A full coconut and half a coconut on a white counter

Is Coconut Oil “Poison”? Here’s What the Research REALLY Says!

Sigh. Here we go again—yet another coconut oil scare story. This time, it involves a lecture given by Harvard professor Karin Michels in Germany. I don’t speak German, but here’s the link to her presentation if you do. The gist of her talk, according to the German edition of Business Insider, is this: There's no study showing significant health benefits to coconut-oil consumption. And, according to Michels, coconut oil is more dangerous than lard because it almost exclusively contains saturated fatty acids, ones that can clog the coronary arteries.

Best I can tell, Michels is taking the same stance as the American Heart Association (AHA) did last year. Here’s the post I wrote in response then, explaining why coconut oil—a special type of saturated fat—is especially good for you, and why saturated fats do NOT increase your risk of cardiovascular disease or mortality from any cause. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at Michel’s claim that “there’s no study showing significant health benefits to coconut-oil consumption.” Oh, really? Here’s a quick sampling of what the latest human and animal research is saying (you’ll find lots more research in my earlier post, linked above):

  • A 2018 study looked at the effects of coconut oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and chia oil on obese women participating in a weight-loss diet. The researchers reported that the women who ate coconut oil for eight weeks experienced greater weight loss and a greater reduction in BMI. They also had smaller waist circumferences and better waist-to-height and waist-to-hip ratios at the end of the trial compared to women in the other groups. “Moreover,” the researchers noted, “the coconut oil group showed a higher reduction in biochemical parameters of glycemia and glycated hemoglobin.” (Translation: they had better blood sugar control, which leads to a lower risk of heart disease.) Finally, the researchers reported, “Women supplemented with coconut oil did not show any adverse changes in their lipid profile.”
  • Another 2018 study, this one on rats, investigated the effects of adding virgin coconut oil to the animals’ diets—including the effects on low-density lipoproteins (“bad” cholesterol) and high-density lipoproteins (“good” cholesterol). It concluded, “Lipid profiles of animals fed virgin coconut oil diets showed significant reduction in total cholesterol, triglyceride, and low-density lipoprotein levels; high-density lipoprotein level increased significantly compared to control; and there were beneficial effects on cardiovascular risk indices.”
  • A third 2018 study compared the cardiovascular effects of coconut oil and sunflower oil (a fat that’s billed as heart-healthy) on men with existing coronary artery disease. The researchers reported, “The results of the present study show that coconut oil did not induce hypercholesterolemia [emphasis added] compared to sunflower oil.” What’s more, the sunflower oil group had elevated oxidative stress (a big risk factor for cardiovascular disease) compared to the coconut oil group.
  • A 2017 study explored a topic that’s exciting many scientists right now: the potential benefits of coconut oil for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In this study, researchers compared patients who ate coconut oil for three weeks to those who didn’t, and saw statistically significant improvement in orientation and language in the coconut oil group.
  • A second 2017 study investigating the effects of coconut oil on memory in general (not just in Alzheimer’s) looked at its effects on rats. The researchers found that coconut oil enhanced the animals’ memories, in part by increasing antioxidant levels and reducing oxidative stress. They were so impressed that they concluded that “virgin coconut oil has the potential to be used as a memory enhancer.”

Clearly, the research shows that coconut oil, far from being “poison” as Michels claims, is fantastic for your waistline, your heart, and your brain. What’s more, it’s just fine for your cholesterol. So go ahead and eat it fearlessly. (Just remember—as with any fat—to keep your portion sizes small; a serving of fat is about a tablespoon.) Also, I encourage you to do what I do: read the medical literature yourself, so you can see what both human and animal studies are discovering about the actual effects of coconut oil. Then ask yourself this: Who are you going to believe, Dr. Michels and the AHA, or your lyin’ eyes?

Keep thinking Big and living BOLD!