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The Dark Side Of Coconut Oil: A Cautionary Tale For Coconut Oil Extremists.

In last week's article “Four New, Cutting-Edge Ways To Easily Shift Your Body Into Fat-Burning Mode & Ketosis“, I finished with a somewhat mysterious word of caution to those who consume oodles of coconut oil (or MCT oil, for that matter).

Mystery, begone. 

In today's article, myself and my friend Alyssa Siefert, PhD (a Biomedical Engineering Instructor/Researcher at Yale) are going to tell you about the dark side of coconut oil, and reveal a cautionary, scientifically accurate tale for any coconut oil extremists who insist on adding oodles of coconut oil to every smoothie and spoonful after spoonsful of MCT oil to every cup of coffee.

So go ahead, slowly step away from the giant vat of coconutty goodness, and open your mind to the possibility that, in the same way that too much protein could reduce lifespan and too few carbohydrates can cause joint and gut damage, too much coconut oil and MCT could also be a bit rough on your body…especially if you fall into the specific categories we discuss in this article.

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If you've recently looked into topics like ketosis, fat burning efficiency, low carb diets, or even candida cleansing, you've no doubt heard of the myriad of benefits derived from coconut oil. Because it is rich in the medium- and long-chain fatty acids (MCFAs and LCFAs) you're about to discover, coconut oil has too many compelling medicinal, metabolic, and cosmetic uses to list here.

And let's not beat around the bush: you'll find extra virgin coconut oil, full fat, non-BPA coconut milk, MCT oil and other similar fats recommended quite frequently here at BenGreenfieldFitness.com

However, the recent paper “Dietary Fatty Acids Directly Impact Central Nervous System Autoimmunity via the Small Intestine” shed light on the potential downside of medium- and long-chain fatty acids (MCFAs and LCFAs).

This well-designed, high-impact scientific paper showed that lauric acid (LA), which usually makes up 50% or more of coconut oil, tips the balance of T-cells (immune cells that actively participate in the immune response) towards the production of inflammation, and also, in mouse models, exacerbates multiple sclerosis (MS), in which your immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body.

So should people with intestinal inflammation or risk of MS go against the popular opinion of the internets and the majority of new diet books out there and instead limit their consumption of coconut and MCT oil?Can too much coconut or MCT cause inflammatory or immune issues in your body?

Can too much coconut or MCT oil cause inflammatory or immune issues in your body?

Let's make some logical, data-driven conclusions, shall we?

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First of all, what are MCFAs, LCFAs, MCT, PUFAs, MUFAs, and all these other confusing alphabet letter soup phrases?

Fatty Acids (FAs) are simply molecules consisting of long hydrocarbon chains capped with a carboxylic acid (COOH). This carboxylic acid is where “acid” part of fatty acid comes from. Fatty acids are termed “saturated” if there are hydrogen atoms at every possible position on the carbon chain, and “unsaturated” if there are open positions for hydrogens on carbons that are instead filled by a double bond between the carbon atoms.

Here's a pretty picture to demonstrate:

sat

FAs that only have one double bond are called mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), while FAs with multiple double bonds are polyunsaturated FA (PUFAs). Fats are formed by chains of fatty acids connected together with glycerol, and are classified as monoglycerides (one FA per glycerol), diglycerides (two FA per glycerol), or triglycerides (you guessed it – three FA per glycerol). If this is getting too nerdy to remember, just think that saturated fats are solid at room temperature and unsaturated fats are liquid at room temp and often used as cooking oils.

Fats, like those you would consume from foods, are formed by chains of these fatty acids that have been connected together with glycerol, and these fats can be classified as monoglycerides (one FA per glycerol), diglycerides (two FA per glycerol), or triglycerides (you guessed it – three FA per glycerol).

If this is getting too nerdy to understand, just remember: saturated fats are solid at room temperature (like coconut oil) and unsaturated fats are liquid at room temp (like extra virgin olive oil).

Anyhoo…let's get to know these FAs even better…

…Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs) have one to six carbon atoms, including acetic acid (C2), propionic acid (C3) and butyric acid (C6). SCFAs are made by the fermentation of dietary fiber such as vegetables by your intestinal bacteria (AKA your microbiota) and these SCFAs exhibit numerous health benefits, especially for preventing metabolic disorders by turning white adipose tissue into brown adipose tissue and by regulating blood sugar. SCFA treatments have also been shown to ameliorate mouse models of intestinal bowel disease (IBD) and allergic asthma.

Then we have FAs with longer chains of carbon atoms. The famous MCT oil is composed of Medium Chain Triglycerides that have FA chains ranging from 6-12 Carbons, including caproic acid (C6), caprylic acid (C8), capric acid (C10), and lauric acid (C12) – though, as you learned about in last week's article about how to get into ketosis, it is hotly debated among nerds whether lauric acid is considered a MCT or LCT.

