Lifestyle

Benefits of Coconut Oil – Fact or Fiction?

Claim 2: Helps with symptoms of epilepsy

  • Improvements in seizure control when patient follows ketogenic diet
  • Due to MCTs it’s an integral part of ketogenic diet

When fatty acids oxidise they produce ketones. In a high fat, low carbohydrate diet a higher than normal level of ketones are produced. This forms the basis of what is known as the ketogenic diet. Although the mechanism of how the ketones act to prevent seizures is currently not understood the ketogenic diet is a scientifically proven therapy used to treat drug resistant epilepsy (8). The ketogenic diet is also under investigation for a whole range of diseases. This is not to say that only coconut oil is used in the ketogenic diet.  This type of diet is not without its complications and advice from a Medical Doctor should always be sought.

Claim 2: Scientifically proven

Claim 3: Lower Cholesterol

  • Increases good cholesterol
  • Contains lauric acid which improves exercise performance

Cholesterol is essential for the body. Cholesterol combines with two types of protein in the blood to form either: low density lipoprotein (LDL) or high density lipoprotein (HDL) (9). In high levels LDL can lead to a build up on artery walls and cause disease. HDL in contrast is classed as “good cholesterol” because it carries the cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver.

Effects of lauric acid (the major fatty acid found in coconut oil), be they positive or negative, remains uncertain. Some research points to it increasing the levels of cholesterol mostly through increase in HDL (10,11) whereas other research reports lauric acid as increasing LDL cholesterol (12,13).

Quite why the author of the infographic chose to place the phrase “Contains lauric acid which improves exercise performance” under the claim about cholesterol is unknown as this claim has no relation to cholesterol. However research would suggest that lauric acid does not improve exercise performance, or rather I should say MCTs do not (14).

Conclusion: The scientific jury is out on this.

Claim 4: Burn more calories

  • Burn more calories
  • Increased energy expenditure over 24 hours
  • More energy means more calories burnt

So now the claims are moving into the area of weight loss. Firstly what is this term “energy expenditure”? From the British Nutrition Foundation it is described as:

Energy expenditure (EE) is the sum of the basal metabolic rate (the amount of energy expended while at complete rest), the thermic effect of food (TEF, the energy required to digest and absorb food) and the energy expended in physical activity.” (15)

Some research indicates that MCT rich diets (note not specifically coconut oil) do increase energy expenditure resulting in weight loss over a sustained period of time (16) . However other research has indicated that it is far more sensible to stick to a low fat diet if weight loss is the intended result (17). Futhermore other research suggests that the effect MCT has on EE is transient and will not last over the long term (18).

Conclusion: Again the research gives mixed results. Neither proven or unproven.