a coconut and coconut oil on a spoon, cook with coconut oil, coconut oil good

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.

The Questions of Saturated Fat in Coconut Oil

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.

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  1. Meg

    My husband pointed out the article and response from the People’s Pharmacy regarding the use of coconut oil and health. As a dietitian/nutritionist your response surprised me.

    Fat is a macronutrient and therefore a very important part of health and wellness. However, the types of fat and the amount consumed will make a big difference in one’s overall health, including heart health. The suggestion that coconut oil which is 90% saturated fat may not negatively impact blood lipid values is a stretch. Would the same recommendation be given if the food in question was lard or butter?

    Yes, coconut oil does offer some benefits. Its chemical structure includes lauric acid which has been found to benefit one’s high density lipoprotiens (HDL or good cholesterol). However, replacing coconut oil with other unsaturated fats such as canola or olive oils needs to be the message.

    Folks should not believe the hype that coconut oil will benefit health, including improving alzheimers, weight loss and CVD. Foods high in saturated fat can be part of a healthy diet in limited amounts, this includes coconut oil and other high saturated fats. Occasional use in cooking is fine but adding it to your smoothie or replacing coconut oil for other healthier oils should not be recommended.

  2. Dee
    Citrus Heights CA

    We recently attended a memory clinic for my husband, whose doctor diagnosed him with dementia. However, he was found to have Mild cognitive Impairment. We were given lots of information, & things listed that could worsen dementia were TURMERIC & COCONUT OIL. Everything I have read lately say just the opposite. I use both of them when I cook vegetables!!

  3. farah

    I haven’t used coconut oil for cooking but I use it as a moisturizer on my skin and my skin texture has improved significantly. I don’t use any other moisturizer now..

  4. JAS

    Would eating some coconut oil every day help with diarrhea dominant collagenous colitis? I have heard that eating coconut cookies helps with diarrhea but not sure if it the fiber from the coconut or something in the coconut itself that helps. Desperately need help in controlling the diarrhea other than imodium, etc. Please!

  5. Judy Warner

    KVS, I looked around online a little and it seems that many are interested in coconut oil and Parkinson’s but there’s no published research. There are anecdotes and theories about why it might help. My feeling in this kind of case is — what can you lose? There’s nothing bad for you about coconut oil so why not try it? In my experience it doesn’t even make you gain weight. In fact, you might add to the anecdotal evidence if you find it works, and that might put pressure on scientists to research it.

  6. KMS

    Coconut oil got a bad rap because of the studies done in the 60s/70s which used hydrogenated oil. Not all saturated fats are bad, and not all dietary fat causes you to gain weight. Look for a 3-part series from the BBC called “The Men Who Made Us Fat.” It will blow your mind and open your eyes about what we’ve been told and what we’ve been sold by the food industry and governments about diet and illness.

  7. KVS

    has anyone heard that coconut oil is good for people with Parkinson’s Disease?

  8. Judy W.

    I agree with the psychiatrist that these are good things to do. But I think it is irresponsible to tell someone that he can avoid Alzheimer’s disease if he does such and such. There’s a large hereditary component to the disease as well as many factors we don’t know about.
    If you tell someone he can avoid something if he does certain things, it makes it his fault if he gets the disease. That load of guilt is not going to help in any disease situation. The psychiatrist should have talked about perhaps lowering risk rather than avoiding.

  9. Anonymous

    I am surprised at the controversies regarding coconut oil! People in Asia and Africa and other places have used Coconut and its oil as a food and for cooking for thousands of years without any harm as far as I know. Also coconut water has been believed to have health benefits by these people.
    Also coconut oil has been used for hair and skin for centuries.
    I have been taking Coconut oil by adding it to my take out food for quite some time.

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