Coconut oil has lately caught the attention of the people around the world for its presumed potential for weight loss. The Coconut Board of India terms it as the ‘mother of all oils’ and has listed a host of benefits on its website. Specifically, to weight loss, the official website lists two reasons in support of virgin coconut oil weight loss theory. The first reason is ‘A diet that consists of coconut oil with its MCTs (Medium Chain Triglycerides) ensures higher energy levels, a rise in metabolism and consequently, reduced body weight,’ and the second is “coconut oil is effective in reducing body fat and lowering weight because it contains fewer calories than any other fat’. The website also says “numerous studies suggest that substituting MCT Oil for other fats in a healthy diet may therefore help to support healthy weight and body composition”.
What is virgin coconut oil?
Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) is extracted from fresh coconut milk obtained from up to 12-month-old mature kernel of coconut by mechanical or natural means, with or without the application of heat, which does not lead to alteration of the nature of the oil.
The Ayurveda view
Coconut fruit belongs to the sweet group which and acts against Vata and Pitta through the creation of Kapha. Ayurvedic Physician Acharya Vagbhata, the author of many ayurvedic texts, writes “They are builders, heavy and cooling. They are with a sweet taste and in post digestion also sweet. They are unctuous but a bit holding up of bowels; good to release burning sensation, to heal lesions and hurts due to accidents, etc. It clears blood and subsides Pitta (the heat). It promotes Kapha and semen (improves sexual potency)”.
Does virgin coconut oil really reduce weight?
In the past, a few studies have looked into virgin coconut oil weight loss potential. Some studies have reported a reduction of body mass index (BMI) and waist size of the participants, while others have not.
A new study from Singapore does not support the perception of the role of virgin coconut oil reducing the weight loss. The researchers including Nithya Neelakantan, Jowy Yi Hoong Seah and Rob M. van Dam, have published the study in a journal Circulation, inferring that “compared with other vegetable oils, coconut oil increases low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C)—the “bad” kind that ups cardiovascular disease risk— while offering no improvements to weight, blood glucose, or inflammation markers”.
What about previous research results?
According to the review’s authors, clinical trials comparing the blood cholesterol effects of coconut oil and non tropical vegetable oils have had mixed results. Coconut oil appeared to lower LDL-C levels in some of the studies, while other trials showed the opposite. Some research also suggests that the plant fat might quell inflammation, control blood glucose, and even help people to lose weight.
Two years ago, European researchers published a review of 54 trials comparing different dietary fats’ effects on blood lipids. They concluded that coconut oil did not raise LDL-C more than other vegetable oils. The analysis included only 6 coconut oil trials, though, and wasn’t designed to assess its other purported benefits.
The new analysis, by researchers in Singapore, included 17 clinical trials comparing coconut oil with at least 1 other fat. The most common non tropical oils in the studies were soybean oil, olive oil, safflower oil, and canola oil. The trials included a total of 730 participants, most of whom were healthy or had normal cholesterol levels. The dietary interventions lasted at least 2 weeks and covered more parameters and number of tests in each parameter.
What does the study show?
Compared with non tropical vegetable oils, coconut oil significantly increased total cholesterol by 14.69 mg/dL, LDL-C by 10.47 mg/dL, and HDL-C by 4 mg/dL. What’s more, the differences were still significant when the researchers left out nonrandomized or poor-quality trials.
Coconut oil did not significantly affect triglycerides or markers of glycemia, inflammation, and body fat compared with other non tropical vegetable oils.
Compared with palm oil—another tropical oil—coconut oil also significantly increased LDL-C, HDL-C, and total cholesterol.
Compared with butter, coconut oil significantly lowered LDL-C and increased HDL-C. However, only 1 study looked at butter and it provided cooking fats for food preparation instead of prepared meals, which could have affected participants’ adherence.
Based on LDL-C-lowering’s clinical benefits demonstrated in other studies, the researchers calculated that the LDL-C increase of 10.47 mg/dL from coconut oil could translate to a 6% increase in the risk of major vascular events and a 5.4% increase in the risk of coronary heart disease mortality.
In Simple words
“Despite the rising popularity of coconut oil because of its purported health benefits, our results raise concerns about high coconut oil consumption. Coconut oil should not be viewed as a healthy oil for cardiovascular disease risk reduction and limiting coconut oil consumption because of its high saturated fat content is warranted”, say the authors.