Sunday, April 3, 2011

Magical, Mystical Coconut Oil

(This is another post referencing my own experiences. I present it in case someone else might want to give coconut oil a try for weight issues.)

The past
Coconut oil is the stuff that used to make movie popcorn taste like movie popcorn. When somebody realized that coconut oil is 90% saturated fat, things changed in a hurry. Movie popcorn began to taste more like the cardboard tub it comes in, and coconut oil became hard to find. Recently coconut oil has come back into favor in the low-carb world, and it can be purchased in health food stores and even in grocery stores.

I began using coconut oil several years ago and noticed that when I did so, I was better able to control my weight. I didn't mind the taste too much, but I was no particular fan of it either. (Nutiva seems to me to be the best-tasting brand so that's what I buy, but there are many other extra virgin organic coconut oils on the market.)

The present
About two months ago, as a sort of personal experiment, I began eating two tablespoons of coconut oil for breakfast. Just 250 calories of coconut oil, plus my supplements, seemed to hold me until lunch, which was a surprise. Not only that, I didn't seem to be quite as hungry during the rest of the day. Not only that, I seemed to do much better at weight maintenance than I have for many years. I was curious about why it worked, but didn't have the time to puzzle it out.

The explanation
Then one day as I was reading an article over at the Heart Scan Blog, I happened upon a comment by Might-o'chondri-AL (#23 in the list). He explained that coconut contains a 12-carbon saturated fat called lauric acid, and that lauric acid upregulates the secretion of glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1). GLP-1 in turn increases satiety by slowing stomach emptying.

I checked out the fatty acid profile of coconut oil and found that, sure enough, it contains about 50% lauric acid. Next I did a Google search and found a journal article that backed up the rest of Might-o'chondri-AL's statements: Effects of intraduodenal fatty acids on appetite, antropyloroduodenal motility and plasma CCK and GLP-1 in humans vary with their chain length.

The data
The article reported that in 2004 a group of investigators did a 90-minute duodenal infusion of water (control), capric acid (a saturated fatty acid with 10 carbon atoms) or lauric acid (a saturated fatty acid with 12 carbon atoms) into twelve healthy, normal-weight, male volunteers. They administered only 0.375 kcal/min in the treatment groups, but the contrast between the capric acid (C10) group and the lauric acid (C12) group was quite large.

By 45 minutes of infusion, plasma GLP-1 increased significantly and stayed high in subjects who received C12, while plasma GLP-1 in the C10 group was no different from control. (Remember, GLP-1 slows gastric emptying.) Cholecystokinin (CCK) is a peptide hormone that also produces satiety by decreasing the rate of gastric emptying. By 30 minutes, both C10 and C12 had increased CCK over control, but C12 did so to a greater extent. Gastro-duodenal motility was measured directly using a manometric catheter. Consistent with the GLP-1 and CCK levels, C12 suppressed both antral and duodenal pressure waves while C10 did not. Finally, at the conclusion of the infusion, subjects were offered a buffet meal. Subjects who had received C12 ate significantly less than those who had received C10 or water. In other words, intraduodenal infusion of lauric acid (C12) decreased gastric motility and suppressed the appetites of subjects who received it.

More data
A 2010 review article by Little and Feinle-Bisset confirmed these findings and added a few more. The presence of fatty acids like lauric acid in the intestine (and possibly even in the mouth) stimulates the secretion of hormones that suppress gastric emptying (GLP-1, CCK, and peptide YY) as well as down-regulating the hunger hormone ghrelin. A lauric acid infusion also appears to be able to signal the brainstem and hypothalamus directly via the vagus nerve and a CCK receptor mediated pathway. In addition to all of that, lauric acid is classified as a medium chain fatty acid. Unlike longer-chain fatty acids, it can be absorbed directly from the gut, transported to the liver, and there be readily converted into ketone bodies and used for energy rather than for fat storage. Both in suppressing energy intake and in improving energy utilization, the lauric acid found in abundance in coconut oil looks like a good candidate to help with weight loss and weight maintenance.

