|In the Land of Oz: The Latest Attack on Coconut Oil|
|Written by Mary Enig, PhD|
|Thursday, 16 April 2009 14:50|
Read this article in : Dutch
As health-seekers in the know are increasingly consuming butter, lard, tallow and coconut oil, they should expect to see attacks on traditional fats in the media and in the scientific journalsâ€”both of which receive substantial financial support from the vegetable oil and fast food industries.
The most recent attack comes from Dr. Mehmet Oz and his co-author Dr. Mike Roizen in a blistering article entitled â€śDonâ€™t Monkey with Coconut Oil,â€ť widely published in the newspapers in mid November. Dr. Oz is an American cardiothoracic surgeon and prolific author of popular books on diet and health. He became famous for his frequent appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show and will be launching a daily talk show called Dr. Oz in the fall of 2009. While his views have been described as â€śalternativeâ€ť or â€śholistic,â€ť his recent article on coconut oil places him squarely in the camp of the diet dictocrats.
Roizen, his co-author, seems to have made a career out of attacking saturated fats. In a recent interview, for example, he blames foods full of saturated fats, â€ślike croutons,â€ť for everything from obesity to aging.1 The only problem is that commerical croutons are made with vegetable shortenings, full of trans fats, not saturated fats. While the writings of Roizen and Oz mention trans fats in passing, their gunsights are focused on the innocent bystander, saturated fats.
Demonizing Saturated Fats
Coconut oil, says Dr. Oz, â€śis loaded with artery- clogging saturated fat and oozing with calories . . . But the buzz on the street is that itâ€™s a natural miracle food that can melt off unwanted weight, lower your blood pressure, boost your immune system, fight heart disease and fend off cancerâ€”without the artery-clogging effects of other high-sat-fat foods such as beef, cream and cheese.â€ť
WAPF members know that saturated fats do not clog arteries, whether they are the short- and medium-chain type in coconut oil or the longer chain fatty acids in beef, cream and cheese. In these pages we have supplied numerous references to support this statement. One in particular is the 1968 International Atherosclerosis Project, in which over 22,000 corpses in fourteen nations were cut open and examined for plaques in the arteries. Investigators found the same degree of atheroma (artery clogs) in all parts of the worldâ€”in populations that consumed large amounts of animal products rich in saturated fats and in those that were largely vegetarian.2
The â€śbuzz on the streetâ€ť about coconut oilâ€™s benefits is firmly grounded in science. Saturated fats in general enhance the immune system,3 and coconut oil in particular increases body temperature and is preferentially used by the body for energy rather than storage.4 The claim about benefits to blood pressure is not one that I have ever made, and as far as I know, there are no human studies that have looked at the effect of coconut oil on blood pressure.
Coconut Oil and Aging
Dr. Oz also claims that all saturated fats cause aging â€śby turning on a potentially harmful family of genes that we docs call RAS genes. They tell your body to churn out inflammatory proteins that cause heart disease, stroke, wrinkles, impotence and immune system slip-ups.â€ť Actually, what these studies really showed was that fish oil and corn oil activated RAS genes to their carcinogenic form, not saturated fat. (See sidebar, page 51.) In fact, these studies confirm earlier research showing that what causes aging are toxic, rancid modern vegetable oils, full of free radicals, which are known to contribute to heart disease and cancer.5 A study by a plastic surgeon found that women who consumed mostly vegetable oils had far more wrinkles than those who used traditional animal fats.6
Coconut Oil for the Brain
Oz then mentions a study carried out at Medical University of South Carolina which compared rats fed diets of coconut oil and soybean oil. â€ś[T]he rats who scarfed down the chow laced with coconut oil not only developed more inflammation in their gray matter, but they also made more mistakes in memory tests.â€ť This study was published in the Journal of Alzheimerâ€™s Disease, June 14, 2008.7 In the study, rats were fed a diet of 10 percent fully hydrogenated coconut oil and 2 percent purified cholesterol were compared to a control group fed 12 percent soybean oil. Those on the saturated fat diet commited more memory errors and showed signs of inflammation in certain areas of the brain.
It is important to explain why so many animal studies get negative results for coconut oil. The coconut oil used in laboratory studies is usually fully hydrogenated coconut oil. The process of full hydrogenation gets rid of all the unsaturated fatty acids in coconut oil. Researchers began using fully hydrogenated coconut oil to study the effects of essential fatty acid deficiencyâ€” they used coconut oil because it is the only fat that can be fully hydrogenated and still be soft enough for rats to eat. The poor results obtained in these studiesâ€”such as the mental impairment cited by Ozâ€”are due to essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiency and not the fault of the saturated fats in coconut oil. It is extremely deceitful for commentators to blame coconut oil in studies such as theseâ€”as they often do.
