Coconut Oil Myths Persist in Face of the Facts

 

“Miraculous.” “Amazing.” “Life Saving.”

Some people love coconut oil, the “virgin” oil kind made by puréeing coconut meat and gently heating it. And they love the myths about its health benefits.Coconut Oil

Too bad evidence is lacking for some of them.

Here are three of the biggest coconut oil myths and the facts.

Myth: Coconut oil can help you lose weight.

The Facts: Dr. Oz thinks it can. He called coconut oil “the miracle fat that fights fat.” Yet the only study that tested whether it helps people shed pounds came up empty.

In 2009, a master’s degree student in Brazil gave 40 obese women either coconut oil or soybean oil and asked them to cook with two tablespoons of the oil every day. After three months, the women given coconut oil didn’t weigh any less—and had no smaller waists—than those given soybean oil.

That’s the only study. But it was all that Internet osteopath-salesman Joseph Mercola needed to shout about “The Amazing Oil That Trims Women’s Waistlines” on mercola.com, where he will happily sell you coconut oil by the barrel.

Myth: Coconut oil is good for the heart.

The Facts: Researchers haven’t looked at whether people who use coconut oil to replace other fats suffer fewer heart attacks or strokes.

But they have tested what coconut oil does to LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. “Raising LDL cholesterol clearly increases the risk of heart disease,” notes Dutch fats expert Martijn Katan, of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

New Zealand researchers this spring examined the results of eight clinical trials and 13 observational studies of coconut oil. The results: coconut oil raises LDL levels more than other vegetable oils, but not as much as butter does.

The weight of the evidence, they concluded, suggests that if you eat polyunsaturated vegetable oils like soybean and canola oils instead of coconut oil, you will lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Myth: Coconut oil can protect the brain from dementia.

The Facts: Not likely…despite Joseph Mercola’s claims that “four tablespoons of this ‘brain food’ may prevent Alzheimer’s.”

No good studies have tested whether coconut oil can prevent or treat Alzheimer’s or other dementias. What’s the basis of this coconut oil myth?

In Alzheimer’s, the brain loses its ability to use glucose, but it may still be able to use compounds called ketones. “And the liver can convert some of the fats in coconut oil called MCTs into ketones,” explains pharmacologist Alok Sharma, of MCPHS University in New Hampshire.

But that doesn’t mean that coconut oil or its MCTs can help with dementia, adds Sharma.

Consuming coconut oil doesn’t raise ketone levels in the brain high enough to counter the effects of Alzheimer’s, explains Richard Veech, a senior investigator with the National Institutes of Health.

Where does that leave us?

Coconut oil may be a delicious fat best used in moderation like most everything else, but there’s  little evidence that it’s an amazing, miraculous, brain-saving food.

This post was originally published in 2014 and is updated regularly.

 

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11 Replies to “Coconut Oil Myths Persist in Face of the Facts”

  1. Dear Charles, I am another reader and am delighted with your success in losing weight and improving your health. Surely you realize switching your diet in such a healthy direction would cause you lose weight no matter the oil you chose. I am always glad to read the science behind foods, and with coconut oil, it seems we just don’t know much yet; it takes research several years to catch up with new popular foods. I don’t see the article as debunking, but as informing. Congratulations on your newly recovered health and best wishes for many more years.

  2. I began using Virgin Coconut Oil nearly four months ago. I have used it as a skin emolient as well as in some of my foods; for example…making scrambled eggs, a teaspoon in my Green Tea (by Herbsway of Connecticut). It has been fully beneficial to my weight lost as well. I am 77 years of age and full enjoy the benefits which I am receiving. Everyone’s metabolism is different for all types of foods. Since Virgin Coconut Oil is a food of my choice and this body that I live in at present, I will continue using this food. God will have The Last Word and it will be Good in this life and the Next.

  3. A few years ago I proofread for a fellow student a master’s thesis titles, “Effect of Coconut Oil on Ulcerative Colitis in the Mouse Model” (Alok, 2013). If I recall correctly, this study indicated that use of coconut oil in feed both helped to prevent ulcerative colitis and to reduce its severity once induced. I haven’t followed the topic to see how this area of research has developed, but thought the findings were quite interesting.

  4. I give my dog a teaspoon (she’s 13 years old and 29 lbs). Her seasonal allergies are gone and she loves it!

  5. I use Virgin Coconut Oil mainly in cooking scrambled eggs and frying onions for a sauce. I’ve heard it’s good as a sunscreen combined with other oils and ingredients.

  6. Dear Charles,
    You said: “I just stopped eating about 89 thousand processed foods and went all natural, fresh veggies and fruits, no sugar, no asparatame, no HFCS.”.This is the real reason for your weight loss and you feel wonderful. Congratulations for having changed your diet, but coconut oil actually has no proven effect.
    Best regards.

  7. I just read a post that coconut oil will kill athletes’ foot fungus. My goodness. I have watched all the hoopla about coconut oil being something like the “second coming”. It is a saturated fat after all and that does not make it a great fat. The folks who make big profits selling this product will keep the hype up ad nauseum. The smell is wonderful and for skin care it is great. But causing miracles is just bunk!

  8. I just like the taste of the stuff. I put it on my toast with cinnamon. yum. I eat pretty much organic and all things (meat, dairy, alcohol, bread,eggs, coffee, tea, fruits , veggies) in moderation. I eat oatmeal and greek yogurt with nuts and blueberries every day. make my own treats so I know whats in them. just took organic key lime pie out of oven. I still ride my harley and hunt, lift weights, walk 3 miles every day. I know I am gonna die so if I only get to 90 sted of 91 cause of that key lime pie I am gonna enjoy myself getting there. I love food. 6ft , 175lbs. normal pulse, blood pressure.

  9. I love the diversity of opinion and passion with this topic. Every “myth” as described above was recently articulated to me by a member of my sports club and confirmed by another member. Each supported the benefit the other described, to the point where I recently purchased my first 30oz jar of 100% pure coconut oil. I’ll suspend judgment with the above, until the jar is empty and I’m able to make up my own mind.

  10. I started using coconut oil about 3 months ago – in porridge, in stew, in rice, on corn – pretty much on everything! Then, after about 1-1/2 months, I noticed that I had gained about 3 pounds, and it has not been easy getting them off. Needless to say, I no longer use coconut oil! Yummy, but fattening.

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