I can remember taking nutrition courses during my time in my exercise physiology department and recall how saturated fats were always deemed as being very bad. The rationale is based on saturated fat being associated with increased cholesterol and consequently, heart disease (Margen et al., 1991; Marieb, 1998).
The mechanism of insult is based on a long-term progression of fatty plaques occluding the lumen (Squires, 1998). This process is thought to occur throughout daily life when there are abrupt increases in blood pressure from various causes and with excess cholesterol floating around in the blood, the ruptures in the endothelium are patched up by fatty acids (Sime et al., 1998). Over time, this accumulation in the inner lining of the endothelium eventually leads to a smaller vessel diameter and all it takes is one bolus of material to clog the small lumen to trigger what is known as a myocardial infarction (heart attack).
Personally, I believe that this physiological model on atherosclerosis is true for the most part. However, I firmly believe that there are certain vested interests and biased views from powers that be towards natural cures and preventative methods (Fife, 2004; Trudeau, 2004; Trudeau, 2007).
The eastern approach (Seaward, 2002) is one based on natural and alternative solutions. When assessing one's health, risk factors are used to stratify one's health status. Problem with this approach is that when looking at risk factors, one risk factor will never be "the one."
In many cases, it is the cumulative effect of all risk factors acting together in a synergistic manner that turns the balance. Certain risk factors have a heavier influence than others (i.e. family history); however, this is not to say that one should give up hope because of risk factors that are out of his/her control (hereditary risk factors).
Saturated fat is just one nutritional risk factor that can increase risk of coronary heart disease. However, there is a certain untold side to saturated fat. Now, unlike the stance of Dr. Mary Enig, (Enig & Fallon, 2005), I believe her approach has merit, but unfortunately it falls flat in that it supports a higher fat diet. The same occurs with Kevin Trudeau in his line of books on Natural cures (Trudeau, 2004) and The weight loss cure (Trudeau, 2007).
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Coronary Heart Disease!
Coronary heart disease (CHD), a type of cardiovascular disease, is the leading cause of death in the United States for men and women.
Both authors give the impression of finding "it" or "the" answer. Conversely, I take the approach of finding "an" answer or finding "a" significant factor. Bottomline: Everyone is different and the best thing is to seek the care of a physician that puts the non-pharmacological approach first or a registered dietician.
The next best thing would be to arm yourself with the knowledge out there, know your own body and health history so you can make an affirmative decision as to whether you should try something (supplement, food, exercise, etc.).
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Author, Ivan Blazquez.
Along these lines, there are certain evidence-based criteria I use in this approach. I use research (pubmed), reputable affiliations [only get United States Pharmacopeia (USP) verified supplements] and for non-USP verified supplements, I make sure there is a preponderance of data supporting the benefits of the supplement/food/exercise and that the risks are as low as possible.
Lastly, I will use word of mouth from either reputable and accredited sources (experts in the field with the highest qualifications) or the status quo (power in numbers).
Coconut Oil Good For You?
With all this being said, lets get to the issue at hand; Coconut oil. Basically it is an oil that is ~92% saturated fat! How can this oil be good? Well, to my and in a few minutes, your amazement, it is (Dayrit, 2003). Let me just impress the heck out of everyone by supporting this last statement with some concrete and solid research studies, expert opinions and scientific rationale.
Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCT)
Coconut oil contains ~ 64% MCT (Dayrit, 2003; Fife, 2004). This is more than any other food in existence. Research has clearly shown that MCT's are thermogenic (Scalfi et al., 1991) and that less is stored away as body fat (Papamandjaris et al., 2000; St-Onge & Jones, 2002; St-Onge & Jones, 2003).
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Past and current civilizations exhibit health patterns and life expectancies that continue to bewilder health professionals. But why?
The reason for this phenomenon is that the MCT's are rapidly absorbed from the intestines directly into the portal system and sent to the liver instead of through the lymphatic system like all other fats; they also do not require carnitine for transport and they are quickly oxidized and used for energy much like carbohydrates (Amarasiri & Dissanayake, 2006; Aoyama et al., 2007; Bach & Babayan, 1982; Hashim, 1967; Manore et al., 1993; Pehowich et al., 2000).
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Avocado's Distant Cousin
There is really no connection here, except the fact that both are plant-based foods that are high in fat. More importantly, when has a plant-based food ever been unhealthy for us? The answer is virtually never.