In the study quoted by Oz, the rats were also fed 2 percent purified cholesterol. This will speed up the onset of EFA deficiency if the diet is devoid of EFA. (See sidebar, page 51.)
According to Oz, â€śSat fat doesnâ€™t do pretty things for your memory, either. It decreases a chemical known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor [BDNF], which is responsible for recall and learning.â€ť
BDNF is a growth stimulus for neurons and some studies indicate that lowered BDNF is associated with depression. However, lowering of BDNF does not always lead to depressive effects. It would appear that BDNF has depressive effects in some parts of the brain and anti-depressive effects in others.8
It would indeed be strange if saturated fats depressed brain function since the brain contains more saturated fat than almost any other organ in the body.
The Amazing Story of Mr. Newport
What is not strange is the fact that Dr. Ozâ€™s attack, with its specific emphasis on brain function, follows the amazing story of a case involving coconut oil and recovery from Alzheimerâ€™s disease, widely reported in newspapers and on the Internet.9
The story is a report by Dr. Mary Newport, a neonatologist and medical director of the newborn intensive care unit at Spring Hill Regional Hospital in Florida. About six years ago, her husband, an accountant who worked at home, began struggling with daily tasks. His deterioration progressed and he was eventually diagnosed with early onset Alzheimerâ€™s. Dr. Newport searched the Internet for clinical drug trials that would accept her husband and discovered that a drug containing medium-chain triglycerides, the kind of fat in coconut oil, had achieved remarkable resultsâ€”not just slowing the progression of the disease but providing real improvement.
She decided to give her husband coconut oil, two tablespoons per day, and her husband immediately improved, scoring 18 on a cognitive assessment, four points higher than he had scored the previous day. Within a week he showed tremendous improvement and five months later her husband was leading a relatively normal life, although still unable to resume his work as an accountant, apparently due to permanent brain damage.
One important test for Alzheimerâ€™s progression is to draw the face of a clock from memory. The illustration above shows Mr. Newportâ€™s improvement as he took coconut oil.
Why does coconut oil work so well? Several researchers have been looking into the therapeutic use of high-fat ketonic diets in the treatment of disease. In 2001, Dr. Richard L. Veech of the (National Institutes of Health) NIH, and others, published an article entitled, â€śKetone bodies, potential therapeutic uses.â€ť10 In 2003, George F. Cahill, Jr. and Richard Veech authored, â€śKetoacids? Good Medicine?â€ť11 and in 2004, Richard Veech also published a review of the therapeutic implications of ketone bodies.12 The body produces ketone bodies from coconut oil and these can serve as food for the brain and nervous system when our cells develop insulin resistance, which happens in everyone to a greater or lesser extent as we age. With insulin resistance, ketone bodies derived from coconut oil appear to protect neurons when glucose is not available.13
Researchers are now looking into the exciting possibility of using coconut oil as a treatment not only for Alzheimerâ€™s disease but also for Parkinsonâ€™s disease, Huntingtonâ€™s disease, multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrigâ€™s disease), drug resistant epilepsy, brittle type I diabetes, and diabetes type II, where there is insulin resistance. Ketone bodies may help the brain recover after a loss of oxygen in newborns through adults. Children with drug resistant epilepsy sometimes respond to an extremely low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet.14
Industry Damage Control
The attack by Dr. Oz and Mr. Roizen amounts to clever industry damage control. Imagine the loss of income to the pharmaceutical and food industries should the American public learn about the amazing benefits of coconut oil for the brain. Coconut oil holds potential in the treatment of cancer as well, as several studies have indicated coconut oilâ€™s anticarcinogenic effects.15
Any time an attack like this appears in the media, it is good to remember that coconut and coconut oil are natural foods used by healthy peoples for thousands of years. The attack on coconut oil is not grounded in good science but in the agenda of the food industry.
How did coconut oil suddenly get so popular?
According to Dr. Oz, â€śOnce trans fats were exposed as the nutritional bad boys they are, food manufacturers started turning to tropical oils like coconut and palm oil to take their place. These plant oils have many of the same qualities that made trans fats so good at preserving the shelf life and flavor of processed foods. So naturally, the food industry (not to mention the diet book industry) would like us to think theyâ€™re healthy.â€ť
Oz has it wrong once again. Food manufacturers used tropical oils like coconut oil before the trans fats came on the scene. The vegetable oil industry then embarked on a long campaign of demonizing their competition, namely natural saturated fats like butter, tallow and coconut oil.10 With the recent revelations about the dangers of trans fats, food manufacturers are simply returning to the fats they used to use.
|Last Updated on Friday, 13 May 2011 19:30|