And yes, FAs get even longer. LCFAs have 12 or more carbon atoms and include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (20 Carbons), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (22 Carbons), and, depending on whom you ask, lauric acid (12 Carbons).

coconut

OK, enough with the science lesson – when it comes to stuffing or not stuffing your face with coconut oil, why does this stuff even matter?

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To answer this question, let's get back to that recent study on coconut oil mentioned earlier.

While numerous internet articles on many popular diet and nutrition websites make a claim that over 1500 peer-reviewed scientific studies confirm that coconut oil is healthy, a quick Pubmed search shows that although there are that many studies relevant to coconut oil, many of them are not actually saying that coconut oil is a panacea.

Take a look at the screenshot below to judge for yourself.

png coc

Sure, there is indeed a great deal of high-quality scientific research showing that coconut oil has many health benefits, and even health benefits beyond the ones you've probably heard about a million times from various health gurus.

For example, did you know that coconut oil can mitigate the damaging effects of antibiotics? In this study, Nigerian researchers gave rats a broad-spectrum antibiotic (Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole), and produced significant increases in liver toxicity markers like serum total bilirubin, lactate dehydrogenase, and alkaline phosphatase. But supplementing these antibiotics with virgin coconut oil protected against this liver toxicity (here are a few other creative ways to limit the damage from antibiotics).

That said, the recent research findings mentioned earlier suggest that coconut oil is not healthy in all situations.

In the October 2015 issue of Immunity, a leading primary research immunology journal, the effects of FAs were meticulously investigated in a report entitled “Dietary Fatty Acids Directly Impact Central Nervous System Autoimmunity via the Small Intestine”. Download it here if you'd like.

In this study, researchers first added FAs ranging from C4 to C12 (from butyric acid to lauric acid) to naïve mouse T cells, showing that as the length of hydrocarbon backbone increased, the number of T cells that differentiated into Th17 cells increased in a strikingly linear fashion:

In this figure, naïve T cells were dosed with C4:0 = butyric acid, C6:0 = caproic acid, C8:0 = caprylic acid, C10:0 = capric acid, and C12:0 = LA, and the number of Th17 cells, marked by surface protein CD4 and production of IL-17, were quantified.
In this figure, naïve T cells were dosed with C4:0 = butyric acid, C6:0 = caproic acid, C8:0 = caprylic acid, C10:0 = capric acid, and C12:0 = LA, and the number of Th17 cells, marked by surface protein CD4 and production of IL-17, were quantified.

So what are Th17 cells, and why should we care?

Imbalanced T cell subsets drive numerous autoimmune diseases, and an abundance Th17 cells (called Th17-skewed immune system) can result in inflammatory autoimmune disease, including intestinal bowel disorder (IBD) and multiple sclerosis (MS).

See, Th17 cells are meant to attack parasites and pathogenic bacteria, but having too many of them in your body can increase the chances of their attacking your own tissues, such as myelin sheaths in the case of MS. But while Th17 cells promote inflammation, they can be balanced by anti-inflammatory regulatory T cells (Tregs), and it is the ratio of pro- and anti-inflammatory T cells, not the absolute number of each cell type, that is predictive of health and disease.

Therefore, researchers next quantified the effects of hydrocarbon chain length on Treg differentiation, finding that shorter chain FAs induced Tregs:

In this figure, naïve T cells were dosed with C4:0 = butyric acid, C6:0 = caproic acid, C8:0 = caprylic acid, C10:0 = capric acid and the number of Tregs, marked by surface proteins CD4 and CD25 and expression of transcription factor Foxp3, were quantified.
In this figure, naïve T cells were dosed with C4:0 = butyric acid, C6:0 = caproic acid, C8:0 = caprylic acid, C10:0 = capric acid and the number of Tregs, marked by surface proteins CD4 and CD25 and expression of transcription factor Foxp3, were quantified.

To determine if the Th17-skewing effects of LA were relevant to autoimmune diseases, mice with the mouse-version of MS (called EAE) were fed a diet of 30.9% fat with 13.5% of it LA (compared to control diet of 4.2% fat).

To relate this dietary regime to humans, for a person eating 2500 calories a day, that’s 750 calories from fat, and 101 calories from LA. Siince coconut oil is 120 calories per tablespoon, half of which come from LA, this translates to about 2 TB of coconut oil per day – a pretty reasonable dose. So since the dosing in this paper checks out, you can regard its results as likely relevant to your life (as opposed to studies that give crazy, otherworldly high doses of tested compounds).

Anyways, so back to this study. Mice eating higher amounts of LA exhibited Th17-skewing in the intestines, worsened MS symptoms, and changes in the microbiome (reduction in Prevotellaceae and S24-7 of the bacteria Bacteroidetes phylum). Disease worsening was actually worsened by this microbiota shift, as repeating this study with germ-free mice (that have no intestinal microbiota) did not result in Th17-skewing.

