Can You Trust Your Doctor’s Advice on Coconut Oil?

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Image of a confused doctor

Doctors don't always take time to research topics that are not part of medical research, such as coconut oil and nutrition.

by Brian Shilhavy
Health Impact News

We hear story after story of people reading about the health benefits of coconut oil, and even wanting to incorporate it into their diet, but then they consult with their doctor who tells them negative things about coconut oil. Are doctors really educated about coconut oil?

I recently came across an article and YouTube video from a doctor dressed in a white lab coat and seated in a modern clinic warning everyone that coconut oil was “over-rated” and “dangerous.” He blamed the coconut oil vendors for fooling the public on the “dangers” of coconut oil, and stated that there was “no scientific basis” to back up any claims for coconut oil (I guess he had not come across our page on peer-reviewed research that lists dozens of research articles on coconut oil).

Sadly, this doctor did not know much about lipids (fats and oils). The basis of his claim that coconut oil was dangerous was the fact that 50% of coconut oil is the saturated fat, lauric acid. He seems to believe that because lauric acid is a saturated fat, that this will lead to high cholesterol and heart disease, a claim that actually has no scientific basis (see “Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease” in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. )

He then went on to state: “But to be fair, coconut oil does have some benefits, because it contains medium chain triglycerides which are healthy.” Wow, using such big words and looking so official, he sounded very convincing! But he apparently missed the fact that lauric acid is also a medium chain triglyceride! I guess in his hasty research he failed to notice that. So what he was basically saying was totally contradictory: lauric acid is saturated and therefore bad for you, but lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid and good for you. One of those statements can be true, but not both of them. He simply did not understand that lauric acid was a medium chain fatty acid also, and the most beneficial fatty acid in coconut oil! If a doctor does not even realize that lauric acid in coconut oil is one of the medium chain fatty acids (a simple Internet search will verify such basic information), how can one trust that he really has done much homework on coconut oil?

This particular doctor has apparently believed the low-fat dietary advice that has been promoted for so long and seen as “healthy” even though the evidence is to the contrary. He even went so far as to state: “The body has no inherent need for saturated fat after age 5” and that saturated fats should be eliminated from the diet! Again, he has a basic misunderstanding of fats and oils, as all dietary oils are a combination of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated fats. You cannot eliminate any of them completely from the diet, and our body needs certain amounts of all these fatty acids.

In another “mainstream” article I read recently, the author was examining whether the claims for coconut oil were all “hype.” Again, starting with a presupposition that saturated fats are bad and lead to heart disease, they quoted doctors and “experts” to state that there was no evidence for coconut oil’s claims. The most curious statement to me was this one: “What seems to baffle me is one thing: If coconut oil is widely part of a Philippine diet then heart disease, cancer, Type II Diabetes, Thyroid disease and obesity would seemingly be less likely in this ethnic group, yet it is not.”

I was intrigued by this statement, because those diseases are indeed less in native diets that consume large amounts of coconut oil, and we have published many of these studies at Health Impact News and CoconutOil.com. So when I checked the link for her reference, it led to a study published on the National Institute of Health’s website, but it was not a study on the diets of people in the Philippines. Here is the actual wording from the study:

“Immigrant populations and non-Caucasians, such as African-Americans, Latinos, American Indians and Native Hawaiians in the U.S. have an increased risk for obesity, type II diabetes and coronary heart disease (CHD) compared to Caucasians.  Less is known about those risks in Filipinos, the third largest immigrant population in the US.”

In other words, the study was about Filipinos who immigrate to the US!! I wonder if the person making this observation even bothered to realize this simple fact. Obviously people immigrating to the US cannot continue eating their native diet they are accustomed to in their home country, and in the Philippines 50% of the population is still employed in agriculture, where traditional foods abound. Here in the US, corporate America has taken over the food system, with less than 1% of our population involved in agriculture. Do you think that might have something to do with the results of this study, which had nothing to do with coconut oil? (Here is the study.)

