Imagine if I had only sampled a few fragrances in my entire life? Would you have much interest in reading my posts about olfactory concoctions that I hadn’t even read the note list for? Something similar seems to be the case with some of our “nutritional experts!” Now it’s likely that more than a few of you have heard about the “big news” about coconut oil being “very unhealthy,”‘ brought to us by the good folks at the American Heart Association. For those who don’t know, the claim is that coconut oil raises your LDL, and that this is unhealthy because of correlations to “heart disease” or “cardiovascular disease.” Moreover, this is not a new claim, so one question I have is, why is this being touted as such? Let’s put that aside, though, as there are more important things to try and understand here, IMO. One thing I do want to mention is that these “experts” also claimed that:
Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD [cardiovascular disease], and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil…
There’s a huge problem with the initial claim, and it’s’ not something new either, which is that the evidence suggests in the strongest possible terms (IMO – you can do your own research on pubmed.com, for example) that LDL is only a problem if it gets oxidized (which is likely why so many antioxidant studies suggest eating antioxidant-rich foods is important if not crucial to long-term health – there really isn’t any other reasonable explanation, from what I’ve seen). Here’s some evidence from 2011:
In the new study, Chen’s group measured the effects of a diet high in oxycholesterol on hamsters, often used as surrogates for humans in such research. Blood cholesterol in hamsters fed oxycholesterol rose up to 22 percent more than hamsters eating non-oxidized cholesterol. The oxycholesterol group showed greater deposition of cholesterol in the lining of their arteries and a tendency to develop larger deposits of cholesterol. These fatty deposits, called atherosclerotic plaques, increase the risk for heart attack and stroke.
Most importantly, according to Chen, oxycholesterol had undesirable effects on “artery function.” Oxycholesterol reduced the elasticity of arteries, impairing their ability to expand and carry more blood. That expansion can allow more blood to flow through arteries that are partially blocked by plaques, potentially reducing the risk that a clot will form and cause a heart attack or stroke.
But a healthy diet rich in antioxidants can counter these effects…
And what’s worse, there have been studies which appear to show that low LDL levels are associated with a higher risk of cancer! Now one question I hope you are asking, because I’ve been asking it for well over a decade at this point, is do these experts know about the evidence, or are they just spouting old notions without question (the kind of material you’d read in a college freshman nutrition textbook)? For example, there is this, from 1981:
Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 34: 1552-1561, 1981.
“Cholesterol, coconuts, and diet on Polynesian
atolls: a natural experiment: the Pukapuka and
Tokelau Island studies13.”
Ian A. Prior, M.D., F.R. C.P., F.R.A. C.P., Flora Davidson,4 B.H. Sc.,
Clare E. Salmond,5 M. Sc., and Z. Czochanska,6 DIP. AG.
ABSTRACT: Two populations of Polynesians living on atolls near the equator provide an opportunity to investigate the relative effects ofsaturated fat and dietary cholesterol in determining serum cholesterol levels. The habitual diets of the atoll dwellers from both Pukapuka and Tokelau are high in saturated fat but low in dietary cholesterol and sucrose. Coconut is the chief source of energy for both groups. Tokelauans obtain a much higher percentage of energy from coconut than the Pukapukans, 63% compared with 34%, so their intake of saturated fat is higher. The serum cholesterol levels are 35 to 40 mg higher in Tokelauans than in Pukapukans. These major differences in serum cholesterol levels are considered to be due to the higher saturated fat intake of the Tokelauans. Analysis of a variety of food samples, and human fat biopsies show a high lauric (12:0) and myristic (14:0) content. Vascular disease is uncommon is both populations and there is no evidence of the high saturated fat intake having a harmful effect in these populations.