To be fair, the Little and Feinle-Bisset review article goes on to state that some studies have shown that a high-fat diet or the presence of obesity may attenuate the effects of fat intake on slowing gastric emptying and decreasing energy intake. However, none of the studies they cite were done in the context of a low carbohydrate intake.

The result
In any case, after reading these articles, I now understand why coconut oil seems to be such a help to me in weight maintenance. Whether that will hold true in the long term or whether it will work for other people is not certain, but for now personal experience seems to be backed by a fair amount of science.

30 comments:

Jake said...

I like to exercise on a empty stomach, but I would get hungry during my two hour morning tennis sessions.

Now I dissolve a tablespoon of coconut oil in a cup of coffee before I play. It kills my hunger plus it provides me with the energy to get through the matches.

Stargazey said...

Hi, Jake! It's good to know that at least one other person has seen the hunger-reducing/energy-enhancing effects of coconut oil!

toob.account said...

Coconut oil may increase satiety but one thing you missed from the study: "C12(Lauric acid), but not C10, also induced nausea (P < 0.001)"

Seems like the Lauric acid was making them feel sick so it's not surprising they didn't eat as much in the buffet.

Stargazey said...

Very good point, toob.account. The article says:
The decrease in energy intake after the C12 infusion was evident in all subjects; however, the magnitude of the reduction was greater in those subjects who reported nausea (~3,840 kJ) compared with those that did not experience nausea (~1,801 kJ) (because of the small subject numbers in each “subgroup,” these data were not subjected to formal statistical analysis).

The authors did do a subsequent study, Dose-related effects of lauric acid on antropyloroduodenal motility,
gastrointestinal hormone release, appetite, and energy intake in healthy men
. They infused lauric acid at 0.0 (Control), 0.1, 0.2, or 0.4 kcal/min into 13 healthy male volunteers. None of the subjects reported experiencing nausea. Intake of energy was suppressed only with the 0.4 kg/min treatment (comparable to the 0.375 kg/min in the previous study). Although all groups consumed the same number of grams of food at the buffet, the 0.4 kg/min group chose less energy dense food and ate 86% of the calories consumed by the control group (P < 0.05).

Elizabeth said...

Hi! I just started coconut oil a few days ago - I love it! Tastes delicious and makes me smell good.

Glad I came across your blog - I love finding low carb resources!

David Isaak said...

I don't take coconut oil as a "dose," as I don't find it pleasant. (I'd read about the coconut-oil-in-coffee and tried it. Gack! Some people claim to like the taste, but it's just not my cup of, erm, oil.)

But I use quite a bit of it in cooking. I also occasionally mix up a batch of coconut-oil almond bark: melt coconut oil, ad cocoa powder and stevia to taste, throw in some almonds, pour into a thin layer in a pan, and toss in the freezer. Excellent low-carb chocolate candy. Melts in your mouth in a charming fashion.

Alas, unlike M&Ms, it melts in your hands, too.

Stargazey said...

Hi, Elizabeth! I'm glad you like the taste of coconut oil. That makes things much easier.

Hi to David Isaak, too! That chocolate coconut oil bark is excellent. It's just the thing for a chocoholic crisis. Not much assembly required and as a confirmed non-cook, I appreciate that.

graciel said...

Best way to eat coconut oil, cook your omelet in it! Never thought anything could be better than butter for cooking eggs, but darn! coconut oil is good stuff!

Steph said...

I use coconut oil as my oil of choice for the Shangri La diet. As it's not as tasteless as it's supposed to be for that plan, I try to remember to plug my nose when I take it and rinse my mouth quickly afterward.

I too love coconut oil and try to use it more and more in cooking and baking (popcorn included!). And melted, it makes a nice salad dressing all on its own, or with a little sea salt.

BUT! Here's a caveat - be careful how you dispose of coconut oil. A few months ago we had a wicked clog in our pipes, and the plumber told me that his business is up since coconut oil has become more popular...

Shala said...

I quit using butter because of my allergy to cow dairy. I now glop coconut oil on my gluten-free toast with peanut butter. Keeps me going far longer that a big breakfast of eggs, bacon, and hashbrowns.

