Is coconut oil damaging my health?

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Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Is coconut oil damaging my health? You may feel more confused than ever on the subject thanks to a presidential advisory issued by the American Heart Association (AHA) stating that saturated fats, including coconut oil should be limited as it raises cholesterol levels and can contribute to your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

The AHA also suggests polyunsaturated fats, such as vegetable oils, soybean, canola, safflower and corn oils as a healthier alternative.

This advice is nothing new as the AHA has been recommending a diet low in saturated fats since 1961. They were also advocates for the food pyramid, low fat diets, low calorie diets, low cholesterol diets, low sodium diets, margarine, polyunsaturated fats and they previously received backlash for putting the AHA stamp of approval on breakfast cereals that were labeled as ‘fat free’ but were loaded with sugar.

So lets take a look at the main points that I feel are important to consider:

1/ Who is the AHA?
2/ The diet-heart hypothesis
3/ Testing risk factors for cardiovascular disease
4/ The theory that saturated fats raise cholesterol and this is a primary risk for cardiovascular disease
5/ The recommendation of polyunsaturated fats as a healthy alternative
6/ Is coconut oil good or bad?

1/ Who is the AHA?

The American Heart Association (AHA) is a non-profit organization in the United States that offers advice and cardiac care suggestions to reduce disability and deaths caused by cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Although it is a voluntary health agency, it is also funded by private contributions from Industry leaders.

The American Heart Association “Industry Nutrition Advisory Panel (INAP)’ members include representatives from the US Canola association, splenda sugar association, national dairy council and United Soybean board.

2/ The diet-heart hypothesis

The main argument against coconut oil has its roots in the Diet-Heart hypothesis that was made popular by a researcher called Ancel Keys back in 1951. The theory was that saturated fats raised LDL Cholesterol and total cholesterol and this increased the risk of heart disease.

Data no longer supports this old, outdated and over simplified hypothesis and review of the original studies highlighted questions about the credibility of the study. It is further suggested that Ancel keys possibly manipulated the results by choosing only 7 of the 22 countries studied to validate and demonstrate an initial relationship between saturated fats and cardiovascular disease.

3/ Testing risk factors for cardiovascular disease

Fortunately, we now have better testing methods and more accurate ways to assess the risks for cardiovascular disease.

An integrative doctor would assess a whole range of risk factors, including; insulin resistance, high blood pressure, inflammation, smoking, elevated stress levels, obesity, high visceral fat, sedentary lifestyles, poor dietary choices, toxicity levels, genetics and family history of heart disease.

There are also much better, possibly life saving screening tests such as VAP testing that look much deeper than a standard lipid panel. A popular screening test is the Genova Comprehensive Cardiovascular profile test adds more detailed lipid fractions, such as; LDL particle density, HDL2, HDL3, LDL (measured), IDL, Lp (a), VLDL2, VLDL3 and cholesterol ratios.

4/ The theory that saturated fats raise cholesterol and this is a primary risk for cardiovascular disease

Measuring total cholesterol and LDL-C is no longer considered the best indicator of heart disease. Cholesterol is not considered the enemy that it once was; in fact, we need cholesterol and saturated fats for the brain, hormones and health of every single cell membrane. What’s more interesting is according to Will Castillo M.D. (Former director of Framingham Heart study), people with cholesterol lower than 200 suffer nearly 40% of all heart attacks.

The AHA report still focuses predominantly on total cholesterol and LDL Cholesterol (LDL-C), which presents serious limitations. The number of LDL particles (LDL-P), high triglycerides, and cholesterol/HDL ratio is thought to be a much stronger predictor of cardiovascular disease than LDL-C and total cholesterol.

Advocates for Coconut oil claim it can raise cholesterol but in a positive way, it improves the quality, size, and type of cholesterol, in fact, it raises the HDL, protective cholesterol more than any other saturated fat. There are integrative doctors that also support the claim that it can reduce the amount of small LDL particles and lower the very important total cholesterol to HDL ratio, which again is a far better predictor of heart disease than LDL.

5/ The recommendation of polyunsaturated fats as a healthy alternative

The most surprising part of the AHA recommendations is that their experts suggest replacing saturated fats with Polyunsaturated or PUFA’s that are very high in omega 6, such as Soy, Corn, Safflower, Canola and other vegetable oils. These are cheap, highly processed, refined, heat processed, hexane treated, inflammatory oils that go rancid and oxidize easily. Most of these genetically modified crops are also known to contain high levels of Glyphosate (herbicide ingredient found in roundup).

