Health & Medicine: Experts say coconut oil lubricates
Now that coconut is greasing public attention mainly for its
purported health benefits, experts are shoving the spotlight
away from widespread misconception heaped on the “tree of
In a recent round table discussion organized and sponsored by the
Department of Science and Technology’s National Academy of Science
and Technology, renowned authorities from academe and health sectors
dispelled negative reputation linked to coconut oil.
Coconut oil and cholesterol
Many people mistake cholesterol as the culprit for coronary heart disease
and that coconut oil increases the cholesterol level, says roundtable
speaker Dr. Rody Sy of University of the Philippines-Philippine General
Hospital’s department of cardiology. Coronary heart disease is the
hardening of the inner lining of blood vessels due to accumulation of fat
deposits that clog the flow of blood to the heart.
“While cholesterol has long been a household word, a common belief that
it is bad and dangerous to human health continues to bring fright to
people especially those belonging to older age group,” said Sy, who also
practices at the Manila Doctors Hospital. Dr. Conrado Dayrit, former NAST
president and professor emeritus of UP department of pharmacology
stressed that there is no such thing as “bad cholesterol”, only the kind of
lipoprotein transporting it.
Dayrit cited the paper of Sweden’s Dr. Uffe Ravnskov who defines
cholesterol as a peculiar molecule with numerous carbon and hydrogen
atoms put together forming an intricate three-dimensional network that
doesn’t dissolve in water.
All living creatures use this “indissolvability” characteristic cleverly by
incorporating cholesterol into their cell walls to make cells waterproof.
This means that cells are protected from disturbing changes in their outer
surroundings. When cells function normally, all the vital mechanisms in
the body are also in order.
Because cholesterol is insoluble in water and thus also in blood, it is
transported in the blood packed inside spheric particles composed of fats
(lipids) and proteins, or the so-called lipoproteins.
Lipoproteins are easily dissolved in water because their exterior part is
composed of mainly water-soluble proteins. Lipoproteins carry cholesterol
from one place to another in the body.
The two best known lipoproteins are high density lipoprotein (HDL) and
low density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL carries cholesterol from peripheral
tissues directly to the liver for the manufacture of important hormones. In
contrast, LDL transports cholesterol through a long complicated path from
liver to the peripheral tissues and interior of the cells.
Health experts classify the cholesterol carried by LDL as “bad”, and
cholesterol transported by HDL as “good”. The reason is that a number of
studies on cholesterol and its association with heart disease showed that
below-normal HDL-cholesterol and above-normal LDL-cholesterol levels
are both associated with increased risk of heart attack.
It was also found out that 60 to 80 percent of cholesterol in the blood is
transported by LDL while HDL accounts for only 15 to 20 percent.
But even health experts cannot fully claim that the risk of heart attack is
solely determined by unfavorable increase or decrease in HDL/LDL ratio.
Many factors are known to influence heart failure including lifestyle,
eating habits, and the amount and kind of fats a person gobbles up.
Coconut oil and fats
In the past four decades, misinformation about coconut oil shoved in by
some politically biased agricultural groups, confused health professionals,
and even the media led people into believing that all saturated fats, which
include coconut oil, are unhealthy.
Little attention is given on the fact that saturated fats are not a single
family of fats. It comprises three subgroups such as short- (C2-C6),
medium- (C8-C12), and long- (C14-C24) chain fatty acids. The numeric
value attached to each C symbol indicates the amount of carbon atoms
present in each structure. When these fatty acids are burned by the body
to produce energy, two carbon atoms are removed at a time.
The medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are most preferred by food
scientists and health experts because of its nutritional and medicinal
benefits. MCTs are found abundantly in tropical oils such as coconut and
palm kernel, traditionally used by doctors in hospital formulas to feed the
very young, critically ill, and those with digestive problems.
What makes MCTs different from other fats is the unique manner in which
the body digests and uses them.
Because MCTs molecules are shorter and smaller, it requires less energy
and fewer enzymes to break them down for digestion, quick absorption
Enzymes in saliva and gastric juices break MCTs down easily and
immediately so the fat-digesting enzymes stored in pancreas are no
longer used up. Therefore, the process puts a little strain on the digestive
system. This has important health implications for patients suffering from
digestive and metabolic problems such as cystic fibrosis and those who
have difficulty digesting or absorbing fats and fat-soluble vitamins, a
common problem among the aged.
