Tag Archives: coconut oil

Beware Of More Misinformation From The American Heart Association On Coconut Oil and Saturated Fats

In a “presidential advisory” to the American Heart Association (AHA)  a panel of experts last week  strongly endorsed the heart healthy benefits of replacing any and all saturated fats in our diet with vegetable oils (like corn , soy, and canola oil) which contain predominantly poly  or mono unsaturated fats.

Examining the metrics of this article it appears that the vast majority of news media reporting on it have lead with a headline that reads:

  Coconut oil isn’t actually good for you, the American Heart Association says     

Given this brazen attempt by the AHA to smear coconut oil’s reputation I felt compelled to revisit my analysis of coconut oil from a year ago. I’ve included new discussion on a key paper referenced by the AHA advisory and some words of wisdom from Gary Taubes.

Coconut Oil: Poster Child for Dietary Fat Confusion

Coconut oil (CO) is a microcosm of the dietary confusion present in the U.S. On one hand a CO Google search yields a plethora of glowing testimonials to diverse benefits: Wellness Mama lists “101 Uses for Coconut Oil,” Authority Nutrition lists “10 Proven Health Benefits.”

On the other hand, the  American Heart Association (AHA) and the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines For Americans warn us to avoid consuming coconut oil  because it contains about 90% saturated fat (SFA) which is a higher percentage than butter (about 64% saturated fat), beef fat (40%), or even lard (also 40%)

In many respects, the vilification of coconut oil by federal dietary guidelines and the AHA resembles the inappropriate attack on dairy fat and is emblematic of the whole misguided war on dietary fat. In fact, the new AHA advisory  after singling out coconut oil goes on to cherry-pick the data on dairy fat and cardiovascular disease in order to  support their faulty recommendations for choosing low or nonfat dairy..

The AHAs simple message to replace all saturated fats in your diet with poly unsaturated fats (PUFAs) or monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) is flawed because:

  1. All saturated fats are not created equal :the kinds of saturated fats in coconut oil differs markedly from both dairy SFAs and beef SFAs . Some  SFAs may have beneficial effects on blood lipids, weight, and cardiovascular health.

  2. The types of nonSFAs in vegetable oils differ markedly and may have differential effects on cardiovascular health.

All Saturated Fats Are Not Created Equal!

Saturated fats are divided into various types based on the number of carbon atoms in the molecule. Depending on length, they differ markedly in their metabolism, absorption and effects on lipid profiles.

The major SFA in coconut oil, lauric acid, has a 12 carbon chain and is thus considered a medium chain fatty acid (MCFA).

The AHA advisory makes a cursory attempt to address the huge hole in their logic primarily relying on a meta-regression analysis published in 2003 by Mensink, et al., and concludes:

The Mensink meta-regression analysis determined the effects on blood lipids of replacing carbohydrates with the individual saturated fatty acids that are in common foods, including lauric, myristic, palmitic, and stearic ac- ids. Lauric, myristic, and palmitic acids all had similar effects in increasing LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol and decreasing triglycerides when replacing carbohydrates

In summary, the common individual saturated fats raise LDL cholesterol. Their replacement with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats lowers LDL cholesterol. Differences in the effects of the individual fatty acids are small and should not affect dietary recommendations to lower saturated fat intake.

But if we examine what the actual paper by Mensink et al (available in full here) we find their conclusions are the exact opposite of the AHA:

Lauric acid greatly increased total cholesterol, but much of its effect was on HDL cholesterol. Consequently, oils rich in lauric acid decreased the ratio of total to HDL cholesterol. Myristic and palmitic acids had little effect on the ratio, and stearic acid reduced the ratio slightly.

The differences in the effects of the individual fatty acids are not small they are quite significant if we look at the totality of the effects on lipids relevant to cardiovascular disease. In their discussion, Mensink, et al go on to say:

Our results emphasize the risk of relying on cholesterol alone as a marker of CAD risk. Replacement of carbohydrates with tropical oils markedly raises total cholesterol, which is unfavorable, but the picture changes if effects on HDL and apo B are taken into account.

What’s more :

The picture may change again once we know how to interpret the effects of diet on postprandial lipemia, thrombogenic factors, and other, newer markers. However, as long as information directly linking the consumption of certain fats and oils with CAD is lacking, we can never be sure what such fats and oils do to CAD risk.