6/ Is coconut oil good or bad? My opinion…

I’ve been promoting the benefits of cold pressed organic coconut oil for years, and we include it in all of the cleansing programs offered at Amity Wellness.

By no means do I consider myself an expert but I have fully immersed myself ‘passionately’ and some would say ‘obsessively’ in functional health for the past 20 years, in which time, nutritional recommendations have changed rapidly.

At one point, egg yolks, red meats and all fats were condemned as harmful but now recommendations have acceptance of yolks, grass fed organic meats and an increase of Omega 3 fats. It is crucial to keep up with the evolution of science and information but unfortunately I feel that the AHA is still promoting 40 years old nutritional science and some very outdated information.

The diet-heart hypothesis gave birth to nutritional guidelines that promoted a low fat, higher carbohydrate craze that lasted for decades and although the mortality rate has decreased due to early detection and better health care, heart disease still remains the number one killer of the western world.

The outcome of this diet on the western populations health should be taken into consideration as a long-term study. It’s also worth noting that studies of 20th-century hunter–gatherers diets found them to be largely free of cardiovascular disease symptoms. This is despite consuming a diet that is 28 to 58 percent fat by energy, with as much as half of this coming from saturated fats.

The shift in awareness and the popularity of alternative low sugar, low carbohydrate, high fat diets such as the ketogenic diet will no doubt change the nutrition paradigm and provide the research results and statistics needed to validate whether or not a diet high in saturated fats influences heart disease. I am excited to see these results and hope the AHA won’t wait 20 years to review them.

Coconut oil has been consumed by populations in the South Pacific for thousands of years without ill effect and it has so many health benefits.

I feel the focus needs to move away from cholesterol and towards inflammation, away from coconut oil and towards the dangers of sugar. I think the focus of coconut oil needs to be on the many benefits such as its high Lauric acid that is great for the immune system (breast milk also contains lauric acid and is 25% saturated fats) and high Medium chain Triglycerides (MCT) content that is known to have a positive effect on metabolism. Coconut oil also contains anti-fungal, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

While we do need some Omega 6, most diets are very high in omega 6 and very low in omega 3, I definitely promote coconut oil over cheap, highly processed vegetables oils that are high in omega 6 and contain no nutritional value.

Its also important to mention the idea that elevated LDL Cholesterol causes heart disease is the core foundation of the pharmaceutical industries recommendation for billion dollar statin medications that lower cholesterol.

There is no one food that is good for everyone, some people might have food intolerances, medical conditions, digestive issues or genetics that make them more sensitive to saturated fats or coconut oil. We also have to observe the whole diet and not just one component, as coconut oil is not going to improve a persons health if they are also consuming high sugar, high starch and high omega 6 oils on a daily basis.

I believe firmly in the roots and integrity of functional medicine as it focuses on discovering the underlying cause of disease rather than providing relief care to medicate the symptoms. Pioneers in functional medicine, such as Dr Chris Kresser and Dr Mark Hymann have questioned the research of the diet-heart hypothesis and have also promoted the benefits of coconut oil for years.

“There have been at least 17 systematic reviews and meta-analyses conducted in recent years that have not found a clear link between saturated fat consumption and heart disease” – Chris Kresser M.S.

“First, there is not a single study showing that coconut oil causes heart disease. Not one. Second, the whole case against coconut oil is founded on a hypothesis that has been proven wrong. It’s the diet-heart hypothesis. Saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol causes heart disease. Anything that raises LDL cholesterol is bad. Only problem is that the data does not support this hypothesis”. – Mark Hyman M.D.

To conclude I believe Coconut oil is very healthy to include as part of a healthy overall diet and I’ll continue to passionately recommend it unless some solid scientific research can convince me otherwise.

For more information and references about the coconut oil debate and the AHA claims, please take a moment to read these fantastic articles listed on the following websites;

Coconut Oil Is Still Healthy, Despite AHA Claims – Chris Kresser, M.S. –

Is Coconut Oil Healthy? (The American Heart Association Doesn’t Think So) – Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS –

Coconut Oil – Are You Coco-Nuts to Eat It? – MARK HYMAN, MD –

How Coconut Oil Can Benefit Your Health and Well-Being? –

Can coconut oil kill you? – Robert G. Silverman, DC, DACBN, DCBCN, MS, CCN, CNS, CSCS, CIISN, CKTP, CES, HKC, SASTM – Functional Medicine University

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