Is coconut oil healthy of just a fad? We check with Doctor Oz.

Recently we were discussing approaches to weight loss with a group of friends in Wilton, and one pointed out that Dr Oz had said that coconut oil was good for weight loss. This seemed surprising since it is an oil made of saturated fats, so we looked into it. You can buy coconut oil almost everywhere now and from quacks like Dr Mercola.

Several coconut oil products clutter our grocer’s shelves

Dr Oz did indeed endorse coconut oil on a recent show, claiming that unspecified “recent research” said it was good for weight loss, skin conditions and treating ulcers. He didn’t claim it would walk your dog or fold your laundry, but that might be in the next segment.

Dr Oz trained as a medical doctor, and some of his straightforward medical advice can be pretty helpful, but he increasingly has moved to endorse alternative medicine, pseudo-science and even faith healing. Many scientists and physicians feel he has gone completely “over to the dark side,” eschewing science-based medicine for a lot of hokum.

Coconut oil may very well make a good skin treatment, as you often find it in suntan lotions and the like. But there really isn’t much peer-reviewed research to support Oz’s assertions. It has been linked to impaired memory performance in rats. But there are no studies linking coconut oil to the stomach ulcer bacteria h pylori. There are, however, a number of sites hawking coconut oil that make these claims, though.

There is one preliminary study on 20 obese Malaysian males that showed some reduction in waist circumference and another study showing increasing obesity upon ingestion of coconut oil and other saturated fats. Finally there is a study among Filipino women showing that coconut oil improved the lipid profile by increasing HDL (good cholesterol).

However, these are small and preliminary, and no definitive conclusions have been reached. On the web site sharecare.com, the Mt Sinai Medical Center answers a query about coconut oil, suggesting it is unlikely to be useful.

The bottom line, according to the Mayo Clinic and others is this: People on coconut oil diets showed higher arterial fat after just one meal, it can increase cholesterol and, if it is not reducing your caloric intake, coconut oil can actually lead to weight gain.

And the Mayo Clinic web site points out

Although eating coconut oil in moderation for a short-term diet probably won’t harm your health, it may not help you lose weight. And keep in mind that coconut oil actually has more saturated fat than do butter and lard. For successful, long-term weight loss, stick to the basics — an overall healthy-eating plan and exercise.

There are some articles on Oz’s web site but mostly by blog contributors, many with only Naturopath training (which is not science based medicine) and even they come back to these same preliminary studies. There is also one by a board certified dermatologist touting essentially the same studies.

The only places strongly touting coconut oil are quack doctor Joe Mercola’s site and the even more suspect site at the Weston A Price Foundation. The paper Mercola appears to be referring to is also the 2009 Brazilian study where 2 groups of volunteers were fed either soybean oil or coconut oil over 12 weeks and instructed to walk 50 minutes a day and follow an otherwise balanced low calorie diet. Both groups lost weight, but HDL (good) cholesterol was higher in the coconut oil group.

In conclusion, there is a bit of preliminary evidence for some benefits, but since it seems counter-intuitive that eating a high saturated fat diet can help you lose weight, it is probably better to follow the advice of the established experts such as WebMD and the American Heart Association who recommend against it.

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