Coconut Oil: The Healthiest Oil on Earth
By Brian Shilhavy
“Coconut oil is the healthiest oil on earth,” says Dr. Bruce Fife, a naturopathic doctor and the author of the book The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil. Modern research seems to back up this bold statement. Once wrongly accused of increasing cholesterol levels, coconut oil is now actually being used by doctors in the treatment of a variety of disorders. Clinical studies have shown that coconut oil has anti-microbial and anti-viral properties, and is now even being used in treating AIDS patients. Studies conducted in the Philippines last year showed that coconut oil does indeed reduce the viral load in AIDS patients.
Lauric Acid: A Key Component to Health
Lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid which is abundant in coconut oil and is considered responsible for many of its health benefits. Coconut oil is about 50 percent lauric acid. The only other abundant source found in nature is in human breast milk.
Dr. Jon J. Kabara, PhD. and Professor Emeritus of Michigan State University, says, “Never before in the history of man is it so important to emphasize the value of lauric oils. The medium-chain fats in coconut oil are similar to fats in mother’s milk and have similar nutriceutical effects.”
Dr. Mary Enig, a nutritionist/biochemist and one of the world’s leading authorities on fats and oils, goes on to say, “Approximately 50 percent of the fatty acids in coconut fat are lauric acid. Lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid, which has the additional beneficial function of being formed into monolaurin in the human or animal body. Monolaurin is the antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal monoglyceride used by the human or animal to destroy lipid coated viruses such as HIV, herpes, cytomegalovirus, influenza, various pathogenic bacteria including listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and protozoa such as giardia lamblia. Some studies have also shown some antimicrobial effects of the free lauric acid.”
The Politics of Tropical Oils
So why has coconut oil gotten such a bad rap in the recent past? After all, much of the research supporting coconut oil as a healthy fat has been around for some time. The answer is politics and economics. Coconut oil was heavily used in the U.S. at one time, being used for baking, pastries, frying, and theater popcorn. But starting in the 1980s, some very powerful groups in the U.S. including the American Soybean Association (ASA), the Corn Products Company (CPC International), and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) began to categorically condemn all saturated oils. Faulty science was used to convince the public that ALL saturated fats were unhealthy, when in fact saturated fats rich in the medium-chain fatty acids like lauric acid are very healthy.
These organizations were are aided by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), many of whose key personnel are recruited from and return to the vegetable oil industry. The result was that most people switched to vegetable oils, and the main source of lauric acid from tropical oils in the American diet was lost. The countries that these tropical oils came from, mainly the Philippines and Malaysia, were too poor to counter these untrue claims with advertising investments for the truth. It is only recently that the health benefits of these tropical oils are starting to become rediscovered.
While some clinical studies have been conducted recently, such as the study on AIDS patients in the Philippines (1999 – 2000), much of the studies have been done on tropical populations where coconut products are a main part of the diet. One such study was done in the South Pacific islands of Pukapuka and Tokelau near New Zealand. The studies were started in the 1960s before either island was exposed to Western refined food. These populations ate only natural foods, and coconut foods were the most prevalent, being consumed at each meal in one form or another. While most people in western countries get 30-40 percent of their calories from fats, the people in these islands averaged between 50 and 60 percent of their calories from fat, most of that being saturated fat from coconuts.
So what kind of health did these studies find among the populations in these two islands? Bruce Fife reports in his book: “The overall health of both groups was extremely good compared to Western standards. There were no signs of kidney disease or hypothyroidism that might influence fat levels. There was no hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol). All inhabitants were lean and healthy despite a very high saturated-fat diet. In fact, the populations as a whole had ideal weight-to-height ratios as compared to the Body Mass Index figures used by nutritionists. Digestive problems are rare. Constipation is uncommon. They average two or more bowel movements a day. Atherosclerosis, heart disease, colitis, colon cancer, haemorrhoids ulcers, diverticulosis, and appendicitis are conditions with which they are generally unfamiliar.”
A fat that causes weight loss?
Another incredible fact about coconut oil is that even though it is a fat, it actually promotes weight loss! The reason is again because of the healthy medium-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids do not circulate in the bloodstream like other fats, but are sent directly to the liver where they are immediately converted into energy, just like carbohydrates. So the body uses the fat in coconut oil to produce energy, rather than be stored as body fat. Medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil also speed up the body’s metabolism burning more calories and promoting weight loss. The weight loss effects of coconut oil have clearly been demonstrated by many researchers. (A list of references can be found in Bruce Fife’s book The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil.)
So how much coconut oil should one consume? A good therapeutic dosage is 3 to 4 tablespoons a day. This provides enough lauric acid to build the immune system. Also, look for unrefined coconut oil. Stay away from all hydrogenated oils, whether it is coconut oil or vegetable oils. Hydrogenated oils are oils with trans-fatty acids, which have been altered from their original chemical composition and have been shown to raise serum cholesterol levels that can lead to heart disease.
Also look for unrefined coconut oils like Virgin Coconut Oil. Most commercial coconut oils are RBD (refined, bleached, and deodorized). While these RBD oils do maintain the beneficial chemical structures of the medium chain fatty acids, they also contain chemicals used in processing.
Brian Shilhavy is a Certified Nutritional Counselor (CNC).