Is this proof co­conut oil is GOOD for you?

Like most ex­perts, TV’s Dr Michael Mosley feared it was bad for your heart. Now a re­mark­able ex­per­i­ment has changed his mind

Daily Mail - - Good Health - By CLAIRE COLE­MAN

WE’vE come to ex­pect Dr Michael Mosley to be at the cut­ting edge of the lat­est health think­ing, but with co­conut oil, it seems the Tv pre­sen­ter has been ahead of the curve for lit­er­ally decades — 30 years in fact.

‘As a med­i­cal stu­dent, I spent three months work­ing in a hospi­tal in Sri Lanka and I ac­quired a taste for it,’ he says. ‘I use it to make cur­ries, but also put it in cakes and desserts — as it’s slightly sweet you don’t need to use as much sugar.

‘I like the taste and the fact that it is less oily than but­ter. Plus, it is more sta­ble at high heat than many other oils, so if you’re fry­ing it pro­duces fewer po­ten­tially health-harm­ing com­pounds than some­thing like olive oil.’

In re­cent years, all kinds of health claims have been made about this ‘su­per­food’ and UK sales have dra­mat­i­cally in­creased from £4.4 mil­lion in 2014 to an ex­pected £24 mil­lion this year.

‘En­thu­si­asts claim it will cure ev­ery­thing from bad breath to di­ges­tive dis­or­ders — you can even use it as a mois­turiser,’ says Dr Mosley. ‘But per­haps the most sur­pris­ing claim is that eat­ing this stuff can cut your risk of heart dis­ease by re­duc­ing your choles­terol lev­els.’

Sur­pris­ing be­cause co­conut oil is around 92 per cent sat­u­rated fat — higher than but­ter (63 per cent) and lard (39 per cent) — and stud­ies have shown that sat­u­rated fats raise lev­els of ‘bad’ LDL choles­terol. The es­tab­lished think­ing is that be­cause co­conut oil con­tains more sat­u­rated fat than but­ter, it must be bad for you.

Dr Mosley de­cided to in­ves­ti­gate, con­duct­ing a ground­break­ing ex­per­i­ment with re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge to see ex­actly what co­conut oil does to choles­terol lev­els.

The re­sults, which you can watch to­mor­row on the BBC2 show Trust Me, I’m A Doc­tor and which will be pub­lished in full in the BMJ On­line, took ev­ery­one by sur­prise.

‘ I ex­pected to find that the co­conut oil would raise lev­els of [bad] LDL choles­terol and have no real ef­fect on [good] HDL choles­terol,’ says Dr Mosley.

In fact, the oil didn’t raise bad LDL choles­terol at all; and it ac­tu­ally boosted lev­els of good HDL.

FOR the ex­per­i­ment, the team had re­cruited nearly 100 vol­un­teers, all aged over 50. They were split into three groups and ev­ery day for four weeks each ate 50g of co­conut oil (about two ta­ble­spoons), or 50g olive oil — an un­sat­u­rated fat al­ready known to lower bad LDL choles­terol — or 50g but­ter.

This amount of co­conut oil con­tains more than 40g of sat­u­rated fat, twice the max­i­mum daily amount for women, ac­cord­ing to Pub­lic Health Eng­land, but is the level pre­vi­ous re­search has re­vealed is nec­es­sary to show mea­sur­able changes in blood choles­terol over a four-week pe­riod.

Be­fore the ex­per­i­ment, all the vol­un­teers had their bad LDL and good HDL choles­terol lev­els mea­sured, as well as their height, waist, blood pres­sure, weight and body fat per­cent­age. Four weeks later, th­ese tests were re­peated.

The group who ate but­ter saw their bad LDL lev­els rise by about 10 per cent, as ex­pected.

But the olive oil and co­conut oil groups saw no rise in bad LDL — de­spite co­conut oil hav­ing more sat­u­rated fat than but­ter.

Even more sur­pris­ingly, while but­ter and olive oil both raised good HDL choles­terol by 5 per cent, co­conut oil raised it by a stag­ger­ing 15 per cent, mean­ing that it seemed to have a more pos­i­tive ef­fect on choles­terol­re­lated health than olive oil.

In­ter­est­ingly, the par­tic­i­pants’ weight and body fat re­mained un­changed, pos­si­bly be­cause fat is quite fill­ing so they ate less.

‘Th­ese re­sults were not what we were ex­pect­ing,’ says Kay-Tee Khaw, a pro­fes­sor of geron­tol­ogy at the Cam­bridge School of Clin­i­cal Medicine, who over­saw the test.

‘And they’re not in keep­ing with the re­sults of pre­vi­ous stud­ies, which mostly show that co­conut oil raises LDL less than but­ter but more than polyun­sat­u­rated oils. How­ever, this is the largest study of its kind, and the first to be done in the UK.’ In other words, the re­sults can’t be dis­missed.

