Dr. Greenland reiterated this assessment, noting that “The marketing of coconut oil is confusing. Attempts are being made to sell it as healthy fat, but those who know its composition do not believe it at all. “
These and other experts break away from advertisers and proponents of coconut oil because of its chemical makeup and the well-established biological activity of various types of fatty acids.
“Fat can’t circulate on its own,” said Dr. Greenland, explaining that long-chain fatty acids, such as those found in beef tallow, are absorbed into the bloodstream by fat-carrying particles called chylomicrons, which release the fat to tissues throughout the body. Chylomicrons keep LDL cholesterol in circulation and provide ample opportunity to get stuck in the arteries. In contrast, fats that are mainly medium-chain fatty acids are more water-soluble. They can be absorbed into the bloodstream without the help of chylomicrons and transported directly to the liver, where they are used for energy production.
Although lauric acid is usually called a medium chain fatty acid, according to Dr. Sacks really arbitrary. “The classification of lauric acid as a medium-chain fatty acid is a misnomer,” he wrote. “Instead of the number of carbon atoms in a fat,” he said, “what counts is how the fat is metabolized in the body. Lauric acid acts like a long-chain fatty acid that promotes atherosclerosis. In addition, coconut oil contains two other long-chain fatty acids – myristic and palmitic – and all three have arterial damaging effects on blood cholesterol levels.
One claim for coconut oil is undisputed: it can increase blood HDL cholesterol, which has long been believed to protect against heart disease. However, clear health benefits of HDL cholesterol in humans have yet to be demonstrated. Dr. Sacks reported, “Genetic studies and HDL-increasing drugs have so far not confirmed any causal link between HDL cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. HDL consists of a large number of sub-particles that can have adverse or beneficial effects. It is not known what foods or nutrients that increase HDL cholesterol do so in ways that reduce atherosclerosis and coronary events. “
The same goes for Dr. Greenland. “Efforts to increase HDL have not resulted in beneficial clinical improvements.”
Proponents also like to cite the fact that a number of indigenous peoples – including Polynesians, Melanesians, Sri Lankans, and Indians – consume fairly large amounts of coconut products without suffering from cardiovascular disease. However, most of these people have traditionally eaten coconut meat or pressed coconut cream as part of a diet that is low in processed foods and high in fruits and vegetables, with fish being the main source of protein. They are also much more physically active than typical westerners.
But that is also changing now, reported a New Zealand research team. The “imports of unhealthy foods like corned beef, fast food and processed ingredients are driving huge increases in obesity and ill health.”