Unlike other fatty acids, MCTs take a shorter and simpler pathway to be
completely used by the body. MCTs are absorbed directly from intestines
into the portal vein where and sent straight to the liver and burned as
In contrast, other fats require pancreatic enzymes to break them down
into smaller units. When absorbed into the intestinal walls, fats are then
packaged into bundles of lipid and protein or lipoprotein.
These lipoproteins are carried by the lymphatic system, bypassing the
liver and then deposited into the bloodstream to circulate throughout the
body. In the blood circulation process, fatty components get smaller and
smaller until there is little left of them. At this time they are picked up by
the liver to produce energy.
What coconut oil really does
The keyword is lauric acid. Coconut oil, categorized as medium chain fatty
acid, contains 40% lauric acid.
Lauric acid is widely used in pharmaceutical industry for its antimicrobial
properties due to its derivative called monolaurin, which is known to have
even more potent antimicrobial properties. Monolaurin’s main target are
lipid coated viruses and bacteria that are known to be responsible for
infections in HIV-positive individuals.
Dr. Mary Enig, a noted biochemist and nutritionist told a 1995 press
conference in Konchi-in, Kyoto that "there was an instance in the US in
which an infant tested HIV positive had become HIV negative after having
fed with an infant formula with a high coconut oil content over period of
time." Dr. Enig was also president of Maryland Nutritionists Association.
Enig also said that monolaurin helped in deactivating other viruses such
as measles, herpes, vesicular stomatitis and cytomegalovirus, which
belong to Herpestus family that causes chicken pox and fever blisters.
Monolaurin attacks the lipid coat of the virus by disrupting its lipid bi-
layer, preventing the virus to attach to its host cells.
Meanwhile, Dr. Dayrit also embarked on a study focusing on the capability
of virgin coconut oil to retard the development of AIDS among patients
diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). He claimed that the
viral counts in 15 HIV-patients considerably decreased after taking in
virgin coconut oil over six months.
Coconut also apparently boosts energy production and improves
endurance exercises especially among athletes and anyone engaged in
strenuous physical activities.
In a study, three sets of cyclists were given different beverages: a
solution containing MCT, a sports drink, and a mix of sports drink and
certain dosage of coconut oil, respectively.
The cyclists pedaled at 70 percent of maximum for two hours. The study
found that cyclists who took the sports drink/coconut oil mix went the
fastest and farthest during the time trial. Authors of the study theorized
that the amount of coconut oil given to the cyclists provided additional
source of energy while sparing stored glycogen that could have been used
up during the activity
Although many studies have shown the ability of coconut oil to boost
energy, there are other studies that showed little or no effect at all when
coconut oil is taken in single oral dose.
From this evidence, coconut oil advocates conclude that coconut oil or oils
rich in MCT should be incorporated in regular diet.
The truth about the other fats
Fats are classified according to chemical composition and solubility. The
three major classifications of dietary fats are saturated [which includes
medium chain and long chain fatty acids], monosaturated, and
polysaturated fats. Monosaturated fats are commonly found in olive and
peanut oils while polyunsaturated fats come from vegetables and grain
oils like corn, soybean, and sunflower.
Some fats become dangerous to human health only after these were
processed, converted to another form, and incorporated as additives and
flavors in foods.
One good example is the trans-fat, which raised alarm among health
experts. Many large food companies have long been using it but do not
list it on nutrition labels. This leaves consumers unaware of how much
trans-fat is present in the food they eat.
Trans-fats are formed when food manufacturers turn oils into solid fats in
a process known as hydrogenation. In a nutshell, hydrogenation is a
process by which vegetable oils are converted to solid fats by adding
Trans-fats are said to contribute to coronary heart disease by clogging the
arteries when proportion of LDL is raised above healthy level.
Food manufacturers use hydrogenated oils to increase shelf life, flavor,
and stability of foods.
Hydrogenated oils are often found in food products like vegetable
shortening, margarine, crackers (even healthy-sounding ones), cereals,
candies, chips, snack foods, salad dressings, and other fried foods. These
foods last longer without tasting rancid.
In 1993, the US Food and Drugs Administration required food
manufacturers to stamp the amount of trans-fats on nutrition labels. But
no one really knows how much trans-fat is safe. There isn’t enough
research yet to determine a safe consumption level of trans-fat.(Mary
Charlotte Fresco, S&T media Service)
Fresco, Charlotte. (September 16, 2004). Health & Medicine: Experts say coconut oil
lubricates health. Retrieved September 8, 2005 from the World Wide Web: