Thursday, February 6, 2014

Coconut oil for Everything?

Those familiar with this blog will be familiar with my love of infographics, where I get to dissect them, that is.  So I was happy to see this appear in my feed to provide some blog fodder:

Coconut oil is a boon for those of us who don't eat dairy (for allergy or avoidance of animal products)but still need a cooking fat that will take high heat (think roasting vegetables), give a good mouth feel comparable to butter (think pie crust), can provide a creamy texture to soups (like a butternut squash bisque) and curries.  But does it actually provide the above benefits?

1) Thyroid stimulating.  There are no reliable sources or studies that indicate that coconut oil can help get people off their thyroid medication, not to mention that this particular paragraph says anything about the thyroid at all.  As far as increasing your metabolism, the consistent use of coconut might help you burn a whopping 25-50 more calories a day.  Every little bit helps, but keep in mind that 1/4 to 1/2 a slice of bread will give you 25-50 calories.  So you still don't have much wiggle room there (Link)

2) Lowers cholesterol.  The lauric acid can raise both HDL and LDL, which might improve the overall lipid profile, particularly if you are a lab rat.  The human data is a little more sketchy. (Link). 

3) Helps keep diabetes in check.  There isn't any evidence that coconut oil stimulates the pancreas to produce more insulin, nor would this necessarily be beneficial if it did (because in the early stages of Type 2 diabetes the individual may be over producing insulin but the body can't use it efficiently).    There is a possibility that coconut oil might improve one's sensitivity to insulin, which could ultimately help an individual have better blood glucose control or prevent the progression from pre-diabetes to diabetes, but we don't have enough good human studies to recommend it as a treatment.

4) Gastrointestinal malabsorption. Once again, there is no evidence that coconut oil applied to the skin can help people with fat absorption issues prevent fatty acid deficiency.  The only human studies I could find used sunflower oil, and even those were small and requiring more research.  Since coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides, they do not require bile salts for digestion and passively absorb through the GI tract into the liver.  This is a boon for those with fat malabsorption problems, but you still have to take it orally.

5)  Helps with weight loss. The ways this is worded it makes it sound like any other fat would go immediately to the fat stores in your body, which sounds an awful lot like that tired old Weight Watchers' saying "A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips!"   Of course, the body's ways of digesting, metabolizing, and storing is more complicated than that.  I think what they might be getting at here is the problem/question that many people trying lose weight have to face, "How do I cut back on "x" without facing hunger that so intense that I can't think straight?"  (There are many variations on that same question).  Fat is satiating so those who try to cut out ALL fat will probably wind up with excessive hunger and have trouble keeping with their plan (or having a good quality of life).  People who consume fat with abandon (and don't cut out the extra calories somewhere else) will have trouble losing weight as well.  So an easily absorbed satiating fat, taken in the context of you cutting out calories somewhere else could be a useful tool in your weight loss regimen.

6) Kills Candida.  I think in this case they are actually referring to a condition that Quackwatch calls the "Dubious Yeast Allergy" category, you can read Dr. Stephen Barrett's article about this here.  You can't actually kill off a disorder that doesn't exist.

7) Supports the Immune System. The lauric acid has actually been studied as an anti-microbial agent in the treatment of acne, but no good studies exist as far as eating coconut oil to stave off the flu, etc.  And remember, you may not want to "boost your immunity."

8) Reduces Heart Disease.  There is a correlative link, but not a causative one in this case.  Although it does cast doubt on the theory that all saturated fats raise your risk for heart disease.

9) Nourishing for the Brain.  There was one doctor who performed one case study that said her husband's symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease improved through the use of coconut oil, but there have been no peer reviewed studies to support this. (Link)

10) Good for the Skin.  This one actually shows some promise, at least in animal studies. (Link).  Applying non-medical grade oil to any open wound would not be recommended, however.

Take home message--Including coconut oil as part of a portion controlled plan for weight loss and a carbohydrate controlled plan for diabetes can be useful, but don't expect a magical drop in weight.

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