I never knew why! Thanks for explaining that :)

Shala said...

Steph...my hubby is a plumber and it is just not coconut oil. Any oil that hardens when cool (beef/pork fat) will clog pipes. Even Shampoo build up clog pipes.

Mats Wiman said...

Very interesting indeed!!

Interesting is also the fact that Dr.Mary Newport (google!) managed to reverse her husband's alzheimer with just two spoons/day of coconut oil.

Mats Wiman

Stargazey said...

I did Google it, Mats, and there are lots of articles. Sad-to-say, they seem to be from nutrition-oriented websites. I couldn't find anything from a scientific journal. It's possible that the man was misdiagnosed, so I'd say that this claim needs to be approached with caution. If anybody finds a case study done on him in a refereed medical journal or a grand rounds done in the same sort of journal, I'd love to see it.

NatashaFX.com said...

I've been taking 2 - 3 tablespoons of Nutiva Coconut oil daily for the last 3 months. Also been cooking with it and it's delicious. Never makes me feel nauseous and it does seem to curb appetite. I also read it was good for the skin so I started using it on my skin and face as a moisturizer for 3 months now along with rose water as a toner and my skin has never looked so great. Threw away all cosmetic chemical filled department store moisturizers and never looked back. I used to have adult acne breakouts but these seem to have all stopped and even if I get a pimple, it's gone in a day. Love this stuff. It's now a part of my lifestyle. I keep a jar at work, in my bathroom and in my kitchen.

ItsTheWooo2 said...

THANKS for linking this article stargazey .

@toob Speaking as someone who has experienced a wide range of metabolic states (out of my mind energetic with no appetite hemorrhaging body fat, vs numb cold tired and immobile gaining weight easily ravenously hungry)....

Nausea is a sign of burning fat and high dopamine. I would expect the people who were nauseated to eat less and be most energetic, because nausea is a sign of GOOD STUFF going on in your body.

Did they eat less because of nausea, or was nausea a sign of eating less/making more energy? I suspect the latter, knowing what I know about body fat loss and ketosis and being ridiculously energetic by nature.


@Steph Coconut oil should not clog pipes, it becomes liquid under heat... just run hot water, burning hot, and the clog will dissolve. Pour boiling water down the drain.


@mats Coconut oil cannot reverse alzheimers disease, this is ridiculous. Alzheimers involves an irreversible death of brain tissue. Even if we assume coconut oil prevented further progression, the parts of "Self" which are lost to alzheimers cannot be reclaimed, any more than a memory you lose can magically be restored. If it's gone, it's gone, the structure has been destroyed. Even if you rebuild the structure (a far fetched claim) the data imprinted upon it (who you are) is gone.
Claims such as this are why no one believes nutrition can affect disease. If you make preposterous claims, don't be surprised when people scoff at the power of diet and minerals/vitamins. "that dude said coconut oil can cure alzheimers, when rudimentary common sense suggests that is insane and belies a complete ignorance about what alzheimers is... those nutrition quacks are always saying crazy things, lets just ignore everything they say because its always silly and ridiculous".

Kindke said...

My experience with downing 40g bolus dose of liquid coconut oil at 2pm after a 18hour overnight fast is as follows....

1) Heavy nausea induced after ~15 minutes which persists for about 2 hours.

2) Overall Reduced appetite

3) severely reduced preference for carb and fat heavy foods

4) increased appetite and preference for protein rich foods,

JBG said...

Woo said, "@Steph Coconut oil should not clog pipes, it becomes liquid under heat... just run hot water, burning hot, and the clog will dissolve. Pour boiling water down the drain."

Boiling water will clear the nearby pipes and send the oil to more distant pipes where it will harden again and cost real money to clear. It might work ONCE, say to clear a small accidental spill (or it might not), but for sure if you make a practice of it, you will have to call for more than a regular plumber.

Stargazey said...

JBG, that sounds right to me. Ever since Steph's and Shala's comments, I've been careful to wipe any coconut oil residue off my dishes before putting them into the dishwasher. So far, so good...

