What do you do when the so-called experts and The Wellness Way disagree on what is good for your body and bad? You research, knowing there’s a difference between “fireman” experts and “carpenter” Wellness Way practitioners. One of those topics of disagreement is one of our favorite ingredients at The Wellness Way: coconut oil.
If you’ve been around The Wellness Way for any length, you know we suggest coconut oil for everything from lotions to sunscreen and even for home spa treatments, like body butter and face masks. While we recommend coconut oil (unless allergic), the American Heart Association (AHA) warns against it because they believe coconut raises cholesterol. So, whose advice should you follow? That ought to be decided by the studies and real-life results.
So why the criticism of coconut and the advice from the AHA against it? They’ve had their information wrong since Ancel Keys did his seven countries study in the 1950s, and they still have it wrong today. Worse yet, they are still putting out incredibly detrimental health advice to millions of Americans while firmly asserting they have it all figured out.
What Does the AHA Claim?
AHA on Saturated Fats and Cholesterol
The AHA explains that coconut oil is packed full of saturated fat.  That’s entirely correct, and it’s precisely why we love it! However, to say that eating saturated fats is the reason for the rise in cholesterol and, therefore, cardiovascular disease isn’t true. Cholesterol is a vital substance in the body that’s key for many functions, including:
- Providing strength and flexibility to our cells
- Allowing for optimal memory and brain function
- Supporting the gall bladder in digestion
- And perhaps most importantly… serving as a precursor for your sex hormones!
That’s to name a few of the key roles cholesterol plays in the body. Eating saturated fat and having sufficient cholesterol is critical to achieving your best health.
Another best-ignored recommendation from the AHA is that only saturated fats should be limited to just 6% of your daily calories. Like cholesterol doesn’t cause cardiovascular disease, eating saturated fat doesn’t make you fat, nor does it increase your cardiovascular disease risk. Eating too much sugar and too many carbohydrates is behind many of the health issues facing our nation and the world.
To keep your body healthy, you need to eat more of its required constituents so it can continue rebuilding and repairing itself. Your brain is made up of 60% fat, so a “low fat” diet is not a good general rule!
AHA on Cardiovascular Disease
As stated above, the AHA argues that coconut oil increases LDL and that, therefore, it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease:
“Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of cardiovascular disease, and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil.”
Even though cholesterol is at the scene of the crime, cholesterol does not cause heart disease. No valid research exists to support that claim. In fact, multiple studies have shown the opposite is true – that there’s no link between cholesterol and heart disease.   
AHA on Coconut Oil: “No Offsetting Favorable Effects”
The AHA states that coconut oil has no known “offsetting favorable effects.”  This is also not true. A simple internet search produces many results, including the following.
- Brain health. A study shows that ketones, like those found in coconut oil, were found to help the mood, affect, and cognitive and daily performance, among other things, of an Alzheimer’s Disease patient.  The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil have also been shown to help brain glucose hypometabolism. Neuroprotective antioxidant properties have also been attributed to coconut oil. 
- Liver health. Coconut oil was shown to have a protective effect on the liver in a 2014 study. It was also shown to lower triglyceride levels. 
- Anti-inflammatory. Studies have shown coconut oil to have an anti-inflammatory effect, even helping with an adjuvant-induced case of arthritis.  
- Helps the gut’s microbiome. A lot happens in the gut, so taking care of it means taking care of the rest of your body, too. Coconut oil has been found to aid in the microbiome of your gut so much that it also helps your metabolic health. 
- Dental health. Oil pulling is an old, holistic form of dental hygiene that continues to work today.   When doing it with coconut oil, you give the oil a chance to absorb into the mouth to receive the benefits mentioned above and more.
There are so many favorable effects of coconut oil that you can do a Google search for “benefits of coconut oil,” and the results will be endless.
What They Suggest Instead
Instead of coconut oil and other saturated fats, the AHA claims that you should opt for vegetable oils. They also assure the reader that you can use coconut oil on your body – just avoid putting it in your body.
The problem with this advice is that, by putting something on your skin, it still can be absorbed into the body – like how you get the benefits of coconut oil through oil-pulling. We have a greater defense through our mouth and GI system than against something directly absorbed through the skin.
Seed oils like corn, canola, or straight-up “vegetable” oil (usually from soybeans) should be avoided like the plague. While cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease, eating and cooking with vegetable oil certainly can.
Olive oil – which the AHA also recommends — is an excellent source of fat, and we highly recommend it for salad dressings, but it should not be exposed to high heat during cooking. We only recommend using olive oil in its natural, uncooked state. Coconut oil is the best oil for high-temperature cooking because its high saturated fat content allows it to remain stable when heated.
A Word of Warning About Coconut Oil
For all these reasons and more, we at The Wellness Way stand by coconut as “old faithful.” The one time we will not suggest it – and this is a big one – is if you are allergic to coconuts. In that situation, the harm of eating a food you’re allergic to will do to you will far outweigh the benefits of the coconut itself.
The tricky part is that not everyone who’s allergic to coconut knows they are allergic to coconut. This is because most of the allergy tests done by the medical community aren’t thorough enough tests to tell you everything you need to stay away from. This is why we suggest you get both your IGE and IGG allergies tested.
What Can You Do Now?
Doctor Patrick and the rest of our docs never want their word to be your sole reason for doing something. They encourage you to do your research and confirm that what they say is true. That’s the only way to keep up with science – keep questioning, exploring, and producing new theories.
Now that you’ve seen both arguments and why we disagree with the AHA on coconut oil, it’s time to do your own research. The studies the NIH (National Institutes of Health) publishes on Pubmed.gov are a wonderful place to start. Often, medical practice doesn’t line up with the latest medical research. For more research-backed articles to start your exploration, sign up for our newsletter. To test your food allergies and other health markers, find a Wellness Way clinic near you!
- The Skinny on Fats: The American Heart Association
- Link between high cholesterol and heart disease ‘inconsistent’, new study finds: ScienceDirect
- Dietary Cholesterol and the Lack of Evidence in Cardiovascular Disease: NIH
- LDL-C does not cause cardiovascular disease: a comprehensive review of the current literature: NIH
- Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association: Circulation
- Potential of coconut oil and medium chain triglycerides in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: NIH
- A new way to produce hyperketonemia: use of ketone ester in a case of Alzheimer’s disease: NIH
- Virgin coconut oil protects against liver damage in albino rats challenged with the anti-folate combination, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole: NIH
- Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic activities of virgin coconut oil: NIH
- Polyphenolics isolated from virgin coconut oil inhibits adjuvant induced arthritis in rats through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action: NIH
- Gut Microbiota and Metabolic Health: The Potential Beneficial Effects of a Medium Chain Triglyceride Diet in Obese Individuals: NIH
- Tooth brushing, oil pulling and tissue regeneration: A review of holistic approaches to oral health: NIH
- Oil pulling for maintaining oral hygiene – A review: NIH