Coconut Oil Craze
One of the most popular questions that was brought to my attention lately, next to organic food and eggs, is about coconut oil. There are some studies which indicate some benefits of consuming coconut oil ranging from weight loss to Alzheimer’s. It allegedly promotes heart health, improves immune system, alleviates skin problems, boosts thyroid function, controls blood sugar, and many many more.
Is it true?
Just like any other oil, coconut oil consists of a mixture of fatty acids in different lengths (long- and medium-chain) and in different structure (saturated and unsaturated). Coconut oil stands out in its high concentration of medium-chained triglyceride (MCT). MCT is known to be more readily metabolized by our bodies, and therefore raises the metabolism slightly higher. Coconut oil also contains high amount of saturated fats, specifically lauric acid. Lauric acid is currently thought by some to improve the lipid/cholesterol levels in blood.
These unique characteristics of coconut oil allow the proponents to claim the health benefits. Since MCT is associated with an increase in metabolism, coconut oil is promoted as weight loss aid. However, none of the limited, available studies indicates any additional benefits in weight loss. How our metabolism works is actually vastly unknown at this point. Relying on the modest effect in metabolism from coconut oil to accomplish weight loss is simply not realistic.
There was also an anecdote by a pediatrician whose husband consumed some coconut oil leading to a speedy recovery in Alzheimer’s Disease. She published the incidence and elicited public interest in coconut oil as a cure for Alzheimer’s. The rationale, again, depends on how our body metabolizes MCT. It is associated with the ketone therapy which has gained a lot of attention as a therapy for Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately clinical trials never yielded anything conclusive. However, the story lived.
While it is true that a study finds that consumption of coconut oil is associated with higher good cholesterol, it also is linked with higher triglyceride and total cholesterol which are harmful. We know that increase in good cholesterol is good for the heart, but we don’t know if the benefit in this case outweighs the increase in triglyceride and total cholesterol. It is worth noting that this study was done in the Philippines, where their lifestyle is drastically different from an industrialized society, and coconut oil is naturally part of their diet.
The bottom line is it takes an extensive amount of scientific evidence to establish a fact. The truth is coconut oil may not be as bad as we once thought, but its benefits remain unclear. It is utterly premature to extract the results from the limited studies or anecdotes to promote it as the ultimate miraculous food. It is also important to examine the resources of information. It is generally acknowledged that internet or mass media is not the most reliable source of information, especially if the sources stand to gain from promoting these believes. Just because someone put in the effort to establish a website to address the hypothetical benefit, it does not make it true.
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