Does Coconut Oil Clog Arteries?

Does Coconut Oil Clog Arteries?
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Sellers of coconut oil use a beef industry tactic to downplay the risks associated with the saturated fat in their products.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Even if the science isn’t there, why at least not try treating Alzheimer’s with coconut oil? Well, unlike other natural remedies—like the spice saffron, which was able to beat out placebo, and seemed to work as well as the leading drug, without the side effects—coconut oil is one of the rare plant sources of saturated fat (normally only found in animals), which tends to increase LDL, or bad cholesterol, the #1 risk factor for our #1 killer, heart disease. So, hey, I mean, you want to try coconut oil on someone with Alzheimer’s for a few days, to see if it makes a difference? Fine. God, I’d try almost anything. But, if, as expected, you don’t see any improvement, I’d be hesitant to keep anyone on it long-term.

Now, those selling coconut oil say one needn’t worry, because coconut oil contains a saturated fat that doesn’t raise cholesterol. You hear the same thing from the beef people. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is always going on about how beef contains a saturated fat called stearic acid. Unlike those evil saturated fats, palmitic, myristic, and lauric acids, which do increase blood cholesterol levels,  stearic acid has been shown to have a neutral effect on blood cholesterol.

Now, see, that’s true, and beef does contain stearic acid. But, guess what? It has twice as much of the palmitic and myristic—which they just admitted does raise cholesterol. It’s like Coca Cola saying they know for a fact that soda doesn’t make you gain weight, because Coke contains water, and water has a neutral effect on weight gain. Yeah, but that’s not the only thing in it—and the same thing with beef, and the same thing with coconut oil.

Years ago, I profiled this study that found that cholesterol levels were significantly lower during a coconut oil diet—but only when compared to a “butter diets.” You know you’ve got a problem when the only way you can make your product look good is to compare it to diets rich in butter. Yes, it made bad cholesterol go up—but not as bad as butter. But, how much is that really saying?

Now, that was all the science we had for ten years. But, four new studies have recently come out—a population study, and three clinical studies. The population was of Filipino women, and although those that ate the most coconut oil had the worst levels of bad cholesterol, those that ate the most coconut oil were also more overweight—which alone can raise your cholesterol. When the fact that the coconut oil-eaters were eating more calories, were more overweight, when that was kind of factored out, the rise in cholesterol lost statistical significance.

To really control for factors, though, you’ve got to put it to the test. The first clinical trial involved giving people two tablespoons of coconut oil a day for three months. And, their bad cholesterol went up a bit, but not significantly. During this time, though, they were all forced to lose weight by being placed on a calorie-restricted diet. When you lose weight, your LDL should drop naturally; the fact that it didn’t on the coconut oil suggests an adverse effect.

The most encouraging study was this one, an open-label (meaning not blinded, no control group) pilot study in which two tablespoons of coconut oil a day for a month added to their regular diet did not worsen their cholesterol. Though when tested in a better designed study (you know, a randomized, crossover trial), coconut oil did significantly worsen bad cholesterol. Hence, Walt Willett’s recommendation from Harvard: if you’re going to use it, use it “sparingly.”

Now look, if you’re eating so healthy that your LDL cholesterol is under 60 or 70, then, you know, it may not be a problem. Unlike saturated animal fats, coconut oil doesn’t cause that spike in inflammation immediately after consumption of animal foods—which makes sense, because, as you’ll remember, it may be the dead bacterial endotoxins in animal products, ferried into the body by saturated fat, that are to blame.

In this study, for example, they compared the effects of chocolate cake made out of coconut oil, flax seed oil, or cod liver oil on, the effects on, inflammatory markers. Not much change in the inflammatory gene expression for the coconut or flax cakes, but cod liver oil cake may indeed be worse.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Even if the science isn’t there, why at least not try treating Alzheimer’s with coconut oil? Well, unlike other natural remedies—like the spice saffron, which was able to beat out placebo, and seemed to work as well as the leading drug, without the side effects—coconut oil is one of the rare plant sources of saturated fat (normally only found in animals), which tends to increase LDL, or bad cholesterol, the #1 risk factor for our #1 killer, heart disease. So, hey, I mean, you want to try coconut oil on someone with Alzheimer’s for a few days, to see if it makes a difference? Fine. God, I’d try almost anything. But, if, as expected, you don’t see any improvement, I’d be hesitant to keep anyone on it long-term.

