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    A Missing Piece of the Coconut Oil Controversy

     

    The American Heart Association just published an article claiming the negative affect of coconut oil on heart disease. This is the same organization that recommended that we eat margarine, or hydrogenated oils, which are now known to directly increase your risk for heart disease. Under their watch, the United States has seen an increase in deaths from heart disease since 1900. Why is anyone still listening to the AHA?

    We have to look at these scientific studies for what they are, and be aware of their imperfections, which I outline below.

    Beyond this logic, there is much more to the conversation on coconut oil and cholesterol. No one is talking about the essential role cholesterol plays in the body. I’m going to explain this in more detail below.

    Scientific Research Is Imperfect

    Before I dive into the role cholesterol plays in the body, I have to address the flaws with scientific research.

    Scientific research is imperfect because firstly, by definition, a study will only look at one variable (or factor) and its affect on the outcome of a hypothesis. We know that most outcomes have several variables working together to affect it. So, to base medical recommendations on the effect of one variable on the outcome of one study is wildly premature.

    Secondly, scientific research is funded by companies and organizations who have financial interests in the outcome of the study. There simply is not enough money coming from organizations that do not have a vested interest in the outcome.

    These two reasons why research is imperfect are exemplified perfectly in the the controversial outcomes we see from cholesterol / saturated fat / heart disease studies. You can view many of the studies and their conflicting outcomes on this wikipedia article.

    Vani Hari has also done some investigation on the authors of the recent AHA study on coconut oil. She found that several of them are sponsored by nonprofit organizations that have financial interests in the sales of certain vegetable oils and fats.

     

    A Missing Piece of the Coconut Oil Controversy

    One piece of this conversation that has not been properly addressed is the positive role that cholesterol plays in human anatomy.

    Cholesterol plays a vital role in cellular structure. It is an essential building block of the lipid bilayer of the cell membrane. It is so essential that our bodies will actually make cholesterol from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen if we are not getting adequate amounts in our diet.

    Take a look at the image below to see where the cholesterol molecules are in this cell membrane diagram…

    Image credit:  Penn State University

    So, we know that cholesterol plays a healthy and important role in the body.

    What about heart disease and arterial plaque?

    When you see cholesterol build-up at the site of arterial damage, you have to ask what is the reason it is there. The reason you see cholesterol at the site of arterial damage is partially due to the fact that cholesterol is a structural building block, essential for new human tissue.

    Your body will always be circulating cholesterol in the blood so that it is available for new tissue growth. You don’t want to limit the cholesterol quantity in your body. What you do want to do, is make sure you have good quality cholesterol circulating in your blood… 

     

    Not All Cholesterol Is Created Equal

    Most of us area aware that the two main types of cholesterol that the doctor will look at are LDL (“lousy”) cholesterol, and HDL (“healthy”) cholesterol. Well, now we know that not even all LDL cholesterol is created equal.

    Here is a great article by Dr. Mark Hyman that exemplifies the complexity of this topic, and also explains that the QUALITY, not the QUANTITY, of your LDL cholesterol is most important in determining your risk for heart disease.

    Saturated fat in the diet has been shown to increase your LDL numbers, but it also increases the quality of your LDL molecules. Refined carbohydrates have been shown to decrease the quality of LDL molecules, turning them into “free radical” molecules that can damage the body.

    Dr. Hyman explains that LDL quantity is not an indication for heart disease, but that LDL quality is an indication for heart disease. He recommends a diet that is low in refined carbohydrates and added sugars, and higher in fat, including saturated fat.

    The USDA also recommends a diet low in refined carbohydrates (less than 10%) and higher in fats (up to 35%). This includes an allowance for up to 10% saturated fats! 

    There is still so much more research to be done, but we can all assume that the issue is a lot more complex than one blanket statement announcing that “high cholesterol = heart disease.” 

     

    So What Am I Going To Do?

    It’s probably obvious to you all by now that I will be continuing to enjoy the coconut in all of its wonderful variations!

    You all will have to make your own decision, based on your knowledge and your instincts. I hope you found this helpful in making your decision!

    In my attempt to explain a lot in a short space, I know I left out some important aspects of this conversation. I am relying on you continuing to read about this issue from my colleagues. Please dig into the links above to learn more, and please ask questions below. 

     

     

    Keep taking back your health,
    Robin 

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