To be clear, these results show that high amounts of coconut oil can create rampant inflammation, nerve damage and worsen an autoimmune disease.

But wait, there's good news.

Remarkably, feeding mice the SCFA proprionic acid (C3) both prevented the onset and alleviated symptoms of MS. The overall conclusion of this study is that through the intestinal microbiota, LCFA can induce pro-inflammatory T cells, and SCFA ca induce anti-inflammatory, regulatory T cells.

Therefore, SCFA can mitigate the harmful effects of LCFA.

In other words, if you consume SCFA along with your coconut and MCT oil based LCFAs, you mitigate the damage.

And where do you get SCFAs in quite generous amounts?

You guess it: vegetables.

A high-fat diet? Thumbs mostly down.

A high-fat diet mixed with a high intake of nutrient-rich, SCFA-inducing plants? Thumbs up.

Again and again, we see that health is achieved through balance (and at the end of this article, we'll give you a link to a podcast in which I discuss the details of a high-fat, plant-based diet).

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But wait. The tale of the dark side of coconut oil is not quite finished.

Another recent study highlights another potential risk of coconut oil. Researchers investigating the effects of soybean oil, alone and in conjunction with fructose (which has increased significantly in American diets), fed mice 40% of their daily calories from fat, either from coconut oil alone or a 50/50 mix of coconut and soybean oils.

Compared to 40% of calories from coconut oil alone, mice consuming soybean oil had increased obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and fatty livers, showing that the adverse effects were from the chemical nature of soybean oil, not the macronutrient breakdown.

So that’s a win for coconut oil, right?

Maybe not.

Interestingly, in the same study, mice fed all high-fat diets tested (coconut oil, coconut oil + soybean oil, with and without fructose supplementation), exhibited significantly reduced lengths of both small and large intestines. Researchers reasoned that this intestinal shortening, which has broad implications for microbial colonization and nutrient absorption, is likely due to reduced fiber intake, since 40% of calories were fat.

Lengths of small intestine (A) and colon (B) of male mice on the indicated diets for 35 weeks.
Lengths of small intestine (A) and colon (B) of male mice on the indicated diets for 35 weeks.

OK, these findings are kind of scary – so now should I stop eating coconut oil?

Nope.

Back it up.

Coconut oil + SFCAs = good.

Coconut oil + fiber = good.

Coconut oil dumped into a cup of coffee, followed with a lone carrot beside your lunch and perhaps a scant serving of roasted vegetables with dinner? Not so good.

To put this in perspective, as you can read about here, Ben eats about 15-20+ servings of plants per day. And because of this, he gets away with a decent amount of coconut milk, coconut oil and MCT oil intake. All the SFCAs and fiber help balance out the potentially damaging effects of the fat, while still allowing him to get all the benefits of the fat.

Coconut oil, with around 90% of calories from saturated fat, 65% of which are MCTs, has been lauded as an ideal fat for cooking, ketosis, and prevention of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. So we're not saying coconut oil is unhealthy – just that it may be overhyped, and is too often recommended without simultaneous recommendations to eat your friggin' vegetables.

As you can see, Ben likes to eat plants.

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Before finishing up with a couple more practical recommendations and resources for you, here are a few caveats.

While it is tempting to accept as fact all conclusions drawn from studies published in peer-reviewed journals, as an academic, you need to realize that not all peer-reviewed journals are created equal. Scientific and medical journals are ranked by impact factor, with higher impact factors usually correlating with more rigorous, unbiased review processes of submitted data. Therefore, researchers regard conclusions from publications in high impact-factor journals, like Nature or New England Journal of Medicine, with greater levels of confidence than publications from low impact journals, which can suffer from shady and nepotistic publishing practices.

In addition, data and conclusions are only as valid and applicable as the experimental and statistical methods used. Often, gold-standard findings are found in meta-analyses, in which unbiased researchers (like epidemiologists or statisticians) re-analyze massive data sets from multiple studies. Still, when considering whether or not to apply findings from health-related studies to your own life, think about how robust the methods used are (did the researchers study 10 people or 10 thousand?), the dosing regime, and how similar you are to the experimental subjects.

Why are we telling you this?

Because the studies you just learned about are indeed valid, applicable and gold-standard studies. Not N=1 experimentation or tiny or sponsored by the anti-coconut-oil industry. So they're important for you to know about.

But wait…weren't these studies done in mice guts? Last I checked, we didn't have tiny tails and cute whiskers…

The recent scientific paper “How informative is the mouse for human gut microbiota research?” helps elucidate this for us (the whole paper is actually quite fascinating and worth a read, especially if you don't have a social life):

“…their advantages are numerous and, furthermore, the amount of research and knowledge on mouse gastroenterology, genetics and immunology far surpasses any other model. Murine mouse models provide a range of customizable genotypes and phenotypes far superior to any other model organism. They have thus played a very important role in the emerging gut microbiota research field. Owing to their widespread use in biomedical research, these models are complemented with extensive knowledge on genetic background and deep phenotypic and functional characterization. Moreover, with well-set-up standardized mouse house facilities throughout labs in the world, conducting experiments on mouse models, even germ-free ones, can be more easily achieved than with other models.”

