Common knowledge says that autoimmunity is an overactive immune system. In other words, “the body is attacking itself.” Not exactly. In most cases, the immune system isn’t too strong, it’s actually too weak, and becomes dysfunctional. The immune system is made up of various components. […]
Author: Robert Stephens
Summary: If you are taking coumadin, you may be at risk of heart disease because of vitamin K deficiency. This risk can be reduced by supplementing with certain forms of vitamin K, without adversely affecting your clotting risk. Only change your medication dose under the […]
The American Heart Association (AHA) recently issued a “Presidential Advisory” which linked saturated fat with heart disease, and encouraged the increased use of vegetable seed oils. The lead author said, “…coconut oil is a fad right now — but it is actually a saturated fat, which raises your LDL.” He continues, “But the AHA has always taken the stance that saturated fat is bad and that we should be eating more plant oils, and this view is endorsed by the vast majority of nutritionists who are scientifically qualified (Hughes, 2017)”
The abstract of the advisory states: “In summary: randomized controlled trials that lowered intake of dietary saturated fat and replaced it with polyunsaturated vegetable oil reduced CVD by ≈30%” (American Heart Association, 2017).
For another 20 pages, the AHA makes a vicious assault on saturated fat, the main components of coconut oil and butter. Their basic recommendations? Eat more vegetable oil.
There aren’t many studies comparing vegetable oil intake to butter or coconut oil, but it’s fairly easy to do a diet survey and tracking the disease risks of the participants over time. This technique obviously has some flaws, since a lot of other factors contribute to disease. In this AHA study, instead of looking at all the studies comparing saturated to unsaturated fat, the AHA selected only four studies, some of which have serious confounding factors that the studies did not take into account. Here are a few:
The LA Veterans Hospital Study (Dayton, et.al. 1969)
This study compared two groups of 846 older veterans. The men were divided into two groups, and given meals at the VA Center in Los Angeles. The experimental group was given extra polyunsaturated oils, including soybean oil. The soybean oil group had fewer heart attacks and sudden deaths, but the results were not statistically significant. Some other factors might have skewed the results:
- The experimental group had fewer heavy cigarette smokers.
- The experimental group was consuming much more vitamin E (due to soybean oil).
- The experimental group had a SLIGHT decrease in mortality.
- The authors of the study attributed the fewer deaths to the increased vitamin E (α-tocopherol) in the diet of those in the treatment group.
- What about trans-fats???
In the 1960’s, trans-fats were not known to be harmful. The amount of trans-fat (from margarine) was not taken into account, but were likely higher in the control group. The Sidney Heart Study was excluded on the basis that trans fats skewed the results, so why didn’t they exclude this study as well? Perhaps it didn’t produce the results that the AHA was looking for? The AHA concludes that the decreased mortality is a result of polyunsaturated fats, although the authors of the study attributed it to the much higher vitamin E content, which would have protected from the harmful effects of cigarette smoking, which already was lower in the experimental group!
The Oslo Diet-Heart Study (Circulation, 1970)
In this study, 412 men who previously had a heart attack were assigned to either continue their normal diet with no restrictions and no guidance, or to be assigned to a cholesterol lowering diet, which included the following:
- Soybean oil was provided for free (which is high in vitamin E)
- Sardines canned in cod liver oil were provided for free (high in Vitamin A and calcium).
- Fish and shellfish were recommended.
- Meat was to be eaten lean (visible fat removed).
- Encouraged brown bread (wheat and rye).
- Pure sugar was restricted.
- Encouraged the increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and peas.
- Margarine use was restricted.
- Only one egg yolk per week.
A multivitamin was provided to both groups (Laatikainen, 2011)
Notes: The conclusion of the AHA: “The low saturated, high polyunsaturated fat group continued to experience reduced cardiovascular mortality compared with the high saturated fat group….” So, the experimental group was was given free sardines, free cod liver oil, got complementary nutrition advice, and the outcome was attributed to the reduction in saturated fat? This is laughable! Perhaps other factors MIGHT be involved in the results?
Other Studies Cited by The American Heart Association
The AHA also cites the British Medical Research Council study, which had no clear conclusion, and the Finnish Mental Hospital Study, which was not randomized. The AHA seems to be grasping at straws to promote vegetable oils, but the results are far from convincing.
What Fat Raises Blood Cholesterol?
Saturated fat does raise blood cholesterol, and polyunsaturated fat lowers it. At least, these are the short-term effects. Why? Because saturated fats require more of certain nutrients for our liver to metabolize. But these short-term effects do not tell us the whole story. A healthy diet contains some of all kinds of fat, both saturated and unsaturated. The category “saturated fat” includes foods that are healthy, like butter or coconut oil, or foods that are unhealthy, like lard or margarine. Our bodies need polyunsaturated fats, but only in small amounts. Vegetable oils are full of polyunsaturated fats, and they can be harmful in excess. Americans are eating more of them than ever, and heart disease is the leading cause of death.
Recent clinical trials are based on questionnaires of people who are eating unhealthy western diets. Healthy-minded Americans are less likely to be eating saturated fat, especially if they’re eating according to the AHA’s recommendations. Observations of people who are eating saturated fat in the context of a healthy diet do not show any harmful effects to the saturated fat.
Unfortunately, many studies are influenced by political forces, and conclusions typically favor food conglomerates.