So why in the world has coconut oil been viewed negatively by the medical and healthcare community when it is a plant-based food that has many notable health promoting properties. For a while, avocados were deemed as being bad for us due to their high fat content. However, it was later found that most of the fat was good fat and of unsaturated nature.
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I've heard so much about coconut oil so I went out and bought some. The problem is I can't seem to find my "101 uses for coconut oil" book.
Research has shown coconut oil does not increase risk of heart disease (Cox et al., 1998; Elson, 1992; Kumar, 1997; Lindeberg, 1997; Lipoeto et al., 2004), and in some research it actually lowers risk of heart disease (Kaunitz, 1986; Prior et al., 1981). Other research has shown virgin coconut oil to lower lipid levels by way of the biologically active polyphenol components present in the oil (Nevin & Rajamohan, 2004).
On the contrary, coconut oil is mainly saturated fat. What is more impressive is that if there was ever a healthy saturated fat, this is it! Again, with ~64% being MCT, it could be logically deducted that less than half of the fat consumed will be stored as fat, provided the body is in the ideal condition for such an occurrence.
From a theoretical perspective, in a fed state (anabolic state), with no macronutrients being in deficit, any excess fat will be stored as body fat. Coconut oil is no exception (Schwarzenegger, 1998). However, research has clearly shown that less will be stored as fat (Portillo et al., 1998; Scalfi et al., 1991).
However, during a low-calorie cycle of which either carbs or fats are reduced, with protein being kept normal to high normal, less fat will be stored away from coconut oil since the body will be in a caloric deficit. Since the body will be in a negative caloric balance, it will not want to store MCT as body fat, but rather, it will be scavenging for energy to try and provide energy! Thus, the MCT from the coconut oil will be immediately oxidized for fuel, hence less stored as body fat.
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Author, Ivan Blazquez.
It is clear that saturated fat, but more in particular, cholesterol, is needed for testosterone production (Marieb, 1998). When trying to hold on to muscle while dieting, keeping protein normal to high-normal is essential in partitioning substrate oxidation towards carbs and fats. However, several studies have shown that low saturated fat diets lead to decreased testosterone production (Berrino et al., 2001; Hamalainen et al., 1983; Hamalainen et al., 1984).
The most common remedy in this case would be red meat right? Not necessarily. Remember, when trying to get ripped for a contest, fat needs to be lowered, and good fats need to be kept to a minimum. The logic here is to expunge of our fat reserves (An average male at 15% body fat has ~70,000 calories of FAT!) and sustain our essential fat reserves (fat covering membranes, organs, nerves, etc.). Thus, nutrient partitioning is so crucial in attaining an optimal physique according to bodybuilding standards.
So how can coconut oil help? Well, since most of the saturated fat will be oxidized for energy for a dieting natural bodybuilder, less is stored as fat. However, for the small amount that is not oxidized, it will be used to stimulate and aid in the manufacturing of testosterone. Therefore, one can keep testosterone levels stable, which will help in holding onto precious hard-earned muscle when getting shredded for a show.
The logic is that if we stay lifting heavy and keep our strength high, we will give our muscle a reason to stay big and by hormonally supporting this with a little healthy testosterone stimulating saturated fat, muscle will not be lost.
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Learn more about testosterone and why it is so important to our bodies, especially the bodybuilder. Below I list some of the top natural supplements.
Additionally, the lower the carb intake, the more important it becomes to NOT limit fat intake, in particular saturated fat (Volek & Forsythe, 2005). Instead, saturated fat and total fat intake should increase to keep the caloric deficit from getting too severe (Volek & Forsythe, 2005).
Another aspect of debate is the connection with high-fat red meat and how its increase in cholesterol does increase testosterone production, but with this testosterone boost comes an increased risk of prostatic cancers (Gann et al., 1996). However, a recent study showed that despite increased testosterone levels, coconut oil actually decreased the risk of prostatic cancer (De Lourdes et al., 2007).
Click Image To Enlarge.Red Meat Increases Cholesterol Which
Increases Testosterone Production.
It should be understood that recent research is showing that men at higher risk of prostate cancer actually have lower testosterone levels (Mearini et al., 2008). The correlation with red meat and prostate cancer is probably based mainly on the saturated fat content of the red meat.
In essence, if one limits saturated fat content to prudent levels and consumes cholesterol in prudent levels, one can see optimal testosterone levels. It is typically when one eats excess of saturated fat and cholesterol does the increase testosterone come along with the increased risk of prostate cancer.
