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Dr. Mark Hyman: So Is Coconut Oil Healthy or Not?

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Did you know that 50 percent of media headlines about medical studies are dead wrong? And that many of these headlines don't accurately match the conclusions of the studies they cover? That's from a review published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It makes me sad and furious at the same time that journalists don't do their homework and create firestorms of confusion because of their negligent work.


That is exactly what happened when USA Today published their article, Coconut Oil Isn't Healthy. It's Never Been Healthy. Shame on you USA Today editors for doing such a sloppy job of journalism.

Why the American Heart Association Has Been and Still Is Wrong

First, there is not a single study showing that coconut oil causes heart disease. Not one. Second, the whole case against coconut oil is founded on a hypothesis that has been proven wrong. It's the diet-heart hypothesis. Saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol causes heart disease. Anything that raises LDL cholesterol is bad. Only problem is that the data does not support this hypothesis.

If you are geeky and want to read more where I cover the science in detail, read my blog Fat: What I Got Wrong, What I Got Right. But just like it took 150 years after Copernicus recognized that the earth revolves around the sun before it was finally accepted, it will take a while for the world to catch up with the false idea that low-fat and low-cholesterol diets won't save us from heart disease. In fact, low-fat diets cause heart disease. I have covered all this in my last book, Eat Fat, Get Thin with hundreds of references.

The USA Today article was based on a review by the American Heart Association (AHA). They published a review of fat and heart disease. The AHA has been at the vanguard of bad advice for decades since they first hooked onto the "fat is bad and will kill you" meme. They told us to eat very low fat, low cholesterol diets and to eat tons of starchy carbs. By the way, the AHA gets huge funding from cereal makers that put the AHA seal of approval on sugary (including cereal makers) cereals because they are "fat free" despite containing 75 percent sugar. Except now the overwhelming amount of research has proved that idea to be dead wrong. In fact, their recommendations have killed millions of people (no joke) from heart disease and diabetes. That's why the very conservative 2015 USDA Dietary Guidelines removed any upper limits on dietary fat and eliminated any restrictions on dietary cholesterol. In fact, after decades of telling us to avoid eggs and shrimp they said, "Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption."

If you are interested in the corruption of the AHA, its funding is supported by the Pharma industry, industrial food giants (including sugary cereal makers) and industrial vegetable oil manufacturers, then read this recent blog on Medium entitled, Is the American Heart Association a terrorist organization? I'm not calling the AHA a terrorist organization, I just want you to read the article and question who's really pulling the strings.

How could this happen you might wonder? How could the scientists have gotten it so wrong? It all comes down to how we do the research. Most nutrition research is based on what we call observational studies. You follow a group of people for a long time, you ask them once a year what they ate last week and you see if patterns emerged. Good luck if they can remember. And people aren't always honest—if they think butter is bad, then they will underreport consumption. Problem is those types of studies do not prove cause and effect, just correlation. If I did a study on women over 55-years of age who have sex, I could conclude that sex rarely leads to pregnancy. Pretty meaningless. The populations studied that ate saturated fats also were coincidentally smokers, didn't exercise and ate otherwise unhealthy diets. Those who actually ate well, exercised and didn't smoke (i.e. lead healthier lifestyles) also didn't eat saturated fats because they were told not to. Studies prove that it was the well-rounded healthy habits that saved them, not less saturated fats.

Why Saturated Fats Are Not Bad and Are Essential for Health

This is exactly why multiple recent studies have shown no link between saturated fat and heart disease. You can read most of the important ones from the references, below, in my book and in the Fat: What I Got Wrong, What I Got Right article. In fact, there have been very few cause and effect studies in nutrition—they are hard to do, take a long time and cost a lot. But two of the largest ones every published show that fat and saturated fat are not the problem. The first was the PREDIMED study where researchers gave 7,000 participants olive oil (which contains 20 percent saturated fat) or nuts vs. a low-fat diet. PERDIMED had to stop the study because the people who were following the low-fat diet were dying.