Finally, as pointed out at the WholeHealthSource website, “Butyrate Suppresses Inflammation in the Gut and Other Tissues”:

“There are two main ways to get butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids. The first is to eat fiber and let your intestinal bacteria do the rest. Whole plant foods such as sweet potatoes, properly prepared whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruit and nuts are good sources of fiber. Refined foods such as white flour, white rice and sugar are very low in fiber. Clinical trials have shown that increasing dietary fiber increases butyrate production, and decreasing fiber decreases it.

Butyrate also occurs in significant amounts in food. What foods contain butyrate? Hmm, I wonder where the name BUTYR-ate came from? Butter perhaps?”

So yes, although you can overdo butter just like you can overdo coconut and MCT oil, if you are indeed consuming lots of LCFAs and MCTs, consume a bit of butter too. Thank you, Dave Asprey and Bulletproof Coffee, for pointing that out quite extensively.

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Anyways, back to those practical recommendations.

Dr. Alyssa Siefert has a tablespoon of unrefined (virgin) coconut oil in her morning coffee, but she is mindful not to exceed a few tablespoons a day unless she is matching this increased LCFA consumption with fiber from whole plant foods, as fiber intake directly correlates with SCFA production in a healthy gut. She also reads labels to ensure she's consuming organic unrefined (virgin) coconut oil that hasn't been hydrogenated.

And, as mentioned earlier, Ben accompanies his 70-90% fat based diet with oodles and oodles of plant matter at each meal, and doesn't count any carbohydrates he gets from sources like kale, spinach, tomatoes, etc. as part of his total daily carbohydrate intake.

The adverse effects of a high-fat diet may not result from what you're putting in your body, but what you're taking out (usually fiber) to allow increased intake of fats like coconut oil.

If you do happen to be a person whose baseline immunity tends toward inflammatory (for instance, a history of autoimmunity or skin conditions), then you should be especially be cautious about the amount of LCFA, MCT's and coconut oil you consume, but we still consider coconut oil a much healthier replacement for the unsaturated fats like canola oil (that used to be touted as heart-healthy, especially for cooking).

So don't fall into nutrition extremism. Including some coconut and MCT oil in your life is great, more is not necessarily better, especially if you're not going out of your way to eat plants, which can be admittedly more time-consuming than spooning fat into a cup of coffee or tea.

Finally, here is a link to a podcast Ben recorded with Dr. Terry Wahl's, in which they discuss exactly how to eat a plant-rich, high-fat diet.

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If you enjoyed this article and want more balanced, accessible science updates on your newsfeed, then check out Dr. Alyssa Siefert at The Sociable Scientist on Facebook! And leave your questions, comments and feedback below. And eat your vegetables.

66 thoughts on “The Dark Side Of Coconut Oil: A Cautionary Tale For Coconut Oil Extremists.

  1. Not helpful. Way too much information. Give the corazon, then the BS. Not the library of congress with no index!!!!

  2. There are some other issues with the original study ttp://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1074761315003921 — the total fat fed to the high-fat/high-lauric-acid (LA) mice was 30.2% of the feed by weight. But if you add up the known FA breakdown of the diet, it adds up to 28.7 (including 1.5% known polyunsaturated fats by weight). So there is a “mystery” fat component of 1.5% of the feed. If these mystery fats include much trans-fat, that could be a major factor in the immune response. If these mystery fats are largely polyunsaturated, then the total PUFA in the diet could be on the order of 5-6% of total calories, and this might be enough to cause immune flare-up. Unfortunately, they did NOT study two diets that differed in only the LA content. It would have been much more helpful to compare two groups of mice fed coconut oil and butter as their fats, in varying percentages.

  3. The article has some bad numbers in it.

    The correct number is 11 tablespoons of coconut oil to get as much lauric acid as was feed to the mice. 2-3 T of coconut oil shouldn’t be a problem at all.

    How to get the correct number?

    If you look at the original study, it has a link to supplemental info (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/MiamiMultiMediaURL/1-s2.0-S1074761315003921/1-s2.0-S1074761315003921-mmc1.pdf/272197/html/S1074761315003921/9195eb531ad19b39b5fe8a4504baf245/mmc1.pdf). From the supplemental info, you can get the exact diet fed to the high-fat mice: ssniff EF R/M E15116-34. There is a breakdown is available from http://www.bio-services.nl/cms/files/Groep2_lobor…

    From this detail, you can see that lauric acid (LA) is 12.58% of the raw weight of the feed, that crude fat is 30.2% of the feed, and that fat is about 55% of total calories from the feed. This works out to LA providing (12.58/30.2)*55% or about 23% of total calories.