This graph from Mensink, et al. shows what would happen to the total/HDL cholesterol ratio if we substituted various foods in place of 10% mixed fat. Theoretically a lower ratio is more heart healthy. Look at the drastic differences between palm oil, coconut oil and butter, all of which are condemned by the AHA

 

Misguided Dietary Fat Recommendations

The  AHA experts have doubled down on their recommendation to use cooking oils that have less saturated fat such as canola and corn oil. They advise, in general, to “choose oils with less than 4 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 12.28.40 PMCanola and corn oil, the products of extensive factory processing techniques, contain mostly mono or polyunsaturated fats which have been deemed “heart-healthy” on the flimsiest of evidence.

The most recent data we have on replacing saturated fat in the diet with polyunsaturated fat comes from the Minnesota Coronary Experiment performed from 1968 to 1973, but published in 2016 in the BMJ.

Data from this study, which substituted liquid corn oil in place of the usual hospital cooking fats, and corn oil margarine in place of butter and added corn oil to numerous food items, showed no overall benefit in reducing mortality. In fact, individuals over age 65 were more likely to die from cardiovascular disease if they got the corn oil diet.

Cherry-Picking Data

The new AHA presidential advisory doesn’t include this study or  data from the Sydney Heart Study, another study with negative results for substituting PUFAs for SFAs.

As Gary Taubes pointed out in a post for Larry Husten’s cardiobrief.org blog, the AHA experts cherry-picked four “core trials” that  agreed with their hypothesis and excluded the ones that don’t agree:

They do this for every trial but the four, including among the rejections the largest trials ever done: the Minnesota Coronary Survey, the Sydney Heart Study, and, most notably, the Women’s Health Initiative, which was the single largest and most expensive clinical trial ever done. All of these resulted in evidence that refuted the hypothesis. All are rejected from the analysis. And the AHA experts have good reasons for all of these decisions, but when other organizations – most notably the Cochrane Collaboration – did this exercise correctly, deciding on a strict methodology in advance that would determine which studies to use and which not, without knowing the results, these trials were typically included.

Coconut Oil: The Bottom Line

After all is said and done, it would appear that coconut oil, despite coming from a vegetable, resembles dairy fat in many ways.

It is more likely than not that coconut oil, like dairy fat, reduces your chances of obesity and heart disease, especially when compared to the typical American diet of highly processed and high carbohydrate foods.

Although containing lots of saturated fat, the SFAs in coconut oil are drastically different from other dietary sources of SFA.  The medium chain fatty acids like lauric acid which make up the coconut are absorbed and metabolized differently from long chain fatty acids found in animal fat.

The only explanation for dietary guidelines advising against coconut oil and dairy fat is the need to stay “on message” and simplify food choices for consumers, thus continuing the vilification of all saturated fats.

Substituting corn oil (or other vegetable oils with lots of linoleic acid) for foods containing saturated fats does not lower risk of heart disease and may promote atherosclerotic outcomes like heart attack and stroke.

Finally, I agree with Taubes that we deserve good scientific studies proving without a doubt that these drastic changes in diet are truly helping:

“telling people to eat something new to the environment — an unnatural factor, à la virtually any vegetable oil (other than olive oil if your ancestor happen to come from the Mediterranean or mid-East), …..is an entirely different proposition. Now you’re assuming that this unnatural factor is protective, just like we assume a drug can be protective say by lowering our blood pressure or cholesterol. And so the situation is little different than it would be if these AHA authorities were concluding that we should all take statins prophylactically or beta blockers. The point is that no one would ever accept such a proposal for a drug without large-scale clinical trials demonstrating that the benefits far outweigh the risks. So even if the AHA hypothesis is as reasonable and compelling as the AHA authors clearly believe it is, it has to be tested. They are literally saying (not figuratively, literally) that vegetable oils — soy, canola, etc — are as beneficial as statins and so we should all consume them. Maybe so, but before we do (or at least before I do), they have a moral and ethical obligation to rigorously test that hypothesis, just as they would if they were advising us all to take a drug.”

Cocovorically Yours,

-ACP

For those seeking more information.

This graph is from the BMJ paper which also included a meta-analysis of all randomized studies substituting linoleic acid for saturated fat.  The data do not favor substituting corn oil for saturated fat

F7.large

 

 

 

Coconut Oil: Greasing the Skids to Wellville or Clogging the Arteries To the Heart

While the skeptical cardiologist was wandering around in ketoland, he acquired a large jar of extra virgin coconut oil for the purpose of boosting his fat consumption. He stirred spoonfuls of the solid waxy substance into his coffee and applied it to various and sundry skin rashes.

Coconut oil (CO) is a microcosm of the dietary confusion present in the U.S. On one hand a CO Google search yields a plethora of glowing testimonials to diverse benefits: Wellness Mama lists “101 Uses for Coconut Oil,” Authority Nutrition lists “10 Proven Health Benefits.”

