The Coconut Research Center’s website is for educational purposes only. There is no advertising, no sales pitches, and no annoying pop-ups to contend with. All the information is unbiased and accurate.
On this website you will find informative articles on the nutritional and medical uses of coconut, links to published studies, sources for books on coconut and related topics, the latest news about coconuts, and you will be able to join an open coconut discussion forum with coconut enthusiasts from around the world. Information will be continually added to keep this website up to date and the most informative coconut educational resource available.
This is an excellent tool you can use to tell your family and friends about the many benefits of coconut oil and other coconut products. Please visit the Coconut Research Center at www.coconutresearchcenter.org. ■
Coconut Oil Goes Mainstream
When I first wrote the book The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil in 2000, I was advised not to publish it. It will never sell, I was told. People are too afraid of saturated fat. When I published the book, I did face a lot of resistance and received criticism for promoting the use of saturated fat. Skeptics soon became advocates because they could verify the facts by checking the many references to the medical studies listed in the book. Popularity of the book grew.
When the book was first published coconut oil was relatively hard to find. Only a handful of health food stores and a couple of mail order dealers offered it—primarily as a body lotion. Today nearly every health food store in North American offers it for sale. Major grocery stores are now beginning to stock coconut oil as well.
I never even tried to get the book published by one of the big established publishers. I knew they wouldn’t touch it because of the public’s fear of saturated fat. Times have changed. This book has changed the way people think about coconut oil. Because of this book, the oil that was once called an “artery-clogging fat” is now hailed as a new super food.
The book was difficult to get into bookstores because it was too controversial and wasn’t published by a major publishing company. That has also changed. Avery Publishing, a subsidiary of Penguin USA, one of the largest publishing companies in America, has taken over publication of the book. They released a new edition of the book with a new cover and new title. The book is now titled The Coconut Oil Miracle.
The book is available at your local bookstore and health food store.■
Dr. Bruce Fife is a nutritionist and naturopathic physician. He is the author of several books, including The Coconut Oil Miracle, Coconut Cures, and The Coconut Ketogenic Diet. He is the director of The Coconut Research Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public and medical community about the health aspects of coconut. You can visit this educational site at www.coconutresearchcenter.org.
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Copyright © 2007, 2005, Bruce Fife. All rights reserved.