Sadly, you are not likely to get unbiased and honest opinions about coconut oil from conventional medical doctors. However, there are many good thoughtful doctors out there who are generally concerned about their patients’ health more than they are in defending their practice or the pharmaceutical industry. They listen to their patients, and if you explain to them how coconut oil is helping you, it leads them to investigate further. I have heard this happen particularly from those with dramatic improvement from dementia and Alzheimer’s. It really causes their doctor to sit up and take notice when Alzheimer’s starts regressing!

Don’t expect your doctor to offer you any positive information about coconut oil, however, as coconut oil has not been approved by the FDA for any health claims. If a licensed physician tells their  patients about the benefits of coconut oil, it could jeopardize their license to practice medicine. One doctor who decided to blog about his experience with coconut oil explained how he communicated with his patients about coconut oil:

I, as a licensed physician of the State of Florida, am legally obligated to follow the Good Standards Medical Practice, as outlined by the Board of Medicine of the State of Florida.

Also, as Doctor of Medicine and Surgery and a Graduate of the University of Bologna, Faculta di Medicina e Chirurgia, I took the Hippocratic Oath upon graduation. As a former U.S. Marine, I take all my oaths seriously. I do not believe that I can change the intent of my oaths, whether in the military, in medicine or even in marriage.

Therefore, although I feel that there are hundreds of excellent alternative treatments for diseases, I always advise my patients that the medical profession has a standard treatment, however, the natural treatment may be better. I explain my reasons for my belief, and I advise them that they are free to choose whichever treatment they desire. In this way, I comply with the law, with ethical constraints, yet, try to give the patient enough information to make a wise decision. This method has proven to be above reproach and has yielded excellent results. I could do no more. My patients are free citizens. They were not about to take a deadly poison. Millions of people in Asia ingest much larger quantities of coconut oil with no ill effects.

Their question: Would coconut oil, which is bactericidal, kill the Helico Pyloric Bacteria in their gut? In approximately one month, we had the answer. It was a resounding YES! Upon repeat testing, none of my patients had evidence of H. Pylori. Also, their symptoms of acid regurgitation, stomach pain and burping disappeared. I, am now, of the firm conviction, that in some people, the ingestion of Virgin Coconut Oil, three times daily, can eradicate H. Pylori infections.

I do not know if this natural treatment will work on all people. There simply is not enough evidence, or large trials. I seriously doubt that large trials will be undertaken, since there is no monetary gain involved for companies or governments. Those individuals suffering from H. Pylori infections may try on their own. There is no evidence that coconut oil is detrimental to the body. Billions of people ingest it daily, and no government had advised that it is dangerous. (Read the full article here.)

But sadly, this is a rare physician and not typical. Most doctors have no knowledge of coconut oil as they would never have studied it in their training, and most will ridicule their patients for even trying it. That is the norm today. So do your own research and take charge of your own health! Don’t depend on a physician to always know what is best for you, as most of the time their knowledge is limited to what they learn from the pharmaceutical companies and the “approved” drugs.

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About the authors: Unlike many people who write about coconut oil by simply reading about it, Brian and Marianita Shilhavy actually lived in a coconut producing area of the Philippines for several years. Marianita Jader Shilhavy grew up on a coconut plantation in the Philippines and in a culture that consumed significant amounts of coconut fat in their diet. She later went on to earn her degree in nutrition and worked as a nutritionist in the Philippines. Brian Shilhavy also lived in the Philippines for several years with Marianita and their 3 children observing firsthand the differences between the diet and health of the younger generation and those of Marianita’s parents’ generation still consuming a traditional diet. This led to years of studying Philippine nutrition and dietary patterns first hand while living in a rural farming community in the Philippines. They are authors of the best-selling book: Virgin Coconut Oil: How it has changed people’s lives and how it can change yours!

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