    So for a 2,500 calorie-per-day human diet, you would have to eat about 23% of calories from LA. Since coconut oil is about 44% LA, and about 116 calories per tablespoon, you would have to eat 2500*0.23/(116*0.44) tablespoons of coconut oil to get this much LA. Or 11 tablespoons of coconut oil…

  4. Okay, this is a comment about the first evidence you present, the screen shot: Five out of the six “shots” are not about coconut oil or even about fats — peanuts, sea bream, a.coli, solid waste precipitation, sponge cake, and last, MCTs which may contain info about coconut or not, I can’t really tell whether it does or doesn’t.

    Relevant? Not so I would go and try to find the info. Please edit more closely.

  5. Hi Ben,

    Thank you for this very interesting article. I came across it as I was researching methods of fat absorption. I realize you were discussing ingestion of coconut oil, but I have questions about skin absorption. It has been many years since my nursing A&P classes, but I remember some of the absorption process. Simplistically, bile salts emulsify fats and chylomicrons (lipoproteins) which are only found in the intestine transport fat molecules across the intestinal wall. Our professor explained that this was the reason fats can not be absorbed through the skin. Some creams just “sit” on the skin until it is washed off, but others seem to disappear without a trace. I always thought the fat in an ointment or cream was a carrier for medication that could be absorbed by the skin. Do you know of any fats that can be absorbed by the skin and if so how is it eliminated by the body? I can’t understand why some diet plans will not allow the use of skin creams while on the diet. Do you have any insight into their dietary recommendations?

  6. Wow. I have to Avoid Coconut. I am allergic to all tree nuts and Coconut seems to give me bad reactions too, even though they say it’s “not a nut”. Coconut dried flakes and coconut OIL both increased my body temp = INFLAMMATION and Heat Flushes for me. It also gives me Brain Fog, Forgetfulness, worsens my ADHD with inability to concentrate on one thing and then i start acting OCD around the house, work, chores, shopping and trying to control other people around me, to the point family will ask WTH is wrong with me!? Even Fresh coconut is not good for me. Trust me, i have bought cases of fresh coconuts & opened them up for the water & made coconut pudding, smoothies, raw fruit pies with it. But, per Dr. Amy Yasko, some people have certain Gene Mutations that interfere with how we metabolize MCT oils like coconut and I have 1 to 2 of those genes. I tried, and it’s yummy, but I have to AVOID it.

  7. It starts off saying empirical evidence show this but then the study was done in vitro.

    I’ve see studies say Omega 6 oils are bad since it promotes inflammation. CLA has helped me greatly. Omega 6 oils seems big in the body building world. CLA is a natural trans fat so very healthy.

    There are quite a few people who do great with coconut oil. There are some who get a negative reaction. I use coconut oil in place of industrial made oil when i have to fry something so maybe use it twice a weeks. I try to get lots of saturated fat.

    You have to look at the EMPIRICAL evidence on how they worked on YOU. You have to experiment. Maybe you are some of the few who have sensitivities to coconut oils. Maybe you are taking too much of it. Experiment and adjust things accordingly.

  8. I have a number of health issues from fatty liver to know kidney issues and joint problems and have come to think I have out of control inflammation. I never have colds and seems my immune system is too high! I have about 40 pounds of belly fat and upper abdomen fat. 53 year old male. And am on a long list of anti inflammation suppliments. Omega 3 just added a little avocado oil and high mct coconut oils at I tbl spoon and source naturals omaga 3 with all the extra 6,9 ect. Hope it helps as I was in great health till a few years ago and one after another started having these issues. Along with adrenal wired tired insomnia ( they call it the walking dead syndrome, and boy are they correct). Any thoughts just found this site this eve…

  9. I have a question. Since fiber inhibits the absorption of fats, should the XCT oil be taken with a high fiber meal? And what is the cut off limit for fiber in a meal that would inhibit the absorption of the XCT oil?

    1. I put it in my giant smoothie with a ton of fiber and still note lots of benefits BECAUSE those triglycerides go straight to the liver, bypassing most digestion. So this one or coconut or MCT oil are fine with fiber.

  10. In the study:

    “For experiments under LA-rich diet, mice received a chow containing 30.9%

    crude fat rich in the MCFA C12:0 (lauric acid, 13.47%), and mice on a control

    diet were fed a chow with 4.2% crude fat.”

    30,9% of what? Calories I guess? They don’t say. Whatever.

    But more importantly, they don’t seem to mention anywhere, what the other 69,9% of the mice “chow”, was made of. Probably grains? Or worse, sugar…?

    So let’s see. Increasing LA in presence of.. er… grains? Sugar? (??They don’t say??), has this and that (baaaaaaad) consequences in laboratory mice. Am I concerned? No. Are YOU concerned? You shouldn’t.