On the other hand, the  American Heart Association (AHA) and the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines For Americans warn us to avoid consuming coconut oil  because it contains about 90% saturated fat (SFA) which is a higher percentage than butter (about 64% saturated fat), beef fat (40%), or even lard (also 40%) and thus contributes to heart disease.

In many respects, the vilification of coconut oil by federal dietary guidelines and the AHA resembles the inappropriate attack on dairy fat and is emblematic of the whole misguided war on dietary fat.

The problem with this simplistic message is that the kind of saturated fat in CO differs markedly from both dairy SFAs and beef SFAs and, like dairy fat, appears to have a beneficial effect on blood lipids, weight, and cardiovascular health.

Misguided Dietary Fat Recommendations

The AHA guidelines, for example, recommend cooking oils that have less saturated fat such as canola and corn oil. They advise, in general, to “choose oils with less than 4 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 12.28.40 PMCanola and corn oil, the products of extensive factory processing techniques, contain mostly mono or polyunsaturated fats which have been deemed “heart-healthy” on the flimsiest of evidence.

The most recent data we have on replacing saturated fat in the diet with polyunsaturated fat comes from the Minnesota Coronary Experiment performed from 1968 to 1973, but published last month in the BMJ, (don’t get me started on why these data were “buried” for decades).

Data from this study, which substituted liquid corn in place of the usual hospital cooking fats, and corn oil margarine in place of butter and added corn oil to numerous food items, showed no overall benefit in reducing mortality. In fact, individuals over age 65 were more likely to die from cardiovascular disease if they got the corn oil diet.

Very Brief (But Seemingly Unavoidable) Digression Into Organic Chemistry Featuring Obscure But Intriguing Chemical Names and Numbers to 5.0 Significant Digits

Saturated fats are divided into various types based on the number of carbon atoms in the molecule. Depending on length, they differ markedly in their metabolism, absorption and effects on lipid profiles.

The major SFA in coconut oil, lauric acid, has a 12 carbon chain and is thus considered a medium chain fatty acid (MCFA). Take a look at the complex mixture of saturated fatty acids present in virgin coconut oil and note lauric acid (green) and palmitic acid (red):

Fatty acid profile Concentration (%)
C6 Caproic 2.215
C8 Caprylic 12.984
C10 Capric 6.806
C11 Undecanoic 0.028
C12 Lauric 47.280
C13 Tridecanoic 0.030
C14 Myristic 15.803
C15 Pentadecanoic 0.006
C16 Palmitic 6.688
C16 : 1 Heptadecanoic 0.011
C17 Stearic 0.011
C18 Oleic 1.481
C18 : 1n9c Elaidic 5.073
C18 : 1n9t Linoleic 0.231
C18 :  2n6c Linolelaidic 1.168
C18 : 2n6t γ-Linolenic 0.045
C18 : 3n6g α-Linolenic 0.007
C18 : 3n3a Arachidic 0.013
C20 Cis-11-Eicosenoic 0.039
C20 : 1n9 Behenic 0.039
C22 Cis-13,16-Docisadienoic 0.006
C24 Lignoceric 0.020

Palmitic acid, a long chain FA with 16 carbon atoms, makes  up only  7% of coconut oil, but is the major SFA in dairy and beef fat. When consumed in isolation, it raises the LDL or bad cholesterol and the ration of LDL to HDL, and thus has been labeled as unhealthy. Of course, as pointed out here we don’t consume either palmitic acid or lauric acid in isolation; we consume them in the complex milieu of other fats, antioxidants, proteins and carbohydrates that we call food.

Medium chain fatty acids, and especially lauric acid, do a really good job of raising the good HDL cholesterol and lowering the ratio of LDL to HDL, changes which should boost heart health.

Detailed Explanation of Differential Long and Medium Chain Fatty Acid Absorption and Metabolism (Feel Free to Skip)

Looking closely at the metabolism of MCSFAs we find:

” MCFAs are rapidly absorbed in the intestines even without catalyzation by the pancreatic lipase enzyme. LCFAs, on the other hand, required pancreatic lipase for absorption. They are carried by the lymph to the systemic circulation in chylomicrons and eventually reach the liver where they either undergo beta oxidation, biosynthesis to cholesterol, or are repackaged as triglycerides. MCFAs are carried by the portal vein to the liver where they are rapidly oxidized to energy. Unlike LCFAs, MCFAs do not enter the cholesterol cycle and they are not deposited in fat depots.”

