Coconut Oil: Latest Weapon Against Heart Disease

The Island, Colombo
http://www.island.lk
November 29, 2004

By Dr. D. P. Athukorale


Scientists have recently discovered a new weapon against coronary heart disease (CHD). This weapon is ordinary coconut oil. Eating coconut oil and coconut products on a regular basis can reduce your chances of getting a heart attack.

Coconut oil is composed of a unique type of fat known as medium chain fatty acids (MCFA). Although these are technically classified as saturated fats, they are quite different from saturated fats in meat. The fat in coconut oil and coconut milk can actually protect you from getting a heart attack or suffering a stroke.

Unlike saturated fats present in meat and other animal products known as long-chain fatty acids (LCFA) which raise your blood cholesterol, medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) do not. All the research studies done in human beings using coconut oil and coconut products have shown that MCFA have a neutral effect on cholesterol levels in humans, i.e. MCFA in coconut do not elevate or decrease the cholesterol levels.

All the oils except coconut oil and omega 3 fatty acids like those found in fish oil increase the stickiness of blood cells. Thus saturated fatty acids found in meat and meat products and all unsaturated fatty acids present in vegetable oils such as corn oil, gingelly oil, soya oil and sunflower oil increase the stickiness of the blood cells thus increasing the tendency of the blood to form blood clots that can clog up arteries and cause heart attacks and strokes.

People who traditionally consume large quantities of coconut oil as part of their ordinary diet (such as Polynesians living in Cooks Islands) have a very low incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD) and have normal blood cholesterol levels. This has been well supported by a large number of population studies. The research shows that those people who consume large quantities of coconut oil have remarkably good cardiovascular health.

At first this obsenation confused many scientists. They did not recognise the difference between MCFA present in coconut oil and LCFA present in ordinary fats. New research has however demonstrated that MCFA (present in coconut oil) protect against heart disease and may one day be used as a treatment to cure it.

Studies in 1970 indicated that coconut oil is heart friendly. Coconut oil was found to have many factors associated with a reduced risk of heart disease compared to other dietary oils namely low body fat distribution, high survival rate, reduced tendency to form blood clots, fewer uncontrolled free radicals and trans-fats and lower incidence of heart disease in population studies.

From this evidence alone, coconut oil should be viewed as heart healthy or at least benign as far as heart disease is concerned. But there is another factor that is even more important that reveals coconut oil as not simply a benign bystander, but a very important player in the battle against heart disease.

Heart disease is caused by atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) which is manifest by the formation of plaque in the arteries. According to current thought, atherosclerosis initially develops as a result of injury to the inner layer of the arterial wall. The injury can he due to the result of factors such as toxins, free radicals, viruses or bacteria. If the cause of the injury is not removed further damage may result. As long as irritation and the inflammation persist scar tissue continues to develop in the arterial wall.

Special blood proteins called platelets circulate freely in the blood. Whenever they encounter an injury they become sticky and adhere to each other and to the damaged tissue to facilitate healing. This is how blood clots are formed. Injury from any source triggers platelets to clump together or clot and arterial cells to release protein growth factors that stimulate growth of the muscle cells within artery walls. A complex mixture of scar tissue, platelets, calcium, cholesterol and triglycerides are incorporated to the site to heal the injury. This mass of tissue forms the arterial plaque. When the above process occurs in the coronary arteries which feed the heart muscle, it is referred to as coronary heart disease (CHD) which is the most common cause of death in Sri Lanka and other developing and developed countries.

Chronic infection and Atherosclerosis

It appears that there is cause and effect relationship association with persistent low grade infection and heart disease. Recent research has shown that certain micro-organisms can cause or at least are involved in the development of arterial plaque which leads to heart disease (CHD).

A large number of studies have reported association between heart disease and chronic bacterial and viral infections (Danesh and Collin 1997, Lancet 350, 30). In 1980, scientist reported certain associations between atherosclerosis and heart disease in humans infected with number of bacteria (e.g. Helicobacter pylori and Chlemydia Prneumoniae) and certain herpes viruses particularly cytomegalo virus. In one study Petra Baiku and colleagues at the University of Helsinki in Finland found that 27 out of 40 heart attack patients and 15 out of 30 men with heart disease carried antibodies released to Chlamydia which is more commonly known to cause gum disease and lung infections. Out of subjects free of heart disease only 7 out of 41 had such antibodies. In another study at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, researchers found that 70% of patients undergoing surgery for atherosclerosis carry antibodies to cytomegalovirus (CMV), a respiratory infection while only 40% of controls do.

More evidence supporting the link between infections and CHD showed up in early 1990 when researchers found fragments of bacteria in arterial plaques. One of the first to discover microorganisms in at heroclerosis plaques was Brent Muhlstein a cardiologist at the LDS hospital in Salt Lake City and the University of Utah. Muhalstein and colleagues found evidence of Chlamydia In 79% of plaque specimens taken from coronary arteries of 90 heart disease patients. In comparison, fewer than 4 percent of normal individuals had evidence of Chlanydia in artery walls.

Muhalstein showed that infecting rabbits with Chlamyolia thickens the artery walls of the animals. When the animals were given an antibiotic to kill Chlolydia the arteries became normal (Gura, 1998, Science 281,35).

At least one of every two adults in developed countries have antibodies to Helicobacter pylori; Clamydia pneumonia or cytomegalovirus (CMV). The presence of anbodies does not necessarily indicate an active infections, or presence of atherosclerosis and this shows that infection has occurred at some time and it is common for above infections to persist indefinitely. The effectiveness of the immune system determines the degree of trouble the virus may cause. The weaker the immune system, the more likely an infection will hang on and cause problems and when those microorganisms enter the blood stream they can attack the artery wall causing low grade infection that lack any noticeable symptoms. As microorganisms colonise in artery wall, they cause damage to arterial cells. In an effort to heal the injury, blood platelets, cholesterol and protein combine in the artery wall setting the stage for ‘plaque formation and atherosclerosis. Infection can both initiate and promote growth of at heroselerosis in arteries which in turn leads to heart disease (Leinone M 1993, Eur. Heart J. 14,57).

The findings mentioned above suggest that at least in some cases heart disease may be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics use is limited because they are only good against bacteria and antibiotics are not useful against viruses. However there is something that will destroy both the bacteria (Helicobacter Pylori and Chlamydia) and viruses (CMV) that are most commonly associated with atherosclarosis and thus medium chain fatty acids (MCPA) in coconut oil which are known to kill three of the major types of atherogenic organisms are quite useful in prevention of atheroselerosis. MCFA are known to kill dozens of disease causing organisms. Not only— can coconut oil help- protect you from, the germs that cause ulcers, lung infections, herpes an d such, but also heart disease and stroke. If you want to avoid dying from heart disease, you should be eating coconut oil.

Heart disease, stroke (CVA) and atherosclerosis account for nearly half the deaths in USA and statistically one out of every three people you know will die from one of these cardiovascular conditions. In countries where people eat a lot of coconut products cardiovascular disease is much less frequent. In parts of India such as Kerala where coconut oil has been replaced by other vegetable oils cardiovascular disease is on the rise. So if you are one of those using vegetable oils such as sunflower oil or corn oil or soya oil switch on to heart friendly coconut oil. The researchers in India who are involved with studies on diet and heart disease are now recommending the return to coconut oil to reduce the risk of heart disease. (Sircar and Ransara, 1988, J Ind. Med. Assoc. 96, 304).

It appears that by simply using coconut in your daily diet in place of other oils, you can achieve remarkable degree of protection from heart disease and stroke.

Reference:

Health Miracles of Coconut Oil by Bruce Fife W.D.



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