As for why co­conut oil might have this ef­fect, Pro­fes­sor Khaw sug­gests: ‘It could be that the ex­tra vir­gin co­conut oil we used be­haves dif­fer­ently — not all the pre­vi­ous stud­ies spec­i­fied what type of co­conut oil they used.

‘Or it could be be­cause co­conut oil is rich in a very spe­cific sat­u­rated fatty acid, lau­ric acid, which may be pro­cessed dif­fer­ently by the body than other types of sat­u­rated fat.’

Lau­ric acid, which makes up around half the sat­u­rated fat in co­conut oil, is of­ten the rea­son why this oil is con­sid­ered healthy. It has an­timi­cro­bial and an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties and also oc­curs in breast milk.

How­ever, Pro­fes­sor Khaw points out that one short-term study doesn’t give us all the an­swers.

‘We don’t know what would hap­pen if you took co­conut oil for a whole year,’ she says. ‘And we don’t have long-term stud­ies on the im­pact of co­conut oil on heart dis­ease, stroke, etc.

‘But what this does seem to show is that it’s too sim­plis­tic to think that all sat­u­rated fats are bad — we need to look at their com­po­si­tion, how they’re man­u­fac­tured and the con­text in which they’re eaten.’

Dr Mosley, who ad­mits that in the past he has tried to min­imise his use of co­conut oil be­cause of fears about sat­u­rated fats, is ‘de­lighted’ with the re­sults.

‘I’m not go­ing to be glug­ging it by the litre, but I’m also not go­ing to worry about us­ing it in cook­ing.’

While this ex­per­i­ment does seem to sug­gest co­conut oil is a heart­friendly food, how do its other health ben­e­fits mea­sure up?

WEIGHT-LOSS

A Hand­ful of stud­ies have re­ported that co­conut oil can in­crease sati­ety, mean­ing you eat less, and can en­cour­age the body to burn more fat.

How­ever, many of th­ese find­ings are based on tri­als in­volv­ing medium-chain triglyc­erides (found

in co­conut oil), not co­conut oil it­self.

‘There is no con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence that co­conut oil sig­nif­i­cantly helps weight loss,’ says Sally nor­ton, a con­sul­tant weight-loss sur­geon at north Bris­tol NHS Trust.

ALZHEIMER’S

ONE the­ory is that Alzheimer’s dis­ease is caused by brain cells los­ing their abil­ity to use glu­cose for en­ergy, which ul­ti­mately leads to poorer brain func­tion.

It’s thought com­pounds called ke­tones could pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive en­ergy source and ease, or re­verse, symp­toms.

When the fatty acids in co­conut oil are di­gested, they cre­ate ke­tones, so the the­ory is co­conut oil could pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive en­ergy source for the brain cells.

How­ever, Dr Clare Wal­ton, re­search man­ager at the Alzheimer’s So­ci­ety, says: ‘There is lim­ited ev­i­dence to show that this ac­tu­ally works.

‘With­out high-qual­ity re­search in peo­ple, we can’t be sure that co­conut oil is safe, or of any ben­e­fit to peo­ple liv­ing with de­men­tia.’

DANDRUFF

THE an­tibac­te­rial and an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties of lau­ric acid might boost the health of your scalp, but there’s no ev­i­dence to sug­gest it has any ef­fect on the yeast that causes dandruff, as is some­times claimed.

One study found that co­conut oil con­di­tions hair by pre­vent­ing pro­tein loss, but tri­chol­o­gist Iain Sal­lis of the Hairmedic group says any oil ‘pre­vents mois­ture get­ting into hair which can be re­ally im­por­tant if your hair is very dry.

‘It also acts as a heat con­duc­tor if used be­fore heated tools and so will cause more dam­age than it pre­vents.’

DER­MATI­TIS

DEvO­TEES ad­vo­cate us­ing co­conut oil as ev­ery­thing from a daily mois­turiser to a treat­ment for eczema, so what’s the truth?

‘Some stud­ies have shown that it can be used to treat con­di­tions such as bac­te­rial skin coloni­sa­tion [the pres­ence of bac­te­ria on the skin] and atopic der­mati­tis [in­flam­ma­tion of the skin],’ says Dr Shirin Lakhani, a GP and aes­thetic physi­cian.

‘When it comes to treat­ing dry skin, it has been sta­tis­ti­cally shown to be at least as ef­fec­tive, if not bet­ter than, min­eral oils.’ TrusT Me, I’m A Doc­tor is on BBC2 to­mor­row at 8.30pm.

Pic­ture: BBC

Not just a fad: Dr Mosley was as­ton­ished by the re­sults

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