Benefits of Coconut Oil, Cardiovascular and Otherwise

If you’d like to read a lot of hype and mumbo-jumbo about the benefits of coconut oil, I suggest you start at coconutoil.com and take a look at this graphic:Coconut-Oil-Health-Benefits

 

After a little reading, you will be ready to smear coconut oil all over your body and consume heaping spoonfuls thrice daily.

pastedgraphic-3_custom-0c04b15858d6b64ecbb597e1a17940ae72e34449-s400-c85
August Engelhardt stands underneath a palm tree with Berlin concert pianist Max Lützow at his feet. Lützow went to Kabakon to join Engelhardt’s sun-worshipping cocovore cult, The Order of the Sun. He died there, as did several other followers.

Be careful, though, you may end up like German nudist August Englehard who believed “that since the coconut grew high up in the tree, closest to God and closest to the sun, it was godlike, And since it had hair and looked like a human head, he thought it came closest to being a man. According to his rather crackpot theory, to be a cocovore was to be a theophage — or eater of God.”

My favorite article on the potentially atherogenic effects of coconut oil is entitled “Atherogenic of Not? (What therefore causes atherosclerosis?)  published in the Philippine Journal of Cardiology in 2003:
Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 12.07.41 PM
The author, a prominent Phillipino cardiologist inserted the Phillipines (note my big red arrow) data into the famous Ancel Keys graph which plots heart disease mortality rate versus percent calories from fat.

The data point of the Phillipines, where coconut oil is the predominant cooking oil, totally disrupts the relationship between dietary fat and heart disease.

Of course, scientists now know that these kinds of correlations prove nothing, but they were the basis for guiding Americans to low fat, high carbohydrate manufactured monstrosities.

Coconut Oil: The Bottom Line

After all is said and done, it would appear that coconut oil, despite coming from a vegetable, resembles dairy fat in many ways.

It is more likely than not that coconut oil, like dairy fat, reduces your chances of obesity and heart disease, especially when compared to the typical American diet of highly processed and high carbohydrate foods.

Although containing lots of saturated fat, the SFAs in coconut oil are drastically different from other dietary sources of SFA.  The medium chain fatty acids like lauric acid which make up the coconut are absorbed and metabolized differently from long chain fatty acids found in animal fat.

The only explanation for dietary guidelines advising against coconut oil and dairy fat is the need to stay “on message” and simplify food choices for consumers, thus continuing the vilification of all saturated fats.

Substituting corn oil (or other vegetable oils with lots of linoleic acid) for foods containing saturated fats does not lower risk of heart disease and may promote atherosclerotic outcomes like heart attack and stroke.

I doubt that few if any of the miraculous  CO benefits hyped at coconutoil.com and elsewhere are real but if it helps your skin or your scalp, your digestion or your taste buds, feel free to consume ad lib and don’t worry about any adverse effects on your coronary arteries or your heart.

Cocovorically Yours,

-ACP

For those seeking more information.

This graph is from the BMJ paper which also included a meta-analysis of all randomized studies substituting linoleic acid for saturated fat.  The data do not favor substituting corn oil for saturated fat

F7.large

 

 

 

Here is a primer on SFA sources and effects on cholesterol from a recent review on dairy fat and cardiovascular disease.

/After absorption, the predominant dairy SFA palmitic acid (C16:0), but also myristic acid (C14:0) and lauric acid (C12:0) are preferentially directed to TG formation rather than to phospholipid acylation. These three long-chain fatty acids raise total cholesterol, but their effects on LDL:HDL ratios are different. Palmitic acid is the major SFA in the diet and also in milk fat with a content of about 30%. Palmitic acid raises the LDL cholesterol more than it raises HDL cholesterol (27). Myristic acid represents 11% of the dairy fatty acids and increase total cholesterol as much as palmitic acid, but does not affect total cholesterol:HDL ratio (128). Lauric acid is the most potent fatty acid in raising plasma total cholesterol, but dairy content is only 3.3%. The increase in HDL cholesterol induced by lauric acid is higher than the increase in LDL and thus the total cholesterol:HDL ratio was decreased when lauric acid was used to replace carbohydrates (1). Stearic acid represents 12% of the dairy fatty acids and improves the plasma cholesterol profile by decreasing total/HDL cholesterol ratio compared to other SFAs. But compared to polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), stearic acid increases LDL and decreases HDL and increase total/ HDL ratio. (29). Other SFAs are short- and medium-chain length and are mainly considered to be cholesterol neutral. At a certain amount of SFA intake, an increase in both LDL and HDL cholesterol can be seen, especially if the intake of unsaturated fatty acids is low (3031). In a recent meta-analysis of prospective epidemiological studies, intake of SFA and risk of CVD was studied (32). Six studies found a significant positive association between SFA intake and CVD, and 10 studies found no significant association.