E-Mail Edition Volume 3 Number 2
Originally published Spring, 2006
Published by Piccadilly Books, Ltd., www.piccadillybooks.com.
Bruce Fife, N.D., Publisher, www.coconutresearchcenter.org
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Dr. Bruce Fife a.k.a. "Dr. Coconut" answers two of the most often asked questions about coconut oil.
I've tried looking for studies on coconut oil on the Internet and elsewhere and have not found much. Are there many studies on coconut? If so, where do I look?
There are literally thousands of studies. I list references to hundreds of them in my books. However, if you tried to find studies using only the words "coconut oil" you may have only limited success.
Coconut oil has been condemned as an "artery clogging" saturated fat for so long that many people are skeptical about it being one of the "good" fats or having all of the benefits I talk about in my books. These people need convincing. Simply saying that coconut oil doesn't promote heart disease isn't enough to convince them of its innocence. They need proof. Published medical studies help supply this proof.
When people ask for studies my first response is to refer them to my books and have them check the studies listed in the back. They can look these studies up and read them for themselves if they want. The information comes from various sources including: PubMed (an Internet database of medical studies), published and unpublished studies not listed in PubMed, historical records, technical manuals and books (such as those published by the American Oil Chemists' Society), and personal communication with researchers and others.
Some people want more proof or more definitive studies. Many will look for studies themselves and discover that finding information can be difficult. The problem is that most studies regarding the health aspects of coconut oil are not always easy to find or to decipher.
For the past 30 years there have been few studies published specifically on the health benefits of coconut oil. There have actually been thousands of studies involving coconut oil, but most of these weren't evaluating coconut oil specifically. The oil was only used for comparative purposes. On the surface, these studies may appear to be worthless in regards to coconut oil's health benefits, but in fact they provide a wealth of information if you know what to look for.
Because of prejudice against coconut oil and other saturated fats, few researchers dared to do studies to evaluate any benefit to coconut oil. Getting funding to study the benefits of coconut oil was impossible. Saturated fat was a dietary villain and the popular thing to do was to design studies to prove how bad it was, not its usefulness. Funding institutions and big businesses weren't about to throw money away on what they considered worthless research. So for the past three decades very few studies were conducted to demonstrate the health benefits of coconut oil.
That does not mean that there wasn't any research going on specifically with coconut oil. Coconut oil research continued but in a more clandestine fashion. Researchers just gave the oil a different name and got funding that way. This proved to be very successful. Instead of saying the words "coconut oil" they used the terms "medium chain triglyceride" (MCT) oil or "medium chain fatty acid". They even studied individual medium chain fatty acids such as lauric acid, capric acid, caprylic acid, and their monoclyberides (monolaurin, monocaprin, and monocaprylin). Consequently, a great deal of research was done on coconut oil and its component parts. Financiers providing the money had no idea that these substances came from coconut oil and that they were funding research that would one day provide the groundwork demonstrating the many healthy benefits of coconut oil. Today, if you do a search for coconut oil you find only a limited number of studies, but if you search for "lauric acid," "medium chain triglycerides," or some other term associated with coconut oil you will come up with thousands of studies.
PubMed is an Internet database created as a means for researchers to quickly access a large number of studies on particular subjects. You can go to it at www.pubmed.org. Here you can find a wealth of information on coconut — if you know how to look for it.
If you entered the words "coconut oil" you will come up with over 1090 studies. Studies are continually being added each week and each month as new research is published.
Most of the entries on PubMed only include an abstract. An abstract is a brief summary of the study that is only a paragraph or so long. So you have to obtain the entire article to really understand what the study says. The conclusions given in abstracts aren't necessarily accurate or unbiased, so you need to read the entire study for the facts.
Although PubMed lists over one thousand studies involving coconut oil, if you look at these studies you will find that not all of them say much of interest about coconut oil. That's one of the reasons why some people become frustrated when they research coconut oil. Most of the studies actually involve other substances and coconut oil is only included for comparative purposes. Many of these studies give little useful information about the health aspects of coconut oil. However, some can be very valuable, but you have to dig deeper and read between the lines.
