Coconut oil health benefits are based on slippery science

Gwyneth Paltrow rubs it around her mouth to kill bacteria. Kourtney Kardashian adds it to her recipes as a metabolism booster and immune system booster. Olympic gold medalist Apollo Ono sprinkles it over dinner the night before a major speed skating race, to give himself a boost of energy the next day. Health and wellness influencers, from Instagram to Dr. Oz ShowThey recommend coconut oil as a “miracle” remedy for all skin problems, heart disease, and weight loss. But are its health benefits countless?

In the latest episode of Gastropod, co-hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley explore the history behind coconut’s global dominance, from its spread across the tropics to the Paleo-fueled coconut oil fad.

Historically, medical advice warned consumers against using coconut oil, as it is mostly made up of saturated fatty acids: it’s 92 percent saturated fat compared to 63 percent butter. The science on how saturated fat consumption contributes to heart disease is complex and evolve It is an interrelated dietary risk factor, and it is difficult to exclude its influence from the general diet and lifestyle. However, all major medical institutions – World Health OrganizationThe American Heart Associationand others – I recommend consuming less of it.

However, over the past few years, coconut oil has claimed that coconut oil can actually prevent heart disease and aid weight loss. These claims hang on the idea that coconut oil is rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Fats and oils are composed of fatty acids, which can be classified in two ways. The first is whether it is saturated or not: for example, olive oil is unsaturated, and butter is saturated, as well as coconut oil. But another way to classify lipids is the number of carbon atoms bonded together in their tails: short, medium or long chain. Approximately Two-thirds of the fatty acids in butterfor example, it consists of fatty acids with long tails.

The The fatty acids in coconut oilBy contrast, approximately 50 percent lauric acid, which has fewer carbon atoms, is a medium chain. (Lauric acid, coincidentally, is a major component of breast milk—a fact coconut oil fans love to mention as a must-have reason for you.)

Fatty acid chain lengths affect the ways our bodies process them. When it comes to digestion, the Super technical differencesEssentially, however, it appears that short-chain fatty acids are quickly traced in the liver and metabolized more quickly, while longer-chain fatty acids circulate in the bloodstream before being broken down. These differences can then affect whether it is used immediately as energy or put into fat, as well as affect cholesterol levels in the blood in general.

Fans claim that taking coconut oil, thanks to its MCT content, helps you feel full faster, turns into energy instead of being stored in fat, and can raise your HDL levels, otherwise known as “good cholesterol.” This reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes. However, the reality is almost the opposite.

One problem is that the science regarding the benefits of MCT oil on humans is still very limited and inconclusive, to say the least. Some small studies, one in Humans and one in miceThere are some small benefits: men feel a little more full, and rats have slightly lower cholesterol. But the papers that have looked at the entirety of the science so far on this topic are over who – whichas far as weight loss goes, “more research required,” and who – which “MCT oil does not affect total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, or HDL cholesterol levels.”

But there is a bigger problem. Studies that show positive benefits from MCTs are using Complex MCT Oil, not coconut oil – the two are not the same thing. “When you talk about MCTs, you are talking about one structure; when you talk about coconut oil, you are talking about another oil,” Jane Mara Block, an expert in fats and oils from Brazil’s Federal University of Santa Catarina, explained to Gastropod.

MCT oil can be made from coconut oil, sure, but the final structure is made up of different — and shorter — fatty acids than those that make up coconut oil. The fatty acids in coconut oil are not only longer, but the majority of them are either long-chain fatty acids or work like them. As it turns out, when digested, lauric acid actually behaves metabolically like long-chain fatty acids.

Block told Gastropod that it’s not really possible to extrapolate any benefits from MCTs may be Coconut oil (which is actually on shaking ground) contains coconut oil, because its structure is different and therefore our bodies process it differently. In fact, the Research Which is found when consuming coconut oil, rather than MCTs, shows that it actually Raises total cholesterolincluding both HDL And the The bad LDL cholesterol.

Even some minor coconut oil benefits are largely unsupported. Coconut oil is often claimed to be antimicrobial — hence Paltrow’s use of “oil pulling,” a technique that promises to reduce oral bacteria. This claim is based on the presence of a chemical within coconut oil Some studies indicate It can inhibit the growth of certain bacteria in humans when used, for example, as a mouthwash. But these studies looked at the synthetic chemical rather than the coconut oil itself.

As you may have noticed, all of these claims share a common problem: The magical properties attributed to coconut oil come from the benefits derived from its individual ingredients, rather than the coconut oil as a whole.

This lack of context also applies to entire food cultures. Coconut oil lovers like to point out that people who eat a lot of coconut, whether in Polynesia, India or the Philippines, have lower cholesterol levels and lower incidences of heart disease than people in Western countries. However, people in these places tend to eat the oil as part of the coconut pulp, which also contains a lot of fiber and a variety of minerals, and they often eat meals that contain less sugar, meat, and less processed foods than the Western diet. standard. With all of these other factors, it is simply impossible to attribute their health to coconut oil.

“The whole thing, if you start to put it into context, it starts to get a little complicated,” Block says. And people don’t want that. People want fast and fast. People want a miracle.” If coconut oil is any kind of miracle at all, Block tells Gastropod, it’s mostly a marketing miracle.

If you think coconut oil is the first time it’s causing controversy, prepare to fight the coconut water wars, the coconut cult, and even some old-fashioned Monty Python on the latest episode of Gastropod. Tune in and subscribe to join us as we explore how and why we all went for coconuts.

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