Why You Need to Ignore the Latest Flawed Study Demonizing Coconut Oil

Food for thought: the Canola Oil Council and the California Walnut Commission helped fund the research

No, adding coconut oil to your smoothies is NOT going to kill you. Unsplash/Alexander Mils

The media is off to the races, blacklisting coconut oil again. Seems like every year there is another study contradicting the study before. First coconut oil was bad, then it was good, then it turned bad again. But is this really about coconut oil? Or is it just a scapegoat?

After reviewing the recently published report, Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory from the American Heart Association published in Circulation, it seems clear to me that there may be an ulterior agenda underlying the information presented.

First, let’s start with who funded the study. Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Glaxo-Smith Kline, AstraZeneca, Amgen and many more are listed as providing research grants for the authors. It just so happens that these companies manufacture cholesterol-lowering medications, like statins and the new drug Repatha. Why would they want to know whether coconut oil is good or bad for patients? Or whether eating carbohydrates is better than eating saturated fat? Well, for one, they will be well-positioned to market their drugs to the people who keep changing their diet based on the latest “research.”

And it just so happens that the Canola Oil Council and the California Walnut Commission also helped fund the research—which apparently showed that canola oil and other mono and polyunsaturated fats lowered LDL. Never mind that canola oil is a genetically modified and high in erucic acid, a very long-chain fatty acid that can disrupt our cell membranes and has been found to cause heart disease in animals.

The focus of this report was mainly on the effects of fats on LDL cholesterol, sometimes known as the “bad” cholesterol. The premise is that LDL cholesterol predicts heart disease, so therefore the higher your LDL the higher your risk for a heart attack. Unfortunately, this is faulty logic. It has repeatedly been shown in clinical studies that 50 percent of patients who have died from a sudden heart attack had normal LDL. On top of that, lowering LDL only reduced the risk of a heart attack by 25 percent. So there must be more to the story.

LDL is by no means “bad,” but can be made bad by the composition of your diet. The key to understanding LDL is to understand the concept of particle sizes. LDL can be big and fluffy or small and sticky. The big/fluffy LDL is less likely to stick to the walls of blood vessels, and the small/sticky LDL is more likely to cause a buildup of plaque. We know that carbohydrates—especially when combined with fats—can cause an increase in small/sticky LDL particles.

No study has ever looked at the amount or type of fats in patients who limit or restrict carbohydrates. So, how do we truly know that saturated fat causes higher LDL and leads to heart disease? Perhaps saturated fat combined with carbohydrates (think steak and potatoes) is the problem. How about a study of patients eating only the steak? Will we find the same results? In my clinical practice, eating steak without the potato has a completely different effect on cholesterol levels. My patients who eat more saturated fat in general but lower carbohydrates have the best cholesterol profiles of all my patients.

So, back to the coconut oil debate. While eating coconut oil by the spoonful is probably not the best idea—mostly because there are so many other important fats that you should be eating daily for the health of your cells and nervous system—coconut oil is certainly not the evil player it has been made out to be. It was reported that The American Heart Association advised against the use of coconut oil, yet clearly stated that “clinical trials that compared direct effects on CVD of coconut oil and other dietary oils have not been reported.” In other words, there is no data linking cardiovascular disease with coconut oil. So why the media attention, and articles claiming coconut oil isn’t healthy? My take: We are a fat-phobic society and will continue to be as those with strong agendas continue to fund the research.

Dr. Tania Dempsey MD is an expert in chronic disease, autoimmune disorders and mast cell activation syndrome. Dr. Dempsey received her MD from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and her BS degree from Cornell University. She completed her Residency at NYU Medical Center/ Bellevue Hospital and then served as an attending physician at a large multi-specialty medical practice in White Plains, NY, before opening Armonk Integrative Medicine.  Dr. Dempsey is sought after internationally for her knowledge of chronic immune dysregulation and MCAS. For more information, please visit www.drtaniadempsey.com

Why You Need to Ignore the Latest Flawed Study Demonizing Coconut Oil