An example of this is a study that I ran across while writing this article. It's titled "Dietary habits, plasma polyunsaturated fatty acids and selected coronary disease risk factors in Tanzania." You would not suspect that it includes information about coconut oil, but it does. Although the study was focused on comparing heart disease risk factors and fish oil consumption, it included some interesting information about coconut oil. In the study it was found that among three populations studied, the one that consumed the highest amount of fish oil had the lowest risk factors for heart disease. What the study also showed, but the authors did not elaborate on because they were focused on the fish oil, is that this same population also consumed the largest amount of coconut oil. So was the low risk of heart disease really due to the fish or was it to the coconut oil? The study doesn't address this issue. But the author's suggestion that fish oil was the reason for the lower risk is just as valid for coconut oil. It is interesting how researchers pick and choose how to present their data in order to support their personal beliefs or the position of their sponsors.
So even though many of the studies don't seem to say much about coconut oil, if you read them carefully they can provide some interesting information. The number of studies available are actually much greater than the 1090 found under the term "coconut oil." If you broaden your search to "coconut" you get an additional 2037 studies. "Coconut milk" and "coconut water" add another 395 studies. Since coconut oil is composed predominately of medium chain fatty acids or medium chain triglycerides (also spelled medium-chain triglycerides in the database) you should use these key words as well. Other key words include lauric acid, capric acid, caprylic acid, monoglycerides, monolaurin, monocaprin, moncaprylin, Lauricidin, MCT, and MCFA. If you do a search using all of these words you end up with a total of 16,193 studies! That's an impressive number of studies relating to coconut oil. Because key words may be used in more than one study, some of these studies will be duplicated, but still the number is probably well over 10,000. So there are many studies on coconut oil, you just need to know where to look and how to dig useful information out of the articles.■
Slim, Healthy People Eat Fat
Here's a statistic to take your breath away. At least 155 million kids worldwide — about 10 percent of all children — suffer from being overweight or obese. Countries like the US lead the way with a staggering 30 percent suffering from overweight or obesity. Australia and Europe are not far behind.
These aren't just plump children who'll grow into large adults. These are children who look forward to a future shaped by a set of symptoms the experts are calling metabolic syndrome — a combination of conditions like diabetes, raised cholesterol, and high blood pressure being found more and more to effect adults who suffered childhood obesity.
Prevailing thinking has us reducing consumption of all fats, particularly those saturated fats derived from animal sources. This belief, the 'lipid hypothesis' is based on a theory put forward in the late 1950s by Ancel Keys.
Researchers have spent the last fifty or so years disputing his findings and creating their own theses. One group, however, was never confused. Vegetable oil and food processing industries immediately saw profit in the 'lipid hypothesis,' and set about demonizing traditional, and in many cases natural, foods in favor of their heavily processed products.
Lets go back a little, before Dr. Keys came up with his theory. Before 1920 coronary heart disease was rare and most people were slim. During the next forty years the incidence of heart disease soared. Now heart disease causes at least 40 percent of all U.S. deaths. As we already know, the incidence of obesity has skyrocketed.
From approximately that same period, 1920 to 1970, and at the same time as highly processed vegetable fats were successfully promoted as healthful, the proportion of traditional fats in the American diet fell from 82 percent to 62 percent. Butter consumption fell from 18 lbs per person per year to 4 lbs per year.
While saturated fat consumption fell, the percentage of vegetable oils as margarine, shortening and refined oils, denatured and chemically altered, increased about 400 percent. Consumption of sugar and processed food increased about 60 percent.
Who's the villain in this story? Animal fats? Or is the villain hydrogenated oils and processed foods?
Remember when pasteurization of milk was first established as necessary to good health? Did you know heat alters milk's amino acids, locking away the proteins that make milk so healthful?
Heat application allows the unsaturated fatty acids to become rancid over
a shorter period. Heat destroys vitamins. And to complete the process of
destruction, heat also destroys all enzymes in milk—the enzymes needed to
help the body assimilate calcium.
It's certainly difficult to believe the good news food they've being feeding us for the last fifty years might actually be killing us.
It's already common knowledge that natural foods can work miracles with ADHD children. If natural foods are so beneficial, would they benefit the obese elderly? Jill Engelmann, Ph.D., a nutritionist and author of Healthy Slim People Eat Fat, conducted a simple study to find out.
