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Is Coconut Oil Good 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 the video above. 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 #1 killer 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, and the medical establishment has shown a disturbing inertia even when presented with convincing evidence. 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 animals, 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.

Now those selling coconut oil say one needn’t worry because coconut oil contains a 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 this 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:

In health,
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 year-in-review presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death.

Image credit: Chiot’s Run and kattebelletje / Flickr

Related:
The True Shelf Life of Cooking Oils
Saffron vs. Prozac for Depression
How to Gain Weight on Diet Soda

Read more: Health, Alzheimer's, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, General Health, Videos, , ,

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at NutritionFacts.org.

85 comments

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7:17PM PST on Jan 24, 2014

I use it on my hair and skin, still haven´t tried it in the kitchen

8:45AM PST on Dec 23, 2013

I eat about 1/2 teaspoon per day, in my hot tea. I use it to help keep my skin and hair from being dry in the winter. Plus I love the fragrance and warmth of how it feels. Smells like I've been playing at the beach!

12:05PM PST on Dec 22, 2013

For any study to be of any value,it must use a large sample of people,adult and children,with similar health and life styles, take place over along enough period of time to see if there are any changes, and preferably a double blind test,so any pros or cons are due to the tested item and NOT due to the bias of the tester or the test subject.

I use olive oil for high temperature cooking such as searing meats,and virgin organic coconut oil for lower temperature cooking. It's great to mosturize the skin also. I also use organic unsalted butter to cook some items or to bake.

My mom was German and a trained Chef. She used butter,cream and sour cream all the time when she cooked. We never ate processed food,soda or deep fried foods. WE never had weight issues or cholesterol issues. When my parents divorced my fathers cholesterol levels became high.as he ate out and ate processed foods.

So a healthy diet can include dairy,including butter and cream, so long as whole grains and vegetables are a large part of the diet also, and there is portion control.
Europeans are in general healthier then AMericans as they walk more,eat smaller portions and eat a healthier more balanced and less processed diet.

2:34AM PST on Nov 22, 2013

Thanks

4:02PM PDT on May 24, 2013

prayer still works

3:42PM PDT on May 23, 2013

I have been LOVING coconut oil as a substitute for butter and other oils for a few years now. Love the taste and it has so many benefits. Recently, I starting having a weird breakout on my chest. Looks like acne, but is definitely not acne. I tried everything to get rid of it. Finally, I smeared coconut oil all over it, as it's supposed to be antibacterial and antifungal. Guess what happened? My chest cleared up in 2 days. I continued using it every night, breakouts never came back. I ran out last week, and within 3 days, my chest was a mess. I ran right out to get more coconut oil, a few days later, chest is clear. I don't care what anyone says, this stuff is amazing.

6:19PM PDT on May 16, 2013

Won't change how I feel about coconut oil....my favorite treat is a piece of dark chocolate dipped in coconut oil.....yum.....

11:23AM PDT on Apr 10, 2013

People love their coconut oil! Thanks, as always, Dr Greger.

5:12PM PDT on Mar 25, 2013

Dr. Greger showed his narrow focus in his article on breast cancer, citing only studies on the dietary benefits of mushrooms and green tea.
He (conveniently? - due to the huge dairy industry lobby?), left out all the facts on cancers cured when dairy was removed from the diet. British scientist, Prof Jane Plant's book "Your Life in Your Hands", is an inspiring read which gets to the depths of these facts not only related to her own cure when her cancer kept recurring after her normal treatment and normal excellent diet but also shows what happens when Asians change to a Western diet. she also shows a link to prostate cancer.

12:24AM PDT on Mar 23, 2013

I think the arguments here are more interesting than the article!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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