So, Is Coconut Oil Healthy or Not?
By Jill Richardson
Is coconut oil:
- good for you
- bad for you
- neither good nor bad
- scientists don't know
The subject of this question is the source of a disagreement. Initially, the question was thought to be settled decades ago, when scientist Ancel Keys declared all saturated fats unhealthy. Coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature, is a saturated fat.
Keys performed a famous "Seven Countries Study," comparing the diets and health outcomes of the populations of seven different countries. Decades later, Artemis Simopoulos, author of The Omega Diet, re-examined the data. Keys misinterpreted his data by failing to distinguish between omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats.
Could he have been wrong about saturated fats, too?
Today, advocates like Dr. Mercola and the Weston A. Price Foundation believe saturated fats should be entirely exonerated. Coconut oil is sold as a health food, and some eat it straight as a nutritional supplement. (They call the practice "oil pulling.") Literally eating a saturated fat like coconut oil from a spoon flies in the face of the recommendations of Ancel Keys, as well as the American Heart Association.
The AHA just reconfirmed its condemnation of saturated fats in a new publication. Here is how it's been reported in the news: "Coconut oil has more 'bad' fat than beef and butter: heart doctors;" "Coconut Oil May Have Just Lost Its Health Halo;" "Coconut oil isn't healthy. It's never been healthy."
Question: Did the journalists writing those headlines actually read the AHA's study?
The publication is a meta-analysis of four different studies. The authors gathered the data of all four different studies and then analyzed them together. None of the four studies have jack squat to do with coconut oil.
They also have nothing to do with the main component of coconut oil: lauric acid.
Saturated fat is not just one chemical; it's several. The structure of these chemicals is similar, but they differ in how many carbons they have. Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, a medium-chain saturated fatty acid with 12 carbons. Saturated fats in animal products tend to be comprised of palmitic and stearic acid.
The studies in the new AHA publication all had patients replace animal fats with polyunsaturated fats, primarily from soybean oil. They saw a drop in coronary heart disease in the groups that made the switch compared to the control groups. One could pick apart their statistical analysis or their research methods (some of the studies were far from double-blind) but as far as coconut oil goes, that is not even necessary. Plainly put, coconut oil was not a part of the study at all.
If there's one thing we've learned in recent decades, it's that fat is not just fat. And even dividing it into saturated and unsaturated fat is not enough to truly understand it. There are several different kinds of unsaturated fat, and now consumers know that omega-3s are the type they should eat. Beyond that, some products do not just boast of containing omega-3s, but specific omega-3s used by the human brain, EPA and DHA.
Saturated fat is also not monolithic. Scientists divide saturated fats into short chain, medium chain, long chain, and very long chain saturated fatty acids. Lauric acid, which makes up nearly half of coconut oil, is medium chain. Palmitic and stearic acids, found in animal products, are long chain.
Short chain and medium chain fatty acids are digested differently than long chain ones. Therefore, it does not follow as a foregone conclusion that if replacing animal fats with polyunsaturated fats reduces heart disease, coconut oil is bad.
In fact, in a study in mice, coconut oil was found to be healthier than (unsaturated) soybean oil. Another study found oil pulling with coconut oil reduced plaque and gingivitis. Several studies that found beneficial effects of coconut oil specify that the effects come from virgin coconut oil, which has not been treated with heat or refined in any other way. For example, one study, also in mice, found virgin coconut oil helped with stress.
This is not to say that coconut oil is definitively wonderful. A study of coconut oil as large-scale and comprehensive as the American Heart Association's study would be more conclusive. Those studies involved hundreds of patients, and they lasted several years.
But lumping all saturated fats together, and drawing conclusions about coconut oil from a study that had nothing to do with coconut oil is simply wrong.
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
The U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Tuesday saying that the Federal Environmental Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) failed to adequately review the environmental impacts of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the fracked gas Sabal Trail pipeline, which runs more than 500 miles through Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
As ocean waters warm and acidify, corals across the globe are disappearing. Desperate to prevent the demise of these vital ecosystems, researchers have developed ways to "garden" corals, buying the oceans some much-needed time. University of Miami Rosenstiel School marine biologist Diego Lirman sat down with Josh Chamot of Nexus Media to describe the process and explain what's at stake. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is killing coral?
I wish we had an easy, straightforward answer for what's killing corals. We know there are many, many different factors influencing coral abundance, diversity, distribution and health these days, but I think the specific answer varies based on where you are.
Temperatures play a major role at global scales, and then you have all of these other, more local factors like disease, physical impacts of storms, or ship groundings.
Researcher Stephanie Schopmeyer prepares to out-plant Staghorn coral onto a Miami reef. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
We had the dredging of the Port of Miami channel a couple of years ago and that caused a lot of localized mortality due to sediment burial and sediment stress. You also have land-based sources of pollution that can damage by location and nutrient influence that causes algal overgrowth of corals.