    The T-cells differentiation thingy is… in VITRO.

    I eat real food. My T-cells are not in a Petri dish, I’m not a mouse, I don’t eat grains, I don’t eat sugar.

    I wouldn’t personally make ANY conclusion as the relevancy of this study to real-life human feeding and health. Too many plot holes in the storytelling.

  11. Great article Ben! I always suspected coconut oil of flaring up auto immune disorder even though everyone raves about it. Can you suggest another fat to cook /fry with if you are intolerant to dairy(butter)?

  12. THANKYOU SO MUCH!! this post has put to rest my year of uncertainty with coconut products. I have Multiple Sclerosis and am on the OMS (Overcomming Multiple Sclerosis) Recovery Program which is basically low saturated fat, plant based + sea food diet inc flaxseed oil daily, meditation, exercise and vit D. There is so much confusion on this diet as we arn’t allowed coconut products yet everyones talking about its health benefits, that now we actually need sat fat, that it’s anti inflammatory, good for MS. But the doctor who created OMS who is incredible says theirs not enough evidence – it’s so confusing for us. But this article and your interview with Dr Wahls has been fantastic. I knew that the plant based high fibre diet had to be part of it. I hope you dont mind me referencing this article on my blog!

  13. I have followed low carb diets before with good results. Now doing bullet coffee and fat bombs with plenty of coconut oil. All seemed good but for weeks have been fighting ear and face irritation. Corner of eyes also irritated,itchy. This is unusual. Thinking of cutting coconut oil next to see if it stops this …

  14. This is an interesting read. I’ve been battling a rash under my left eye for the last couple months- it comes and goes. I’ve never had sensitive skin before, and I’ve avoided the doctor knowing full well they’ll give me a steroid cream and send me on my way.

    I started doing some research the other day about Chinese face mapping, and the location on my face led me to believe it was intestinal (I’d been looking for an environmental factor all along).

    I drink bulletproof coffee with a tablespoon of MCT oil most days.

    I suspect you just added the final piece to my puzzle. Thank you.

  15. No, they don’t appear to be gold standard studies.

    As usual the overall diet of the mice isn’t clearly revealed.

    That has much bearing on how the coconut oil would influence the body overall.

  16. Do these studies reveal exactly what type of coconut oil was used? This is a ‘key’ piece of information… that studies never cover. Was the coconut oil hydrogenated? This is the ‘dark’ side of research studies and the conclusions they reach.

    1. Great observation, silver, and while neither study reveals the details of fatty acids used (I dug through the supplementary info), I am inclined to believe that the fats used were not hydrogenated because they continually cited the chemical structure as 12:0, etc (meaning that there are zero double bonds). One study pointed to an info sheet on the mouse diet used, detailed here: http://www.newcolab.com/docs/5001.pdf.

      I just emailed the corresponding author to ask about the source of coconut oils, and I’ll update with info if I get it!

      best,

      Alyssa

  17. Having dropped your MCT/CO consumption down to 2T, where are you getting the bulk of your fats from then, Ben, considering you follow a high fat diet?

    Olive oil, avocados & nuts?

    Cheers
    Jack

  18. Great article. I drink bulletproof coffee in the morning with 2 tbsp of caprylic acid and 2 tbsp of kerrygold butter. From what I can tell caprylic acid is not as risky as lauric acid, but it still produces a response. What kinds of foods/fiber supplements could consume to produce SCFA that would not impact my ketogenic fast?

      1. Thanks Ben. I’ve started drinking a celery, cucumber, kale, lemon and ginger green smoothie (with a couple of drops of stevia to take the edge off) before I drink my bulletproof coffee. I’m happy I’ve started this since it is a refreshing way to start the day.

  19. Fascinating article, thank you. For breakfast I eat two eggs cooked in coconut oil with half an avocado. I also eat one tablespoon of organic coconut oil and 1400u D3 partway through the meal, as I read somewhere that D3 is better absorbed if consumed with fats, and coconut oil better consumer during a meal rather than alone, before or after. I’m happy with my 1 tbsp a day of coconut oil, it feels like the right amount for me, but after reading your article I’m wondering if I’m eating it with the best foods I could be, the eggs and avocado? Thank you.

  20. It seems to me this question is easily answered. There are regions where people get 63% of their dietary energy from coconut.

    “The habitual diets of the toll dwellers from both Pukapuka and Tokelau are high in saturated fat but low in dietary cholesterol and sucrose. Coconut is the chief source of energy for both groups. Tokelauans obtain a much higher percentage of energy from coconut than the Pukapukans, 63% compared with 34%, so their intake of saturated fat is higher. ”
    http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/34/8/1552.full….
    Did the inhabitants of Tokelau suffer from MS historically? There is no record of this online.

