Wednesday, 21 June 2017

In Defense of Coconut Oil

If you read the mainstream health news for whatever reason, by now you would have seen the USA Today article advising Americans to stop using coconut oil and replace it with omega-6 rich vegetable oils. Of course, for this article, based on an American Heart Association statement, to be true, it must be assumed that saturated fat is the enemy and inflammation isn't the key driver of health problems such as cardiovascular disease. But as this is not the 1980s anymore, we can't assume this to be true.

So many uses! Source: Crisco 1492 (CC 3.0)
High consumption of omega-6 fatty acids, and a low intake of omega-3 fats, can contribute to conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Cooking with so-called "heart healthy" vegetable oils such as canola or safflower oil raises your omega-6:3 ratio. While we need both omega-6 and -3 fatty acids, their ratio should be, according to different sources, anywhere from 5:1 to 1:1, but most of us consume far too much omega-6 and too little omega-3. These fatty acids are used to make a type of signalling molecule known as eicosanoids. Omega-6 fats are converted to pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes, which are used in immune responses, by the enzymes cyclo-oxygenase and lipo-oxygenase. These enzymes also convert omega-3 fats to anti-inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes. Why am I telling you this technical information? Many common painkillers work by suppressing cyclo-oxygenase, even though it isn't always the real enemy, too many pro-inflammatory fats often are. Research has even found that supplementation with DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, can prolong remission and reduce symptoms of some autoimmune diseases. It can also improve nerve cell communication and inhibit neuroinflammation.

However, the USA Today article ignores all of this, instead focusing on the possibility that it could raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol. But the most recent Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee removed cholesterol as a cause for concern, stating that there is "no appreciable relationship between dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol or clinical cardiovascular events in general populations”. Many studies have found that low cholesterol may in fact be associated with a higher risk of dementia, suicide, homicide, accidental death and depression!

Coconut oil is not only safe, it also could have health benefits! In a small study of 20 people with Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment, supplementation with medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which coconut oil is rich in, resulted in improved cognitive performance in some patients. Only patients who had a 4- APOE gene saw improvement in their condition. Higher levels of ketones were associated with better performance in paragraph recall with MCT use relative to placebo. Additionally, in another study, taking coconut oil helped patients to achieve reductions in weight, BMI, waist and neck circumference, and diastolic blood pressure. Coconut oil also gave them higher HDL ("good") cholesterol. All patients had coronary artery disease and high blood pressure, and most of them were "elderly" with an average age of 62. Looking at newer and more nuanced evidence, there is no reason to throw out your coconut oil! It's vegetable oils that belong in the bin.

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