And for those who are not aware, the scientific method is not something that is supposed to be based upon textbook claims. Instead, you can’t assert that something is a theory (the highest level a scientific claim can attain) if there is any clear evidence against it. But go ahead and try to get one of these experts to speak to these kinds of well-done studies and you’ll likely be ignored, “stonewalled,” or told to go read a textbook. One of the “major” studies experts like these have cited for strong evidence (and probably still do) is Ancel Keys’ “Seven Countries” book (published in 1979). On page 135 of that book, there is this statement:
At levels below 200 mg/dl, decreasing cholesterol concentrations tend to be associated with increasing rates of non-coronary death.
Isn’t it cute that they never mention this finding in that study? The folks at IFRA are rank amateurs compared to many of our nutritional experts, IMO, but what you eat is clearly more important (in the context of health) than what fragrances you wear. After doing a huge amount of research on the subject, I concluded (over a dozen years ago), the the major problem in the context of “chronic disease” is chronic inflammation, and that the underlying problem is oxidation that occurs in the body when you eat food items that are easy to oxidize (fried food is really bad). Again, you can do your own research (using obvious search words), and you’ll discover findings such as:
Eating an apple a day might in fact help keep the cardiologist away, new research suggests.
In a study of healthy, middle-aged adults, consumption of one apple a day for four weeks lowered by 40 percent blood levels of a substance linked to hardening of the arteries.
Taking capsules containing polyphenols, a type of antioxidant found in apples, had a similar, but not as large, effect.
The study, funded by an apple industry group, found that the apples lowered blood levels of oxidized LDL — low-density lipoprotein, the “bad” cholesterol. When LDL cholesterol interacts with free radicals to become oxidized, the cholesterol is more likely to promote inflammation and can cause tissue damage…
So, while IFRA compliance irritates me slightly, claims made against healthy food items is much worse, IMO, and may lead to a many needless deaths and untold suffering (note that fish oil is very easy to oxidize and isn’t necessary, if you eat a diet that does not include items that are easy to oxidize, again, based upon my research). I do not have any chronic diseases, and I am thin (in my 50s); I just had an eye exam and no signs of macular degeneration or glaucoma were found (and I have avoided major sources of omega 3s since 2001!). Within the next month, I intend to review a few fragrances from a new niche perfumer who is using the older materials and is not in compliance with IFRA, for those who are interested. Sometimes I think there is more “gray matter” in a coconut than in the heads of some of our “experts!” Needless to say, I’ve been consuming coconut oil and shredded coconut (about as much as I find to be tasty) for many years now, and it does a great job moisturizing the skin as well.
NOTE: For those of you who want more information on this subject, the more unsaturated a fat source is, the more susceptible it is to oxidation, which is why I don’t even consume olive oil (there’s also a problem with adulteration in the olive oil industry), though high quality olive oil possesses its own powerful antioxidants to protect against oxidation (processing can destroy or strip out these compounds). Sesame oil seems like it doesn’t lose too much of its antioxidant protection, relative to other highly unsaturated one (canola, soy, vegetable, corn, sunflower, safflower, etc.). And no, lard is not healthy, because it has no antioxidant protection and in the US is about 39% saturated, so I don’t even consider it a “saturated fat,” and question why any “scientist”‘ would (it’s more useful as a culinary term). Often, it is sitting in hot warehouses, which can lead to it oxidizing in the packaging! Why do our scientists often use lard as the “saturated fat” in their studies, where they show that “saturated fat is unhealthy?” Again, it seems that they simply don’t know basic facts, ones that most people probably assume they learned as undergraduate college students! Coconut oil is about 92% saturated, and seems to be highly resistant to oxidation (I’ve had jars of the stuff for years and it’s still good). And the pork eaten by some native peoples is much higher in saturated fatty acids because guess what? They feed their pigs (and chickens) coconut! They also tend to eat the animals right away, and with food items that are rich in antioxidants, so the “balance” in their meals that contain pork may be in the pro-antioxidant direction, whereas an American who eats a meal rich in lard or pork is likely going to get a powerful pro-oxidative effect.