The next study was completed more than 40 years ago, but it wasn't published because the results contradicted the prevailing dogma that saturated fat was bad and that LDL cholesterol caused heart disease. This was a study that could not be conducted today because it would be considered unethical. They fed 9,000 people in mental hospitals butter and saturated fats or corn oil (polyunsaturated vegetable oil, which the AHA report says we should eat more of). And, guess what? Those who ate the corn oil had more heart attacks and deaths, despite lowering their LDL cholesterol. Really? Yes, it's true. In fact, for every 30-point drop in LDL the risk of heart attack went up 22 percent. To top it off a recent review of all the science on big bad butter looking at 6.5 million patient years of butter eating, researchers found that butter eaters had no increased risk of heart disease, but they did have decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. You read that right. Butter = lower risk of type 2 diabetes. And if you still need to be convinced, here's a review of 17 meta-analyses (reviews of all the best and relevant research) showing no link between saturated fat and heart disease.

The whole idea that LDL cholesterol causes heart disease is the reason we have a multi-billion dollar statin industry. One study of more than 130,000 people who had heart attacks over 5 years showed that 75 percent had normal LDL and 50 percent had optimal LDL cholesterol. But only 10 percent had normal HDL or the protective cholesterol. Guess what raises HDL? Saturated fat. And coconut oil raises it the most of any saturated fat. And what lowers it? A low-fat, high-starch and high-sugar diet. We need cholesterol and saturated fat for the health of every cell membrane, for your brain cells, your sex hormones and more. Cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease, it is the band-aid that tries to repair the arteries when damage occurs from a low-fat, high-starch, high sugar diet. This causes pre-diabetes and inflammation from a processed food diet, environmental toxins, a bad gut from a low fiber, processed diet or anything that causes inflammation.

Before we get off saturated fats, here's one big warning. They are a problem if you eat them in the context of a high-sugar, high-starch, processed foods diet. It's what I call sweet fat. Stay away. No bagels and butter. No donuts or French fries. Stick with butter and broccoli.

Why We Shouldn't Be Mainlining Omega-6 Vegetable Oils

The other recommendation from the AHA other than dramatically lower saturated fat intake is to increase omega-6 refined vegetable oils. Bad idea. Yes, some studies show a lower risk of heart disease with a higher intake of omega-6 oils (otherwise known as polyunsaturated fats or PUFAs which include soy, corn, safflower, canola oils). Again I cover this in detail in Eat Fat, Get Thin, but the take-home is this: If you eat saturated fat in the context of the typical American diet, it will cause problems and the people in omega-6 studies were eating exactly that. And to make it more confusing, the studies looking at PUFAs included both omega-3 (super protective) and omega-6 fats. The omega-3s made the omega-6 cousins look better. When you look at just the studies of the effects of omega-6 fats, you find actually increase the risk of heart attacks. And it is just common sense and evolutionary sense—our intake of these refined, heat processed, hexane treated, chemically deodorized oils (never consumed before in human history) have increase more than 1,000 times (that's 100,000 percent) in the last 100 years. Saturated fats make your cholesterol molecules stable and less likely to oxidize or go rancid. It is oxidized cholesterol that causes heart attacks. The PUFA's are unstable and easily oxidized so when they are incorporated into cholesterol they make it unstable and go rancid—which is bad for your heart.

Is Coconut Oil Healthy?

We have had a coconut craze. What's the deal? Broccoli is healthy but if that's all you ate you would get sick. Coconut oil is healthy but only as part of an overall healthy diet, not as the main course. Coconut oil has been consumed by populations in the South Pacific for thousands of years without ill effect. It has so many health benefits. You can read more in my article Is Coconut Oil Bad for My Cholesterol. But here's the short list of benefits. It raises HDL, the good cholesterol. It improves the quality and size and type of cholesterol. It lowers the total cholesterol to HDL ratio—a far better predictor of heart disease than LDL. And cultures with 60 percent of their diet as coconut oil have no heart disease. It also contains a unique type of saturated fat called MCT oil that boosts metabolism, reverses insulin resistance, and improves cognitive function. Coconut oil is also anti-fungal and anti-microbial and it contains lauric acid that is great for immune function. The only other good source of lauric acid is breast milk, which contains 24 percent saturated fat—far higher than the 6 percent the AHA recommends.

Who would you trust, nature/God or the American Heart Association? So, I am sorry you have to be buffeted about by bad conclusions from insufficient outdated science and bad journalism. But hopefully reading this helps, and if you are so inclined check out the references below, my other blogs on this topic and my book so you can come to your own conclusions.

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The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

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What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

The climate panel—co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry—recommended that the Democratic Party commit to "eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035," massively expanding investments in clean energy sources, and "achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030."

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.