    Dietary fats are not FFAs, and medium chain FFas are cleared swiftly by the liver. The Sn- position of lauric acid on the triglyceride will also influence how much gut cells are exposed to the FFA.

  21. What about using coconut oil as a moisturizer? Could it have a the same effects as does ingested as the research report suggests?

  22. Good article Ben. Love the podcasts!

    Have you seen the work of Dariush Mozaffarian on the effect of specific fatty acid fractions on insulin sensitivity and heart disease risk? It’s interesting stuff! See Good Fats, Bad Fats article at http://wp.me/p5VAQF-Y6

    Also, I fully agree with the high fat, plant based, fibre rich approach. There’s a list of high fibre low insulin load foods in this article that may be of interest – http://wp.me/p5VAQF-XN .

  23. Interesting. I have to admit that I have trouble getting enough vegetables. Don't of them raw upset my stomach (broccoli) and although I seem to cook a ton, they disappear so quickly.

    I've been cooking bacon and eggs for breakfast, with about 30% vegetables mixed in. I then add about a tbsp of coconut oil for more fat and flavor. However, I also add between a tsp and tbsp of ground flax seed at the same time. This seems to be one way to balance out the coconut oil with scfa, right?

  24. Great article but again the solution is simple, Balance is the key, coconut oil is not the only oil in the world. I have 5 different oils that rotate around my diet, because to me I already found that coconut oil doesn’t agree with me in higher doses. Actually probably a high intake of any oil wouldn’t be good. I use pumpkin seed oil, olive oil, avocado oil, sunflower oil , grapeseed oil. One point to remember is that everything you apply or use made of coconut also counts, like moisturiser , shampoo etc…

  25. Coconut oil and coconut butter (not the water or whole meat) causes intense rapid weight gain for me. I can put on 6 pounds after very small amounts, obviously water weight. Tried numerous times to incorporate the oil before I gave up. I stick to raw avocado, plus grapeseed and olive oil, for my primary fats. Noticed a few people posting on Marks Daily Apple with the same problem. (I am not primal or paleo; like you Ben, I continuously study nutrition and my own body)

    FYI I read somewhere that diabetics also need to be careful with MCTs like coconut oil as insulin can be affected. I did not save the link but can probably be googled.

  26. Interesting article. I went Paleo in 2010, implementing intermittent fasting, high fat, low carb regimens into my daily repertoire. I went from a mostly plant based diet, (low fat), to this high fat, low carb, moderate protein diet. Not only did I never lose weight, I actually gained some pounds, began experiencing a lot of gut dysfunction in 2013 (which is still present even after many trial and errors and mucho big bucks), thyroid nodules were discovered, went into premature menopause, as well as being in the exhaustive phase of HPA axis dysregulation. I worked with a functional medicine doc who placed me on a ketogenic diet. Again, no weight loss, lethargic, just overall feeling puny. I did an elimination diet which was mostly plant based, moderate fat (30%), moderate protein. I lost weight, I had so much energy, I felt great. The take away, as you said, is balance. I believe we also are genetically so different from one another. Who is to say that one diet fits all? That is definitely not the case. As I’m writing this, I just finished (I’m a nurse who has recently gone back to night shift) my bullet proof coffee with 2 tbsp of coconut oil, and 2 tbsp of grass fed gelatin, I’m beginning to realize it’s time to shift my paradigm once again, and go back to what worked for me in the first place. I love Paleo because it helped me learn the art of Whole Food preparation, but Paleo is not the panacea for all people that it claims to be. I believe it’s been very damaging to my body overall as I’ve tried to fit myself in this box that is clearly not cut for me. I really appreciate this article.

  27. I recently tried monolaurin but had to quit after a couple weeks due to fatigue and brain fog. They described this as”herxeimer” effect in the site. Now I’m wondering if there’s another explanation. Any ideas? I was trying a very low dose.

    1. Per #Dr Amy Yasko in her Chapter 6, she wrote that some people are sensitive to the MCT oils in coconut oil due to certain genes> I get that brain fog too & is not good. Then comes OCD, increased ADHD and people & family will ask what’s wrong with me during this time. I also get HEAT Flushes and raised body temp the entire time i eat Coconut Oil. I just COOLED off after 15 years by starting LDN. I found out LYME was one reason for feeling constantly over-heated. So i don’t want that feeling back. I prefer foods that help COOL my inflammation. http://www.dramyyasko.com/wp-content/files_flutte…

    2. Also, Coconut is High in Arginine (bad for herpes & EBV viruses), high in Copper (bad for copper sensitive folks) and some brands I read might be high in mold toxins IF it’s not processed a certain traditional way like Tropical Traditions brand or sit on store shelves too long. Research more on that.

  28. Yes, it’s also interesting that Terry Wahl’s protocol includes lots of coconut oil, esp for inflammation/MS etc. Her 3rd level (most intense for ridding oneself of MS) especially has quite a bit of coconut and coconut oil. She doesn’t really use MCT oil tho…

  29. Hi Ben

    Very concerning article here.