Now, those selling coconut oil say one needn’t worry, because coconut oil contains a saturated fat that doesn’t raise cholesterol. You hear the same thing from the beef people. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is always going on about how beef contains a saturated fat called stearic acid. Unlike those evil saturated fats, palmitic, myristic, and lauric acids, which do increase blood cholesterol levels,  stearic acid has been shown to have a neutral effect on blood cholesterol.

Now, see, that’s true, and beef does contain stearic acid. But, guess what? It has twice as much of the palmitic and myristic—which they just admitted does raise cholesterol. It’s like Coca Cola saying they know for a fact that soda doesn’t make you gain weight, because Coke contains water, and water has a neutral effect on weight gain. Yeah, but that’s not the only thing in it—and the same thing with beef, and the same thing with coconut oil.

Years ago, I profiled this study that found that cholesterol levels were significantly lower during a coconut oil diet—but only when compared to a “butter diets.” You know you’ve got a problem when the only way you can make your product look good is to compare it to diets rich in butter. Yes, it made bad cholesterol go up—but not as bad as butter. But, how much is that really saying?

Now, that was all the science we had for ten years. But, four new studies have recently come out—a population study, and three clinical studies. The population was of Filipino women, and although those that ate the most coconut oil had the worst levels of bad cholesterol, those that ate the most coconut oil were also more overweight—which alone can raise your cholesterol. When the fact that the coconut oil-eaters were eating more calories, were more overweight, when that was kind of factored out, the rise in cholesterol lost statistical significance.

To really control for factors, though, you’ve got to put it to the test. The first clinical trial involved giving people two tablespoons of coconut oil a day for three months. And, their bad cholesterol went up a bit, but not significantly. During this time, though, they were all forced to lose weight by being placed on a calorie-restricted diet. When you lose weight, your LDL should drop naturally; the fact that it didn’t on the coconut oil suggests an adverse effect.

The most encouraging study was this one, an open-label (meaning not blinded, no control group) pilot study in which two tablespoons of coconut oil a day for a month added to their regular diet did not worsen their cholesterol. Though when tested in a better designed study (you know, a randomized, crossover trial), coconut oil did significantly worsen bad cholesterol. Hence, Walt Willett’s recommendation from Harvard: if you’re going to use it, use it “sparingly.”

Now look, if you’re eating so healthy that your LDL cholesterol is under 60 or 70, then, you know, it may not be a problem. Unlike saturated animal fats, coconut oil doesn’t cause that spike in inflammation immediately after consumption of animal foods—which makes sense, because, as you’ll remember, it may be the dead bacterial endotoxins in animal products, ferried into the body by saturated fat, that are to blame.

In this study, for example, they compared the effects of chocolate cake made out of coconut oil, flax seed oil, or cod liver oil on, the effects on, inflammatory markers. Not much change in the inflammatory gene expression for the coconut or flax cakes, but cod liver oil cake may indeed be worse.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Jon Díez Supat, thehoneybunny kristin_a (Meringue Bake Shop), & 0Four via flickr; and Kulmalukko & Kitty Mecklenburg via Wikimedia

Doctor's Note

If you missed my last video, this is a follow-up to Does Coconut Oil Cure Alzheimer’s?

Update: In 2017 and 2018, I released new coconut oil videos: Coconut Oil & the Boost in HDL “Good” CholesterolWhat About Coconuts, Coconut Milk & Coconut Oil MCTs?, and Coconut Oil & Abdominal Fat

And what about swishing it around in your mouth? See: 

Here are the two saffron videos I referenced: Saffron for the Treatment of Alzheimer’s and Saffron Versus Aricept. The spice may also help with PMS (Saffron for the Treatment of PMS) and depression (Saffron vs. Prozac).

Think my water-in-Coke joke was too over the top? When a corporate exec was asked on the stand if Coca Cola was “nutritious,” he said that it is “providing water, and I think that is part of a balanced diet.”

More on meat industry hijinks in these videos and blog posts:

The “compared to butter” bit reminds me of the “compared to pork” nuttiness: Nuts and Bolts of Cholesterol Lowering.

What was that thing I said about saturated animal fat and endotoxins? See my three-part video series:

And, be sure to check out my associated blog post for even more context: Is Coconut Oil Bad For You?

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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