Health Tips: The truth about coconut oil


Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Mike Roizen

Emma Stone uses coconut oil as makeup remover. Mindy Kaling applies it to her hair as a mask. And Mandy Moore loves how it hydrates her skin. All appealing ways to use the oil that’s loaded with sat fat and medium-chain fatty acids. But when it comes to eating coconut oil, that’s another story. Despite claims that it’s good for your heart and other organs, it’s important to do some fact -- and fat -- checking. 

Pros or cons? When it comes to the claim that coconut oil can be heart healthy, a recent study in Circulation found that compared with other plant-based oils, it doesn’t help reduce waist circumference or body fat, and consumption increases lousy LDL cholesterol levels, upping your risk for heart disease. 

Another recent trial, published in BMJ Open, examined the potential benefits of EVCO -- yup, that’s extra-virgin coconut oil -- and found that over a four-week period, neither EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil) nor EVCO increased LDL levels. But there’s not enough research to say if EVCO is comparatively healthier than regular coconut oil in the long run. We’re betting it’s not, and may be downright less healthy than omega-3’s 7’s and 9’s in fish oil, avocado oil, walnuts and extra virgin olive oil. 

As for the claim that coconut oil is used in traditional cuisines where people have lower rates of heart disease than the U.S. -- those societies also eat heart-healthy, plant-based diets and more fish. Coconut oil is not the likely cause of their heart health. 

Your diet choices can help prevent Alzheimer’s 

Leonardo da Vinci, Mohandas Gandhi, George Bernard Shaw and the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician Norbert Wiener all were vegetarians. Their genius was powered by plants! If you want to keep your brain sharp and avoid dementia, yours should be too. That’s the conclusion of researchers who studied the MIND -- or Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay -- diet. 

The MIND diet calls for eating at least three servings of whole grains and at least one dark green leafy salad and one other vegetable daily, along with a glass of wine. Beans and legumes should be eaten at least every other day; poultry and berries, at least twice a week; fish once a week; and for snacks, go nuts (an ounce a day). The diet guidelines also say it’s equally important to avoid butter, cheese, fried or fast food, and red meat. The diet allows less than a serving a week for them. We say NONE. 

The researchers tracked almost 1,000 people ages 58 to 98 for four and a half years. They found that reliably sticking to the MIND diet reduced participants’ risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 53%. It fell by 35% if they followed guidelines moderately well. 

MIND reduces oxidative stress and inflammation, and the phytochemicals it contains may help prevent the buildup of beta-amyloid plaques, associated with Alzheimer’s. So if you mind developing dementia, adopt the MIND diet. For detailed info, check out “Dr. Oz Explains the MIND Diet” at doctoroz.com and follow the same basic advice in our book “YOU on a Diet.”

How exercise transforms your genetic future 

When Chris Pratt went from pudgy (300 pounds) Andy Dwyer in TV’s “Parks and Recreation” to ripped Peter Quill in “Guardians of the Galaxy” he knew he was transforming his career. But what he didn’t know was that he was changing his muscles’ genetic makeup too.

A study in Cell Reports looked at a group of amateur athletes, 34 to 53, to see what DNA to RNA transcription changes happened in long-term endurance trainers (cyclist and runners) and strength trainers (using weights) compared with untrained controls. The researchers found that men and women doing endurance training exercises regularly for the past 15 years had altered the makeup of more than 1,000 genes -- strengthening muscles, improving metabolic functions and protecting long-term health and cognition. Long-term strength training did alter the way cells burn fuel and the composition of muscle tissue, but did not appear to have the profound effect on genes’ functioning.

The research did show, however, that in people with metabolic syndrome or pre- or full-blown Type 2 diabetes, adopting an endurance exercise training program for six to 12 months shifts gene expression, like it does for long-term exercisers. You do not have to be an endurance athlete to see a lot of benefit! So, if you start working out today, exercise can cause changes in how your body protects itself from injury and disease. 

For workout ideas, check out bicycling.com; search for “how to start cycling.” And visit DoctorOz.com for video instructions on endurance exercise and strength training.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.

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