    I notice in previous articles/podcasts/interviews etc you have advocated liberal use of coconut oil and other products; in one case recommending 8-10 tablespoons per day of coconut oil for someone trying to gain muscle on a lowcarb/ketogenic diet.

    Do you still recommend that high of a daily dose of oil, and others such as coconut milk/cream in foods, or have you really backed off doses that high?

  30. I hope (if not already) you will read Dr Mary Newhart’s book(s) about the results of coconut oil in helping dementia. It seems the insulin resistant brain can use ketones for fuel.

  31. IT’S ALL.ABOUT BALANCE !!!!

    SOME PEOPLE JUST TAKE THE EXTREME PATH

    MODERATION FOLKS

    COCONUT OIL AND OTHER COCONUT OIL PRODUCTS LIKE MCT OIL XCT OIL BRAIN OCTAIN OIL COCONUT MILK COCONUT CREAM ETC MUST BE USED LIKE ANYTHING IN MODERATION …. SO LET’S NOT RING THE ALARM BELL PLEASE !!

  32. Wow thanks for the article Ben. I've been consuming at least 4-6 TBS of coconut oil everyday to hit my fat goals. Thankfully I've already been including macadamia nuts, walnuts, grassfed cow butter, and fibrous veggies. Would you suggest scaling it down for a few weeks before consuming this much coconut oil again?

    1. Best way to know is to test. Test inflammation, triglycerides and a gut test for SCFA's specifically. That way you know for sure. If it were me, I'd just do a quick 7-10 day "cleanse" primarily plant-based, water, etc. before jumping back into a level of coconut oil intake closer to 2T.

  33. Great Article Ben. Ensuring we get as many vegetables as we can is really critical. Also, it's worth nothing that cauliflower, broccoli, kale, collards are all from the same family. So I bet most of us, me included, eat mostly veggies from these related plants. It's important to find ways to branch out and get many varieties of vegetables, which some of us don't always do. I'm enjoying your recent articles quite a bit.

  34. So, eat the coconut oil with lots of veggies with fiber (+ the vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants in there don’t hurt either) and make sure we consume lots of fiber from flax, chia, etc?

    Otherwise we are good to consume 1-4 TBsp/day?

  35. Maybe someone could help shed some light on this for me: I don’t seem to respond well to consuming coconut oil. I don’t believe it is a food sensitivity/allergy. My body does not seem to be able to use coconut oil as energy very effectively. I feel less energized when I eat coconut oil. And it does not seem to be helpful to me re: weight loss or getting into ketosis. I’ve tried doing a lot of things that one is supposed to do to become a “fat burner” instead of a “sugar burner” and a lot of those seem to leave me feeling bad and tired; coconut oil and a “keto” diet seems to be kind of the worst offenders for me. I know that there is supposed to be some kind of a transition period that lasts for maybe a few weeks between being a sugar burner and becoming a fat burner; I tried for many months and could just never achieve fat burner status and the longer I tried the worse I felt. This is a bit of an overly dramatic comparison, I know, but it kind of seems like for me, consuming a tablespoon of coconut oil is a bit like someone else consuming a tablespoon of crisco shortening – my body just can’t seem to burn the stuff. I know the obvious answer for me re: coconut oil is just don’t consume it but I also I feel like the thing with coconut oil might be some kind of a clue to something bigger that might be going on with my metabolism – but I can’t figure it out. I also can’t seem to figure out a way of eating that works for me, long term. I really want to be a fatburner, but it almost feels like that “gear” is missing for me.

    1. The missing “gear” may be carnitine which is used to transport fats into ones cell mitochondria. I prefer Acetyl-L-Carnitine and I sometimes sense a noticeable increase in body temperature when I take it.

  36. Hey, so does this same thing happen when consuming much longer chain of fatty acid like fats from animal such as lard, tallow, marrow (longer than LA C12)?

    Also, as I was reading some previous article on doing low carb, you mentioned consuming organs such as liver & sweetbread in order to help with hormone such as thyroid, citing part of an interview on Chris's podcast where northern indigenous people eat moose thyroid glad. You do know that sweetbread is thymus or pancreas and not thyroid right? It seems that selling thyroid gland (gullet trimming) itself is illegal as there has been a case of toxicity even when consuming in small amount. What does this all means? Indigenous people were eating thymus and thymus somehow help with thyroid?
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC18329… https://www.paleohacks.com/thyroid/eating-thyroid…

    1. It's definitely still recommended to eat plenty of vegetables if you're eating lots of animal meats/fats too, although the same research does not (to my knowledge) exist for animal fats of longer chain variety. Also (and I covered this in detail on a podcast), thyroid glandular is indeed included as a category of sweetbreads. But i personally use and recommend "Thyrogold" supplement for things like that.

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