Testosterone does not cause prostate cancer, it is excess amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol along with an unhealthy lifestyle that increases risk. Having normal to high testosterone levels actually reduce the risk of prostate cancer and can be cardioprotective (Bain, 2007; Mearini et al., 2008).
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Early Research & A Natural Bodybuilder's Discovery
What's interesting is the fact that MCT have been used in the early years of bodybuilding. Particularly, an elite acclaimed natural bodybuilder referred to as "The natural wonder" used MCT extensively in his nutritional intake during precontest preparation (Manore et al., 1993).
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Medium Chain Triglyceride.
Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT) oil (like Flaxseed Oil). Anyone here take this? What does it do?
Although this bodybuilder consumed a very high amount of MCT (~30% of calories), he was able to successfully go from 9% body fat to 6.9% body fat via underwater weighing, in a time period of 8-weeks. He was a very successful bodybuilder having won many competitions (Mr. Universe 1986 and 1st place in the 1990 International Federation of Bodybuilding (IFBB) Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic).
Like avocados, coconut oil has gotten a bad rap for no really good reason. In fact, the reasoning of it being mainly saturated fat as the ONLY reason it has gotten this bad rap just illustrates how far behind our medical community is in terms of depth in nutritional science.
At worst, the argument of Bruce Fife of this being a political war among the oils and vested interests certainly raises concern as to what information is being misplaced, hidden and concealed from the desperately needing public.
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Personally, I find that Bruce Fife's argument is true and that many medical students are being deceived about the truth behind coconut oil. In fact, one such physician answered a question about coconut oil in a column and strongly stated that coconut oil is not a healthy food and should not be consumed often (Komaroff, 2006).
What's more is that he did later allude to a textbook showing it had modest cavity-lowering effects. Well, as I mentioned earlier, the medical community is really far behind in terms of depth in nutritional science. Research has clearly shown that dental disease is associated with heart disease (Starkhammar et al., 2008).
If coconut oil aids in reducing dental disease, then it also indirectly aids in lowering risk of heart disease. What's more shocking is that this physician wrote this for the Harvard health letter!
The key is to consume coconut oil in moderation and to use it as an additive to various foods when other sources of fat are lowered. Coconut oil does not need to be consumed everyday, but consuming it in moderation and prudently will only serve to expand one's variety in food selection and provide new health and taste benefits.
- Amarasiri & Dissanayake (2006). Coconut fats, The Ceylon Medical Journal, 51(2), 47-51.
- Aoyama et al. (2007). Research on the nutritional characteristics of medium-chain fatty acids, The Journal of Medical Investigation, 54(3-4), 385-388.
- Bach & Babayan (1982). Medium-Chain triglycerides: An update, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 36(5), 950-962.
- Bain J. (2007). The many faces of testosterone, Clinical Interventions in Aging, 2(4), 567-576.
- Berrino et al. (2001). Reducing bioavailable sex hormones through a comprehensive change in diet: The Diet And Androgrens (DIANA) Randomized Trial, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, 10(1), 25-33.
- Cox et al. (1998). Effects of dietary coconut oil, butter and safflower oil on plasma lipids, lipoproteins and lathosterol levels, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 52(9), 650-654.
- Dayrit, C.S. (2003). Coconut Oil: Atherogenic or Not? (What therefore causes Atherosclerosis?), Philippine Journal of Cardiology, 31(3), 97-104. Retrieved July 21, 2007, from http://www.coconutoil.com/Dayrit%20Cardiology.pdf
- De Lourdes et al. (2007). Effects of coconut oil on testosterone-induced prostatic hyperplasia in Sprague-Dawley rats, The Journal of Pharmacy & Pharmacology, 59(7), 995-999.
- Elson C.E. (1992). Tropical oils: Nutritional and scientific issues, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 31(1-2), 79-102.
- Enig & Fallon (2005). Eat Fat Lose Fat, Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York, NY.
- Fife, B. (2004). The Coconut Oil Miracle, Revised edition, Avery: A Member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York, NY.
- Gann et al. (1996). Prospective study of sex hormone levels and risk of prostate cancer, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 88(16), 1118-1126.
- Hamalainen et al. (1983). Decrease of serum total and free testosterone during a low-fat high-fibre diet, Journal of Steroid Biochemistry, 18(3), 369-370.
- Hamalainen et al. (1984). Diet and Serum Sex Hormones in Healthy Men, Journal of Steroid Biochemistry, 20(1), 459-464.
- Hashim, S.A. (1967). Medium chain triglycerides - Clinical and metabolic aspects, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 51(3), 221-227.