Joe Cannon said...

when you started using coconut oil did you measure your blood lipids pre/post treatment?

while coconut oil is rich in MCTs, I am very interested in seeing some real life examples how it effects cholesterol, HDL, HDL triglycerides etc.
Thanks!
Joe Cannon MS CSCS
Joe-Cannon.com

Stargazey said...

Joe, no I haven't had blood lipids checked in several years so I don't know how coconut oil might affect them. If any readers have any data, please feel free to share it.

Coach Ed said...

I recently purchased some coconut oil, because of its high lauric acid content.

The reason I purchased it (and started ordering more Thai curries... made with coconut milk), is that it is the saturated fat that will increase cholesterol, but primarily increase your good cholesterol. Look at this meta-analysis about the impact of dietary fatty acids and the ratio of HDL to total cholesterol...

http://www.ajcn.org/content/77/5/1146.full.pdf

dixie1 said...

Joe, thought I would comment here regarding the effects of coconut oil on blood lipids. I have very high triglycerides and have known for many years that eliminating carbs drops them almost overnight. Anyway, exactly two months ago I had my blood done: TG=899 (gasp), HDL=31, risk ratio 6.9. Doc told me to take Tricor.

So for the past two months I got serious and went low carb (no way am I taking Tricor). The one variable that was different this time was that I was gobbling coconut oil 2-3 Tbs/day-had no clue what it would due to my lipids.

Results as of yesterday: TG=187, HDL=44, risk ratio= 4.9. The nurse almost fell off her chair looking at the numbers when I went in to get my lab work. Hope that answers your question.

Stargazey said...

@Coach Ed--sorry this is extremely delayed. You provided a very information-packed reference. It was interesting to note that "lauric acid had a more favorable effect on total:HDL cholesterol than any other fatty acid, either saturated or unsaturated." It was also revealing that they acknowledged an "unfavorable effect of carbohydrates on total:HDL cholesterol" and then proceeded to tapdance around it by suggesting that this might be counteracted because "low-fat diets may promote weight reduction." They couldn't come out and say that lauric acid promotes a much better total:HDL cholesteol ratio than do carbohydrates, but the data are there in the article.

By the way, for those who get freaked out about increased LDL values on low-carb, try to get a direct measurement of your LDL. If it's calculated, be sure to use the Iranian formula to do it, not the standard Friedewald formula.

Stargazey said...

@dixie1, thanks for the lab results. Amazing!

Geneve said...

I had about 2 1/2 tablespoons of coconut oil the other day in one shot and vomited violently within an hour. I know it's healthy for me and try to have about half a tablespoon per day.

Stargazey said...

Geneve, I hope you're feeling better by now! It seems that people need to increase their coconut oil intake by just a teaspoon at a time and wait a few days before they increase it again. I'm not entirely sure why that is, but going faster than that seems to have rather uncomfortable side effects, as you have noticed!

Patricia said...

Two points: nausea is a sensation associated with slowed gastric emptying. There is good and bad LDL. Fructose triggers the bad stuff, medium chain fatty acids promote the good stuff. No way to tell the difference on standard testing. Best to ignore that number and look at triglycerides and HDlL. Low triglycerides and high HDL are the best combination for health.

Jen W said...

But remember that while you are actively losing weight, your triglycerides will go up. How else is the fat in your fat cells going to get to muscles etc to burn as fuel - but via your blood stream!

Jen W said...

I've forgotten what I was saying ...does any dyslexic ever get through the robot defence.....Go number 7!

What I was going to say is that while you are dieting triglycerides go up, as the fat from the fat cells has to travel to the muscles for energy via the blood stream.

Stargazey said...

Hi, Jen. Actually, triglycerides can't cross the plasma membrane of an adipocyte. They are broken down into glycerol and free fatty acids and leave the fat cell in that form. The free fatty acids are bound to serum albumin and are transported to tissues like muscle, where they can be used for energy. The liver can convert glycerol into glucose, which can then be used for energy by the brain.