Twenty-five very overweight or obese adults, most in their 60's, were documented over a 17 week period. All participants began with a full medical check up. Health problems included diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides, urinary tract infections, fibromyalgia and gout.
All gave up processed foods. Instead they ate fresh natural foods including 'unhealthy' butter and raw milk. The test subjects took cod liver oil and magnesium and a dessert spoon of organic coconut oil before each meal. They also engaged in moderate exercise.
So what happen to these 25 elderly people at the end of their 17 weeks as guinea pigs? Again, they were given a full medical check up. Overall health was greatly improved. Weight loss ranged up to 38 pounds. Most were able to discontinue all drugs. Notably, blood fats had normalized, something no other eating plan had been able to achieve.
It's not rocket science — but it works. Fresh nutrient-dense foods, healthy fats (such as coconut oil), and moderate exercise can change lives. This means we can overcome many of the health problems we see today and we can stop the obesity epidemic right now. ■
This article is based on A Current Affair ABC television program broadcast in Australia October 2005.
Coconut and Cholesterol—Study Reveals Facts
A study conducted by researchers at Mukogawa Women's University in Japan recently revealed some interesting facts related to coconut and blood cholesterol levels and research practices in general. The research was sponsored by the Australian macadamia industry and the study itself was focused primarily on the effects macadamia nuts have on cholesterol levels. Coconut was used in the study only for comparison.
The aim of the study was to observe any beneficial effect of a macadamia nut rich diet in young women. Macadamia nuts are rich in monounsaturated fat. The oil is similar to olive oil in fatty acid content. The research was performed to evaluate the effects monounsaturated oil in macadamia nuts have on health. Since olive oil is believed to be heart healthy, researchers assumed that macadamia oil and nuts may also have health benefits.
Sixty young female students aged 18-23 years participated in the study. They were randomized into three groups, 20 in each, and were given three kinds of dinner rolls topped with macadamia nuts, coconut, or butter. The subjects continued the regime for three weeks. Physical and metabolic parameters were measured before and after the intervention.
The researchers reported that body weight (BW) and body mass index (BMI) were reduced significantly from initial measurements in the group fed macadamia nuts. Total cholesterol fell from an average of 180 mg/dl to 169 mg/dl. LDL cholesterol, the so-called "bad" cholesterol, fell from 97 mg/dl to 90 mg/dl. All of these results were favorable.
The researchers concluded that macadamia nuts reduced body weight, BMI, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol in young Japanese women without adversely affecting risk factors for heart disease. They recommended the regular use of macadamia nuts as a means to reduce risk factors associated with heart disease.
It probably comes as no surprise to you to learn that macadamia nuts are good for you. But here comes the interesting part. Their data also showed that the cholesterol levels of the women who ate coconut was equal to or even better than that of those who ate the macadamia nuts!
In the coconut group total cholesterol dropped from an average of 180 mg/dl to 169 mg/dl, the same as in the macadamia group. LDL cholesterol dropped from an average of 103 mg/dl to 94 mg/dl. This is a drop of 9 mg/dl. The LDL cholesterol in the macadamia group dropped 7 mg/dl, showing that coconut had a greater LDL lowering effect than macadamia nuts.
If you read this study, however, you may be mystified because you won't find any mention of the effects of coconut in the text. Although coconut gave an equal or better result than macadamia nuts, the authors didn't bother to mention this in their write-up. The only way we know about the effects of the coconut is from the list of data. The authors of the study said nothing about the coconut. Their focus was on macadamia nuts. However, if coconut had a negative effect or gave results worse than macadamia nuts, the authors may have used that to their advantage. But they didn't say a thing.
This is very typical in research. The fact that no mention was made in the text of the effect of coconut is a classical example of selective reporting by researchers. Only the favorable effects of the sponsor's product were given. Many studies involving coconut are not reported for similar reasons. Because of bias in favor of the sponsor's product or prejudice against a product (such as coconut) the favorable results of competing products often go unreported. Readers often have to examine the data in detail to discover all the facts. ■
Source: Hiraoka-Yamamoto, J., et al. Serum lipid effects of a monounsaturated (palmitoleic) fatty acid-rich diet based on macadamia nuts in healthy, young Japanese women. Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology 2004;31:S37-S38.