Dayton, S., M. L. Pearce, S. Hashimoto, W. J. Dixon, and U. Tomiyasu. “A Controlled Clinical Trial of a Diet High in Unsaturated Fat in Preventing Complications of Atherosclerosis.” Circulation 40.1S2 (1969).
Hughes, Sue AHA Issues ‘Presidential Advisory’ on Harms of Saturated Fat http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/881689 09 July 2017.
Leren, P. “The Oslo Diet-Heart Study: Eleven-Year Report.” Circulation 42.5 (1970): 935-42. Print.
Reijo Laatikainen, Registered Dietitian at Lääkärikeskus Aava Follow. “Oslo Diet Heart Study.” LinkedIn SlideShare. 22 Sept. 2011. Web. 09 July 2017.
Sacks, Frank M., Alice H. Lichtenstein, Jason H.Y. Wu, Lawrence J. Appel, Mark A. Creager, Penny M. Kris-Etherton, Michael Miller, Eric B. Rimm, Lawrence L. Rudel, Jennifer G. Robinson, Neil J. Stone, Linda V. Van Horn, and On Behalf of the American Heart Association. “Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association.” Circulation. American Heart Association, Inc., 01 Jan. 2017. Web. 09 July 2017.
Shilhavy, Brian, and Marianita Jader. Shilhavy. Virgin Coconut Oil: How It Has Changed People’s Lives, and How It Can Change Yours! West Bend, WI: Tropical Traditions, 2004. Print.
Vegetable oil availability image:
India oil producer image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5f/Grinding_Mustard_Seed_for_oil.jpg
Coconut oil is healthy, … Coconut oil is bad for you. Saturated fat causes heart disease… now it doesn’t? Sigh. It seems like every few days a report comes out that “proves” that saturated fat causes all kinds of diseases. What do studies really prove? […]
Very few scientific studies have been done comparing coconut oil to other types of fats. A few studies found fats from coconut oil to be helpful in reducing LDL oxidation and lipoprotein (a) (Nevin, Rajamohan, 2004). This suggests that coconut oil might actually protect against […]
By Terry Stephens
Perhaps you have read the recent headlines:
“Coconut oil isn’t healthy. It’s never been healthy” – USA Today.
“Nutrition experts warn coconut oil is on par with beef fat, butter” – Chicago Tribune
“This popular health food is worse for you than pork lard” – Daily Star
These and similar statement are usually based upon “scientific” findings of institutions such as the AHA. Yes, the American Heart Association….the same enlightened organization that puts its seal of approval on such “wholesome” breakfast cereals as Cocoa Puffs, Trix, and Lucky Charms. Did it not also for years claim that eating trans fatty margarine was more healthy than butter? It’s unclear whether or not researchers at the AHA considered studies conducted of native people in the South Pacific who have for generations consumed prodigious amounts of coconut oil without being afflicted with heart disease. Probably not. No reason to. Because you see, coconut oil contains …uh saturated fat, and we all know that saturated fats have been responsible for more human deaths than second hand tobacco smoke and rising sea levels. Cursed be that fat molecule with no double bonds! Well… maybe not
Not all health experts have reached the same conclusions regarding saturated fats as the American Heart Association. Consider recent research published by the British Journal Of Medicine: BJM 2015; 351: h3978.
Also from the Mayo Clinic:
“For many years we have been told that to prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD), we must lower our intake of saturated fatty acids (SFAs) and instead eat more carbohydrates and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Backed up by the National Cholesterol Education Program, the National Institutes of Health, and the American Heart Association, the medical profession has promoted this idea eagerly although the number of contradictory scientific reports is almost endless. There is in fact much evidence that doing the opposite is more relevant…There is no evidence that a lower intake of SFA can prevent CVD and a high intake of PUFAs without specification may result in a high intake of omega-6, which is associated with many adverse health effects. Because there is much evidence that saturated fat may even be beneficial, we urge the American Heart Association…to consider the aforementioned evidence when updating their future guidelines”. - The Questionable Benefits of Exchanging Saturated Fat With Polyunsaturated Fat. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, April 2014
Okay, let’s take a quick look at the nutritional profile of coconut oil. Yes, it does have a 92% saturated fat content which is part of the reason it has been shunned by some in the medical community. But coconut oil is high in short and medium chain fatty acids which are more easily digested than most saturated fats. Coconut oil is over 40% lauric acid. A 2015 analysis suggests that many benefits linked to coconut oil (such as weight loss and maybe even protection against alzheimer’s disease) are derived from lauric acid. (1) Coconut oil is white and solid below (75 F) without spoiling. (2) Being a saturated fat, coconut oil is very stable at higher temperatures, more so than polyunsaturated vegetable oils.
Caprylic, capric and myristic acids found in coconut oil are known to be rich in antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Coconut oil does not lead to increases in LDL levels, and it reduces the incidence of damage and injury to arteries, therefore helping in preventing atherosclerosis.
As with any food or nutrient, moderation should be the rule and it would be recommended to use the unrefined and un-hydrogenated brands of coconut oil.
Coconut oil may or may not be the superfood that some maintain. But for optimal health the human body requires different types of fats. As for me, this calls for a sensible amount of saturated fats such as real butter and a little coconut oil.
(1)Journal of the American Oil Chemists Society, January 2015, Volume 92, Issue 1, pp 1-15
(2)“Coconut Oil”. Transport information service, German Ins. Assoc..Berlin 2015
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