Local factors are superimposed on regional factors directly related to global climate change. Changes in temperature, more temperature extremes, acidification of the water, changes in storm frequency and sea level rise— all are at different scales — but they all combine to cause coral mortality.
Factors vary both spatially and temporally, but the outcomes are all the same. Regardless of where you are, we've lost a tremendous amount of coral.
Nursery-raised Staghorn coral out-planted onto a reef by a citizen scientist.
In the face of all those threats, can restoration work?
Historically, restoration was developed and used for acute disturbances. A ship runs aground, and so then there's a recovery, and funds are allocated to recovering the reef structure at a given location, and then corals are planted on top of that. But as global conditions decline for coral reefs, there's now a need to scale up. So, we're not just dealing with the localized impact—we're looking at species declining throughout their range.
We need other tools at larger scales, and that's where coral reef gardening has come into play, because it works at larger scales compared to just dumping cement and rebuilding reef structures, costly endeavors that recover just a very small footprint. We're growing and planting these organisms.
Do you worry about planted coral dominating the reefs?
Initially, these techniques were developed for fast-growing corals. The genus that we're focusing on, Acropora, is threatened, so these are very important reef-building species.
When abundant, they monopolize shallow environments. They form thickets, extensive areas of high-density colonies. That's the way they used to grow, until about three to four decades ago when they got wiped out by disease and other factors. The branching corals that we're working with grow between 10 and 15 cm per branch per year, so that's very fast growth.
Through recent advances in coral aquaculture, we're now also able to grow massive species, the ones that grow very slowly. Mote Marine Lab has developed microfragmentation techniques where they can cut coral colonies very, very small and make them grow very, very fast. Although we focused on branching corals initially, now most of the programs, especially here in Florida, are expanding onto other threatened species.
Citizen scientists plant coral. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Can these efforts solve the problem, or are they a placeholder until climate stabilizes?
You hit the nail on the head. One of the early criticisms of reef restoration was the scale issue and spending a lot of resources working on a very small footprint.
We've dealt with that now, over the past 10 years we've expanded to the point where we're growing thousands and thousands of corals—we're planting thousands and thousands of corals—so that issue of scale is no longer a valid criticism.
The other major criticism is that, even though we're planting a lot of corals, we're planting them onto environments where the same stressors that caused their initial mortality are in place. Now there is ocean acidification and increased temperatures, so things have gotten, in some cases, progressively worse.
Staghorn corals create a sustainable source of corals for use in restoration. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
That is a valid concern if we were just planting corals, but we're not just doing that. We're still concentrating on all of the other aspects of reef restoration, setting up marine protected areas to protect fish stocks and coral impacts, working to curb land-based sources of pollution, and setting up sedimentation and nutrient controls. And then, on a much larger scale, we're all trying to curb carbon emissions, trying to limit the greenhouse impacts and acidification impacts. All these tools just help us buy time.
We're also doing a lot of genomics work to see how corals can increase their resilience. A colleague of mine here at the Rosenstiel School at University of Miami, Andrew Baker, is stress-hardening corals. He works on coral symbiosis, and he found that by applying a little bit of non-lethal stress, he can make corals shuffle their Zooxanthellae, which are the endosymbiotic microalgae that provide energy to the corals. In that process, they're able to uptake Zooxanthellae that are more thermally tolerant. So, through the forced shuffling of symbionts, you may be able to buy these corals one or two degrees of tolerance, so that they become more tolerant to bleaching in future years. That is cutting-edge science.
We're trying to actually find out what makes corals survive, and trying to beef up their defenses and their resilience over time. And that's because we have access to all these coral genotypes through the active propagation from coral gardening.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
By Karen Perry Stillerman
This job has responsibility for scientific integrity at the USDA, as well as oversight of the department's various research arms and multi-billion dollar annual investments in agricultural research and education that are essential to farmers and eaters alike.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club lodged formal comments with the federal government Monday opposing a massive gas fracking project that spans 220 square miles of public land in Wyoming south of Yellowstone National Park.
The Normally Pressured Lance gas field would destroy wildlife habitat and worsen ozone pollution, a major cause of childhood asthma, in areas already suffering from extreme air pollution.
Sierra received complete surveys from a record-breaking 227 schools—in 36 states, the District of Columbia, and for the first time ever, Canada.
By Andy Rowell
The decades-long struggle for social and environmental justice in the Niger Delta continues, largely unseen by the wider world.
On Aug. 11, hundreds of people from the Niger Delta stormed the Belema flow station gas plant owned by Shell in the Rivers State region of the Delta. The plant transports crude oil to the Bonny Light export terminal, from where it is shipped overseas.
The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said in a statement the Interior Department has directed it to cease its study on the potential health risks for people living near surface coal mines in Central Appalachia.
The Interior Department, which committed more than $1 million to the study last year, has begun an agency-wide review of grants over $100,000 because of the "Department's changing budget situation."