Monday, June 29, 2015

Virgin Coconut Oil Minimizes Weight Gain and Improves Blood Lipids (HDL⇈, LDL + VLDL ↘) to Reduce Atherogenic Index by 84% Even in Rats on Non-Atherogenic Diets

There are more than a dozen of options for virgin coconut oil on the market and there's no way the normal custumer can tell which one is actually "virgin" and which is a fraud and maybe even adulterated with palm oil - the technology to identify adulterations is there (Manaf. 2007), but I haven't heard of a label that would prove that the products were tested.
You are probably as fed-up with the hype around coconut oil as I am, right? Coconut oil here, coconut oil there. For this, for that and "did you know that coconut oil will also ..." Yes, you can even argue that a new branch of broscientists and snake oil vendors is dealing with little else than coconut oil.

In spite of that, I consider it at least remotely possible that the data from a recent rodent study that was published in the UK Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biosciences (Sharig. 2015) will catch your attention. I am sure you won't catch fire, though, but maybe at least some sparks, when you read that a relatively low dose of virgin coconut oil slowed down the weight gain, even if the oil was added to a non-obesogenic diet. Not excited? Well what about its triglyceride and total cholesterol lowering prowess and it's ability to keep LDL and VLDL in check while increasing HDL significantly - that's at least news-worthy isn't it?
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But first things first - here's what the scientists did: The scientists bought a bunch of 2 months old rats. After 2 weeks of acclimatization, they randomly assigned them to one of the following diets:
  • Group 1 was fed the normal pellet diet (control),
  • Group 2 was administered normal diet with VCO (1 ml/day),
  • Group 3 named as HCD received bread with pellet,
  • Group 4  animals received HCD bread and pellet with VCO (1 ml/day),
  • Group 5 called as HLD animals received cheese with pellet,
  • Group 6 named HLD animals received cheese and pellet with VCO (1 ml/day)
All groups had free access to diets and water ad libitum for 10 weeks. To make sure the virgin coconut oil was actually consumed, the VCO was administered by oral gavage at a dose of 1.42 ml/kg. That's the rodent equivalent of ~3 tablespoons of coconut oil which is what Fife recommends in "Coconut Cures" (2005) you should take everyday to - as the title of the book says - prevent and treat common health problems with coconut (not all of the claims made in the book can be considered scientifically proven, btw).
How much virgin coconut oil is that? And does it have to be virgin? For most people the approximate equivalent dose you'd have to consume are 3 tablespoons or equal to 45 ml/day. That was the easy part. Whether it has to be virgin coconut oil is a bit harder to explain, but in view of the significant correlation Marina et al. found between the total phenolic content of virgin coconut oil and its scavenging activity (r=0.91), and between the total phenolic content and its reducing power (r=0.96), I would be surprised if the phenol-depleted regular coconut oil would have the same beneficial effects on your atherosclerosis risk.
The rodents remained on their respective diets for 8 weeks before... no, not before they were sacrificed, but before the scientists from the Managemant and Science University in Malaysia used a spectrophotometer and commercial enzymatic kits to determine the lipid parameters by enzymatic endpoint method, as well as the plasma total cholesterol (TC), triglyceride (TG) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels were measured using commercial enzymatic kits.
Figure 1: Effect of Virgin coconut oil on plasma lipid profile of albino Wistar rats after 8 weeks (Shariq. 2015).
A brief glimpse at the data in Figure 1 shows that the addition of virgin coconut oil did in fact have a not exactly life-saving, but still health-relevant effect on the lipid metabolism of the rodents. What I personally consider most intriguing is that this was the case for all diets, including the normal one.
he effect of virgin coconut oil on weight (WT), Atherogenic index (AI) and % of protection in diet-induced atheroscle-rosis after 8 weeks (Shariq. 2015).
So what's the bottom line? If we assume that the effects translate to human beings (this can be assumed, since the use of coconut oil predicts a beneficial lipid profile in pre-menopausal women in the Philippines | Feranil. 2011), virgin coconut oil could in fact exert health-relevant lipid modulating effects of which the data in Table 1 shows that it has a significant anti-atherosclerotic effect even if you consume a normal (=rel. healthy diet). But even though that's impressive, it does not warrant the claim that virgin coconut oil was a "cure-it-all" that would battle cancer, Parkinson's, multiple-sclerosis and what-not. So, if you hear about any of these miracle cures, please remain skeptical: VCO is not the cure for everything.

Now that we are already speaking about healthy skepticism, it may be worth mentioning that it is certainly no coincidence that all the beneficial "coconut research" comes from Malaysia or the Philippines, where people have a vested interest in selling the locally produced VCO at the highest possible prices. For the study at hand, though, no sponsoring or conflict of interest was declared, since there's no funding information that does yet mean very little. Furthermore, in spite of preliminary human studies showing similar effects (e.g. Liau. 2011 | discussed previously), there's no tightly controlled human trial out there that would confirm similar or even identical effects occur in humans | Comment on Facebook!
References:
  • Feranil, Alan B., et al. "Coconut oil predicts a beneficial lipid profile in pre-menopausal women in the Philippines." Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition 20.2 (2011): 190.
  • Liau, Kai Ming, et al. "An open-label pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of virgin coconut oil in reducing visceral adiposity." ISRN pharmacology 2011 (2011).
  • Manaf, Marina Abdul, et al. "Analysis of adulteration of virgin coconut oil by palm kernel olein using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy." Journal of Food Lipids 14.2 (2007): 111-121.
  • Shariq, B., et al. "Evaluation of Anti-Atherosclerotic Activity of Virgin Coconut Oil in Male Wistar Rats Against High Lipid and High Carbohydrate Diet Induced Atherosclerosis."