Coconut Oil Craze Part 3: Of Kathy Griffin, Terrorists, the American Heart Association, and Irresponsible Health Leaders

Disclosure of Conflict: I know how to do CPR because I learned the life-saving technique and BCLS and ACLS courses certified by the AHA. Over 20 years ago, I served as President of a small branch of the American Heart Association (AHA) in Troy, Michigan and raised funds for CPR training. I was Chairperson of the AHA walk in Detroit in 2013 that raised over $400,000 for public education on nutrition, fitness, and CPR training. I have also openly criticized the AHA on my Twitter account (@drjkahn) for the funding conflicts they have had in the past documented in the recent documentary What The Health. I also have openly criticized their meat-centric menus at AHA fundraising balls, a missed opportunity to teach the health value of a plant based diet.

I received a secret memo from an insider at the American Heart Association. The Presidential Advisory addressing saturated fats and cardiovascular disease published June 15,2017 in the prestigious journal Circulation and that was extended for 25 pages and 196 references was really written just to make a single point in a single paragraph: coconut oil, a processed food-like substance that is very high in saturated fat and calories, potentially promotes cardiovascular disease. In the outrageous words of the Advisory “However, because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD, and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil”. All the discussion on cheese, other dairy products, butter and vegetable oils was simply filler to engage and outrage the fitness, blogger, and “wellness” community. At last we know the truth about this dangerous public organization.

Of course, this introductory paragraph is fantasy. However, it would easy to believe that the “evil” American Heart Association actually has hidden emails and tapes planning just such a public rouse. The AHA surely must be taking money from the makers of Earth Balance spreads, one of the apparent victors of promoting vegetables oils other than coconut oil over the honored stick of butter and the virginal coconut oil. (Note: The American Heart Association does not accept funds from Boulder Brands USA, Inc., the makers of Earth Balance).

On two occasions in the past 2 weeks I have written about the Advisory from the team of researchers at the AHA. Once I wrote about the clarity of the message from the Presidential Advisory team regarding the issue of saturated fat of animal origin and the second time about the medias focus on risks of coconut oil instead of the many other important sections and those two articles have received much attention. One would think the story would die down by now but even this morning articles continue to appear, largely favoring that coconut oil is clearly another form of oxygen for survival and that the AHA got it all wrong.

The conversation has unfortunately taken an uglier turn, reminiscent of the recent furor over Kathy Griffin and her gross escapade demonstrating a beheaded President Trump. Although she had been chastised and ostracized for this stunt that backfired, it seems to have given permission to Internet pundits to pull the same rogue moves. Of even more concern, leaders in medicine and journalism are sharing these messages, tacitly endorsing them. While I hesitate calling attention to the outrageous statements that have appeared, I do not hesitate asking leaders like Aseem Malhotra, MD, Pascal Meier, MD, and Nina Teicholz why they are sharing or liking them on social media outlets. One of these blasphemous reports in response to the AHA Advisory was titled “Is the American Heart Association a Terrorist Organization”. Whoever Kevin Michael Geary is, as his website has no biography claiming a scientific degree or university professorship, his claim that the AHA is even more effective that ISIS at terrorism should create the same response Kathy Griffin received: you are out of touch, over the line, and best to be not heard from again for decades. Of more concern however is the reposting of this article by Aseem Malhotra, MD, a prominent cardiologist in the UK, sharing this inflammatory tripe with thousands of others. It was also “liked” by author Nina Teicholz. If you want more outrage, how about the post asking whether the AHA or coconut oil is more likely to kill you? Why would journalist Nina Teicholz, presenting herself as a serious student of the sciences, retweet such an untenable media headline grabber linking this advisory to the “AHA killers”? Prominent scientists wrote the AHA piece, ones with far more formal education and academic standing than she has. Her smiling face, along with Gary Taubes and Zoe Harcombe, Ph.D are found this article. Another concern is the RD who wrote a piece entitled “Why Coconut Oil Won’t Kill You but Listening to the American Heart Association Might!” posted on social media. The accompanying meme with the quote and a spoon of the white oil in dispute has been shared or liked on Twitter by some prominent leaders like cardiologists Aseem Malhotra, MD, Pascal Meier, MD of the UK (also a journal editor), Eric Topol, MD of the Scripps Translational Medicine Institute, a thought leader in the field of medicine. Those well-known cardiologists were joined on Twitter in supporting this gross meme slamming the AHA by “likes” from John Mandrola, MD, David Ludwig, MD, and Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, Dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University. How disappointing! Do these doctors really believe the AHA is killing people and at a rate higher than coconut oil may be clogging arteries and contributing to heart attacks and strokes? I think not but perhaps Kathy Griffin and others have pushed the line so far that there is no limit to excess anymore. Finally, why would author and Pharm. D. James DiNicolantonio call via his Twitter account for the AHA to be put on trial for recommending dietary advice shown to increase dead body counts? Does he have any evidence for the deaths the AHA is directly causing or is this just more of the Kathy Griffin look-alike club?

Is there room to debate the merits of one dietary pattern versus another? Of course there is as the implications for the health of billions of people is at stake. Is there room to tolerate calls for jailing AHA contributors as a deadly terrorist organization, or allegations of AHA-induced deaths to be tolerated? Absolutely not! Is it OK for these dangerous statements to gain support from leading physicians, journalists, journal editors, and academic leaders by liking and sharing them to thousands of readers on social media? Absolutely not! The academic standing and potential conflicts of the authors of the AHA Presidential Advisory were included in the article and are posted here in the photo above. It is time to end this craze over coconut oil, time to stop the gross attacks on character, and move towards a consensus of eating “real food, not too much, mostly plants” for the good of the public. Imagine the good that would result if the response to the AHA Advisory were positive comments by Drs. Malhotra, DiNicolantonio, Mandrola, Ludwig, Mozzafarian, Harcombe and Meier along with journalists Teicholz, Taubes and others to their followers to eat fewer animal based meals and eat more fruit and vegetables for their health, concerns over the environment, and animal suffering.

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