- Kaunitz, H. (1986). Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) in aging and arteriosclerosis, Journal of Environmental Pathology, Toxicology and Oncology, 6 (3-4), 115-121.
- Komaroff, A.L. (2006). By the way doctor, I've read recently that organic coconut oil has health benefits. Could coconut oil improve lipid profiles if consumed everyday? Harvard Health Letter, 31(6), 8.
- Kumar P.D. (1997). The role of coconut and coconut oil in coronary heart disease in Kerala, South India, Tropical Doctor, 27(4), 215-217.
- Lindeberg et al. (1997). Age relations of cardiovascular risk factors in a traditional Melanesian society: The Kitava study, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 66(4), 845-852.
- Lipoeto et al. (2004). Dietary intake and risk of coronary heart disease among the cococnut-consuming Minangkabau in West Sumatra, Indonesia, Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 13(4), 377-384.
- Manore et al. (1993). Diet and exercise strategies of a world-class bodybuilder, International Journal of Sport Nutrition, 3, 76-86.
- Margen et al. (1991). University of California, Berkley: The Wellness Encyclopedia. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.
- Marieb, E.N. (1998). Human Anatomy & Physiology, 4th edition, Benjamin/Cummings Science Publishing, Menlo Park, CA.
- Mearini et al. (2008). Testosterone levels in benign prostatic hypertrophy and prostate cancer, Urologia Internationalis, 80(2), 134-140.
- Nevin & Rajamohan (2004). Beneficial effects of virgin coconut oil on lipid parameters and in vitro LDL oxidation. Clinical Biochemistry, 37, 830-835.
- Papamandjaris et al. (2000). Endogenous fat oxidation during medium chain versus long chain triglyceride feeding in healthy women, International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 24(9), 1158-1166.
- Pehowich et al. (2000) Fatty acid composition and possible health effects of coconut constituents, West Indian Medical Journal, 2000; 49(2),128-133.
- Portillo et al. (1998). Energy restriction with high-fat diet enriched with coconut oil gives higher UCP1 and lower white fat in rats, International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 22 (10), 974-79.
- Prior et al. (1981). Cholesterol, coconuts, and diet on Polynesian atolls: a natural experiment: the Pukapuka and Tokelau Island studies. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 34 (8), 1552-1561.
- Sime et al. (1998). Stress and Heart Disease. In J.L. Roitman, (Ed.). ACSM's Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (3rd edition). Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins.
- Scalfi et al. (1991). Postprandial thermogenesis in lean and obese subjects after meals supplemented with medium-chain and long-chain triglycerides, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 53(5), 1130-1133.
- Schwarzenegger, A. (1998). The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.
- Seaward, B.L. (2002). Managing stress: Principles and strategies for health and well-being. 3rd edition, Jones and Bartlett Publishers Inc., Sudbury, MA.
- Starkhammar et al. (2008). Periodontal conditions in patients with coronary heart disease: A case-control study, Journal of Clinical Periodontology, 35(3), 199-205.
- St-Onge & Jones (2002). Physiological effects of medium-chain triglycerides: Potential agents in the prevention of obesity, The Journal of Nutrition, 132(3), 329-332.
- St-Onge & Jones (2003). Greater rise in fat oxidation with medium-chain triglyceride consumption relative to long-chain triglyceride is associated with lower initial body weight and greater loss of subcutaneous adipose tissue, International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 27(12), 1565-1571.
- Squires, R.W. (1998). Coronary Atherosclerosis. In J.L. Roitman, (Ed.). ACSM's Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (3rd edition). Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins.
- Trudeau, K. (2004). Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About, Alliance Publishing Group, Inc., Elk Grove Village, IL.
- Trudeau, K. (2007). The Weight Loss Cure "They" Don't Want You to Know About, Alliance Publishing Group, Inc., Elk Grove Village, IL.
- Volek & Forsythe (2005). The case for not restricting saturated fat on a low carbohydrate diet, Nutrition & Metabolism, 2, 21. Retrieved July 21, 2007, from http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/2/1/21.
The information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not serve as a replacement to care provided by your own personal health care team or physician. The author does not render or provide medical advice, and no individual should make any medical decisions or change their health behavior based on information provided here. Reliance on any information provided by the author is solely at your own risk. The author accepts no responsibility for materials contained in the article and will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary, or other damages arising from the use of information contained in this or other publications.
Copyright © Ivan Blazquez, 2007. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder and author of this publication.
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