Is Coconut Oil Bad For You?

Some who profit from coconut oil claim it has miraculous powers, curing everything from cancer to jock itch. The boldest claim may be that it is a potential cure for Alzheimer’s, based on a series of anecdotes and one study I profile in my 3-min video Does Coconut Oil Cure Alzheimer’s? Long story short, as the Alzheimer’s Association put it, “there is no scientific evidence that coconut oil helps with Alzheimer’s. The coconut oil promise has been around for more than three years. If the administration of coconut oil was, indeed, beneficial, it would presumably be shouted from every mountaintop.”

I don’t find that argument entirely convincing. For example, we’ve known for decades that our leading cause of death is preventable and reversible (see Our Number One Killer Can Be Stopped), yet the medical community continues to rely more on drugs and surgery. Why? Well they likely weren’t taught clinical nutrition in medical school (Medical School Nutrition Education), or after medical school (Medical Associations Oppose Bill to Mandate Nutrition Training), and the medical establishment has shown a disturbing inertia even when presented with convincing evidence (The Tomato Effect). The difference is that coconut oil doesn’t have the data to back it up. What’s the potential downside of giving coconut oil a try? I cover that in my 5-min. video Does Coconut Oil Clog Arteries?

Unlike other natural remedies, such as the spice saffron that was able to beat out placebo (Saffron for the Treatment of Alzheimer’s) and seemed to work as well as a leading drug without the side effects (Saffron Versus Aricept), coconut oil is one of the rare plant sources of saturated fat. Primarily found in animal-derived foods, saturated fat tends to increase LDL (“bad” cholesterol), the leading risk factor for our leading killer, heart disease. So hey, if you want to try it on someone with Alzheimer’s for a few days to see if it makes a difference, fine. I’d try almost anything! But if, as expected, you don’t see an improvement, I would be hesitant to keep anyone on it long-term.

Those selling coconut oil say one needn’t worry because coconut oil contains a type of saturated fat that doesn’t raise cholesterol. That’s a page straight out of the beef industry playbook:

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is always going on about how beef contains a saturated fat called stearic acid.  Unlike the cholesterol-elevating saturated fats (palmitic, myristic, and lauric acids), stearic acid has been shown to have a neutral effect on blood cholesterol. That’s true, and beef does have stearic acid, but it has twice as much of the palmitic and myristic, which they admit does raise cholesterol. That’s like coca cola saying they know for a fact that soda doesn’t make you gain weight because it contains water and water has a neutral effect on weight gain (which they actually did say!). Yeah, but that’s not the only thing in it, and the same with beef, and the same with coconut oil. Watch the video to see the saturated fat breakdown of coconut oil.

Years ago I profiled a study that found that cholesterol levels were significantly lower during a coconut oil diet—but only when compared to a butter diet. You know you have a bad product when the only way you can make it look good is to compare it to diets rich in butter. Yes, coconut oil made bad cholesterol go up, but not as bad as butter. But how much is that really saying? (Reminds me of the “compared to pork” study in Nuts and Bolts of Cholesterol Lowering).

That was all the science we had for ten years, but four new studies have recently come out: a population study and three clinical trials, all of which I detail in Does Coconut Oil Clog Arteries? The bottom line is that the best available evidence is that coconut oil significantly worsens our bad cholesterol levels.

What about those that say the cholesterol-heart disease connection is a myth? Allow me to quote from a medical journal editorial entitled “Cholesterol Myth Club on Par with Flat Earth Society,” which reads “as mixed up as Flat Earth Society members obviously are, at least you can laugh their dumb idea off, and if you want to believe the Earth is flat, this view is not going to cause serious problems like…coronary artery disease.” More in my book Carbophobia, now available free, full-text online.

More on meat industry hijinks in:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

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Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


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