Q. I have a question about consuming coconut oil. A psychiatrist I know said that a person could avoid Alzheimer’s disease with mental stimulation, regular exercise, vitamin E and virgin coconut oil in the diet.
I was always under the impression that coconut oil is high in saturated fat, which raises cholesterol levels. Have there been any new studies about coconut oil to indicate that it’s now beneficial for health? How about drinking coconut juice?
A. Coconut has been controversial for decades. Preliminary animal research suggests that coconut juice might be helpful in preventing brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease (British Journal of Nutrition, March, 2011). We will be interested to see whether clinical trials in humans demonstrate similar benefits.
Because coconut oil is high in saturated fat, nutritionists have discouraged its inclusion in the diet. But there is growing recognition that the evidence behind this prohibition may not be very strong. The assumption was that saturated fat from any source would raise cholesterol and increase the likelihood of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries.
A meta-analysis that included 72 studies did not find a link between saturated fat consumption and the risk of heart disease or stroke (Annals of Internal Medicine, March 18, 2014). A review of dietary fats and health cited studies showing health benefits from coconut oil consumption (Advances in Nutrition, May 1, 2013).
Exercise and mental stimulation have been studied a bit better and certainly can do no harm.