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To lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, a new study suggests taking coconut oil every day for four weeks. About 50 grams or three tablespoons of coconut oil daily boosted the HDL, or good cholesterol levels of participants in an experiment by 15 percent.
One-third of 94 participants aged between 50 and 75, with no history of cardiovascular ailments or diabetes, took coconut oil. Another one-third consumed the same amount of extra virgin olive oil and the remaining one-third had unsalted butter, Deccan Chronicle reported.
Good and Bad Cholesterol
Kay-Tee Khaw, a researcher, and Professor Nita Forouhi from the University of Cambridge said that the volunteers who took extra virgin olive oil had a slight reduction in their low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol, and a five percent increase in HDL. The ones who consumer unsalted butter increased their bad cholesterol by an average of 10 percent.
Khaw admitted she had no idea why coconut oil increased HDL. She said it could be because the main saturated fat of coconut oil is lauric acid which may have different biological effects on blood lipids compared to other fatty acids on animals, but it is the first time they saw proof of its good impact on free-living humans.
But the authors noted that the decisions to consume particular oils depend on more than just the health effects. The Alternative Daily observed that conventional health experts had written off coconut oil as full of calories made of saturated fat. They claim that is supposed to increase the risk of heart diseases and add weight because of the impression that eating saturated fat causes weight gain when people who do so actually lose fat and put on muscle rapidly.
But for the scientific community, coconut oil, since it is 86 percent saturated fat – which is higher than the 51 percent saturated fat content of butter and 39 percent content of lard -- is considered unsafe. Consuming saturated fat is supposed to result in an increase in LDL. In contrast, only 14 percent of the calories of olive oil come from saturated fat and 63 percent in butter.
The high saturated fat content of coconut oil explains why, like butter and lard, at room temperature, coconut oil is solid and has a long shelf life. It also has the ability to withstand high cooking temperatures, Lisa Young, a registered dietitian explained.
But its saturated fat is made up mostly of medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs. There are some people who said that the human body handles coconut oil differently compared to longer-chain fats found in liquid vegetable oils, dairy, and fatty meats.
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The experiment was part of the BBC 2 series of “Trust Me I’m a Doctor” experiment. The researchers told the volunteers that they could ingest these fats in whatever way they liked. The only condition was they consume three tablespoons daily.
Prior to the trial, the team got blood samples from the participants to have a baseline measurement of their cardiovascular markers, in particular, their HDL and LDL. The ratio of LDL to HDL is a more accurate marker of the risk of heart disease instead of only the total cholesterol levels.
Caution from Doctors
Despite the results of the research, which even surprised the authors, Khaw and Forouhi cautioned people from consuming a lot of coconut oil because their trial is a small four-week study.
In the study, the participants consumed three tablespoons of coconut oil, while the American Heart Association’s recommendation is to limit saturated fat intake to 13 grams daily. It is about one tablespoon of coconut oil.
But while coconut oil increases HDL, at the same time, it also raises LDL. Young pointed out that just because coconut oil can boost HDL doesn't mean that it is great for the heart. She said that it is unknown if the increase in beneficial cholesterol will outweigh any hike in harmful cholesterol. Young said that at best, it will have a neutral impact on heart health, but the dietitian does not consider coconut oil heart-healthy.
Young suggested that when cooking or baking, people should replace butter or lard with coconut oil. However, they should still get most of their fat from unsaturated sources, including olive oil, nuts, and avocado.
Other than reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, coconut oil’s other known benefits include weight loss, healthy immune function, reduced skin issues, and cancer prevention. WebMD added that it allegedly slows aging, helps the thyroid, and protects against ailments such as arthritis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
Apparently, more people believe that coconut oil does more good than bad for their health which explains why its sales continue to boom. It also helps that some celebrities have endorsed it.
For instance, Angelina Jolie consumes a tablespoon or it during breakfast, BBC reported. Australian supermodel Miranda Kerr uses coconut oil on her salads and smoothies and applies it on her flawless skin.
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