Image Credit: Meal Makeover Moms / via flickr

What is the latest verdict on the proclaimed health benefits of coconut oil?

Coconut oil has its advocates. It can be purchased in health food shops and often appears as an ingredient in vegetarian and vegan recipes. However, I have my doubts regarding its proclaimed benefits. I would appreciate your opinion, is it good or bad? Thank you.
Eddie/ Originally posted in The Best Bean
You may remember Dr. Greger’s video: Is Coconut Oil Good for You? (If you missed it, perhaps watch before reading on). Since then it looks like a few new research articles pop-up, but they’re very scarce. The health benefits of coconut oil really depend on how it’s used and who’s eating it. Typically any processed food, especially oil, isn’t as nutritious as a whole-food. I mean eating a coconut is far different than just eating its oil. Nevertheless, coconut oil is always in the news and presented as some sort of “miracle” oil, but the science isn’t so clear about the heath benefits.
A new review on Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and coconut oil acknowledges some potentially helpful components of coconut oil, but says there are too many inconsistencies in the data to broadly recommend it. It goes on to say “the use of coconut oil to treat or prevent AD is not supported by any peer-reviewed large cohort clinical data; any positive findings are based on small clinical trials and on anecdotal evidence.” The problem is a majority of research is done on via animal and cell studies, which cannot translate to humans. Dr. Greger has searched the literature and compiled important findings in his video: Does Coconut Oil Cure Alzheimer’s
Since factors that affect AD risk include obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol, we ought to focus on ways to reduce developing these diseases in the first place. Researchers seem to be grasping at one food, like coconut oil, but it’s always the total diet that matters most. Take this study for example where HDL cholesterol was shown to be improved in those eating coconut oil, but did nothing to lower LDL cholesterol, the kind that matters most. We know plant-based diets have been shown time and time again to help lower cholesterol. Clinical trials using plant-based diets lower in fat with an emphasis on eating less oil has been shown to reduce cholesterol. So why not focus on that? For instance, weight loss, reducing diabetes risk, and having optimal cholesterol levels are much more important for AD prevention than simply adding coconut oil to the diet. 
The Center for Science in the Public Interest dissolves coconut oil myths, too. Also check out what doctors with Forks Over Knives have to say the popular medium-chain fats (MCT) found in coconut oil that are often touted. It’s no secret coconut oil has a huge amount of saturated fat, but there seems to be a difference from the saturated fat found in animal products. Dr. Greger mentions “unlike saturated animal fats, coconut oil doesn’t cause that spike inflammation immediately after consumption of animal foods.” Click and watch his video on bacterial endotoxins and you’ll see why that makes sense.
Switching gears to breast cancer, one trial on late stage breast cancer survivors taking coconut oil appeared to improve scores that measure quality of life. Coconut oil was also found to reduce symptoms associated with chemotherapy. It looks like they gave 10 ml twice daily (that’s like 2 teaspoons, 2 times a day), as a supplement after the last 4 cycles of chemo. I would be interested to know what else they were eating (it doesn’t say in the paper) during treatment. It may be that there was something else in the diet that helped and not the coconut oil.  Like you, Eddie I’m not sure coconut oil is some miracle worker, but hey, if you’re going thru treatment for late stage breast cancer it may be worth asking your oncologist about, as several foods (flax, soy, turmeric) have been found to be associated with reduced side effects from chemotherapy. 
Maybe coconut oil is best used for our skin? Giving preterm babies belly rubs with coconut oil was shown to help their skin and reduce the risk of infection. Another study found these premie infant massages to boost premature infant body weight, but it looks like only 38% of neonatal intensive care units hospitals practice infant massage. In adults topical application of coconut oil may be better than other oils for dermatitis. 
Another area of interest for the use of coconut oil is medical nutrition therapy for those who cannot eat solid foods. These folks are given tube feeding and the formulas require some fat where MCT oils can be used. Even feeding folks thru their vein can be beneficial when their stomachs cannot handle anything. This is where oils can be life saving!
Now look if you love using the oil for flavor and your LDL cholesterol is super low (<70) then it’s not likely going to be a problem, but use it sparingly! For others it may worsen LDL levels so use with caution. The truth is oil is not required in the diet. One thing is for certain, sellers of coconut oil would love to show that there’s no risks involved with eating it by the spoonful! However, as I mentioned before, which is also echoed in Tuff’s 2014 Nutrition Magazine: “There is no consistent body of data that I am aware of to indicate that coconut oil has documented specific beneficial effects; hence, there is no data that I’m aware of to suggest people should go out of their way to consume coconut oil.”
Image Credit Meal Makeover Moms / via flickr

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