Coconut Oil Dietary Supplements
The use of coconut oil has grown tremendously over the past few years. It is regarded as a "functional food," meaning that it provides health benefits beyond its nutritional content. Coconut oil possesses anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-parasitical properties. It stimulates the immune system, helps protect against cancer and relieves many of the symptoms associated with colitis, diabetes, arthritis, and other conditions. Because of this it has become popular as a dietary supplement.
To gain the benefits associated with coconut oil the general recommendation is to consume about 3½ tablespoons a day. Any amount is better than none. Even 1 to 3 tablespoons a day is beneficial. I normally recommend that people use the oil in their everyday cooking. I also recommend that you split the dose up throughout the day so that you get some for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This gives best results. A tablespoon with each meal works fine.
Some people, however, don't use much oil in food preparation. Or they may be too busy to cook. For them it is easier to just take the oil by the spoonful. That's fine. I often do this myself. If I'm in a hurry, don't want to cook, or only want a small meal, I can get my allotment of coconut oil by simply taking it by the spoonful.
Some people just can't stand putting a spoonful of oil into their mouths. They don't like the oily feel or texture. I have found that the best way to eat coconut oil by the spoon is to get it hard first and then let it sit under my tongue. It takes less than a minute to melt, but it doesn't give your mouth that oily taste and feel that you get by taking it in liquid form. Taking it this way is actually pleasant—especially if you use a good quality oil. There are a lot of brands of coconut oil that honestly do not taste very good. Many people don't even know what a good quality coconut oil is supposed to taste like.
I often hear people say they don't like the taste of coconut oil. I find that hard to believe because I love the taste of coconut oil, at least the ones I use. But I realize that some people buy the cheapest bands they can get. Consequently, these will not be the best tasting oils. Some are actually nasty. So it is no wonder why some people say they don't like coconut oil.
There are people who won't use the oil for cooking because they don't like the "coconut" taste in their foods. I use coconut oil in all of my cooking and love it. Again it is probably because of the brand used.
Although some people don't like the taste of the coconut oil, they still want the health benefits. They swallow the oil dutifully every day just as if they were taking a spoonful of full-flavored cod liver oil.
Some enterprising companies aware of this problem have devised a solution. Their solution is to put coconut oil into gel capsules like other oil-based dietary supplements. This allows those who don't like the taste of coconut oil to get the benefits without having to eat the oil.
Many people like the idea of taking coconut oil in capsule form. There are several brands available now. The capsules are fairly large—1 gram. Four capsules a day is the suggested recommendation. One of the problems with the capsules is that in order to get the equivalent of 3½ tablespoons a day, you would have to consume a total of 49 capsules! That's a huge amount, and these are large capsules too. A single jar holds about 120 capsules. So one jar will last you a mere two and a half days! Most of what you eat will be the gel in the capsule and not the coconut oil.
Cost is a factor too. A jar of 120 capsules may cost around $20. For the same price you can get a quart of liquid coconut oil. Each capsule contains 1 gram of oil, so a full jar holds 120 grams of oil. A quart-sized bottle contains over 880 grams of oil. So you get over 7 times as much oil if you buy it by the bottle.
The manufactures of these supplements admit that taking 1-3 tablespoons of coconut oil a day would be a lot of gel capsules. They acknowledge that it probably wouldn't be a good idea to try to get this amount of coconut oil in capsule form every single day. However, the higher cost is justified due to the expense of encapsulating the oil.
Another advantage to gel capsules is that they are convenient and travel friendly. When you go to work during the day, out to lunch or dinner, or are away from home for an extended amount of time, this is where the gel capsules come in handy. Unlike a bottle of oil that is large and generally leaky, gel capsules can fit into your pocket or suitcase and you don't have to worry about them staining your clothes.
On a day to day basis, coconut oil gel capsules aren't too practical. The best thing to do is to use liquid coconut oil for cooking and meal preparation at home. If you can handle the taste (remember to look for a good quality oil), take it by the spoonful to supplement what you get in your food. When you are away from home, gel capsules can come in handy. ■
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Copyright © 2007, 2005, Bruce Fife. All rights reserved.