Some Experts Dispute AHA Warning on Saturated Fats, Coconut Oil

After the American Heart Association’s warning about the saturated fat content of coconut oil, some experts have weighed in and found the health organization’s study wanting.

Jul. 18, 2017
By Anthony Vasquez-Peddie

Recent News

In the wake of the American Heart Association’s warn­ing about the sat­u­rated fat con­tent of coconut oil, some experts have weighed in and found the health orga­ni­za­tion’s study want­ing.

It’s cherry pick­ing, and it’s how a lawyer builds an argu­ment but not how a sci­en­tist works to estab­lish reli­able knowl­edge.- Gary Taubes

The AHA released a Presidential Advisory stat­ing coconut oil con­tained more sat­u­rated fat than but­ter and beef fat. It also rec­om­mended sat­u­rated fat intake should be lim­ited in order to avoid rais­ing bad” cho­les­terol lev­els and pre­vent clogged arter­ies and heart-related con­di­tions.

Critics ques­tion the AHA’s method­ol­ogy in find­ing these con­clu­sions.

Fabian Dayrit, pres­i­dent of the Integrated Chemists of the Philippines, pub­lished an arti­cle stat­ing there are exper­i­men­tal errors and biases” in the study on which the AHA based its rec­om­men­da­tions. Defective exper­i­ments have led to defec­tive guide­lines,” he said.

To decrease sat­u­rated fat effec­tively means an increase in unsat­u­rated fat in the diet. The actual result has been an increase in omega‑6 fats and a high omega‑6 to omega‑3 fat ratio. This unhealthy ratio has been linked to heart dis­ease, the very dis­ease that the AHA wants to tar­get, as well as can­cer and inflam­ma­tory dis­eases.”


Dayrit, who is also chair­man of Asian and Pacific Coconut Community’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Health, said the warn­ings against sat­u­rated fats were based on stud­ies by Ancel Keys in the 1950s.

The Keys hypoth­e­sis, gen­er­ally known as the sat­u­rated fat-cho­les­terol-heart dis­ease hypoth­e­sis, states that sat­u­rated fats raise serum cho­les­terol which in turn increases the risk for heart dis­ease,” he said.

He added that Keys used hydro­genated coconut oil in one of his stud­ies.

The use of hydro­genated fats in this feed­ing study casts doubt on the valid­ity of the con­clu­sions of this work regard­ing the effects of coconut oil,” Dayrit said. It was already known in the 1920s that hydro­gena­tion of veg­etable oils pro­duced trans fats. In 1957, the same year when both Keys papers came out, it was reported that trans fats were deposited in var­i­ous human tis­sues, such as adi­pose tis­sues, liver, aor­tic tis­sue, and atheroma of those who died of ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis. In a 1961 paper on hydro­genated fats, Keys him­self noted that hydro­genated oils raised serum cho­les­terol and triglyc­erides. Therefore, the increase in serum cho­les­terol that Keys observed may have been due to the trans fats in mar­garine and hydro­genated coconut oil and this would make his con­clu­sions invalid.”

Gary Taubes, an award-win­ning sci­ence writer, took the AHA to task over its appar­ently selec­tive use of source mate­r­ial.

It’s cherry pick­ing, and it’s how a lawyer builds an argu­ment but not how a sci­en­tist works to estab­lish reli­able knowl­edge, which is the goal of the enter­prise,” he wrote in an opin­ion piece.

Taubes, who has authored books such as Good Calories, Bad Calories, Why We Get Fat and The Case Against Sugar, charges the AHA with dis­re­gard­ing stud­ies that don’t sup­port its stance against the use of sat­u­rated fats.

The AHA con­cludes that only four clin­i­cal tri­als have ever been done with suf­fi­ciently reli­able method­ol­ogy to allow them to assess the value of replac­ing sat­u­rated fatty acids with polyun­sat­u­rated fatty acids and con­cludes that this replace­ment will reduce heart attacks by 30 per­cent,” he said. These four tri­als are the ones that are left after the AHA experts have sys­tem­at­i­cally picked through the oth­ers and found rea­sons to reject all that didn’t find such a large pos­i­tive effect, includ­ing a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber that hap­pened to sug­gest the oppo­site.”

Taubes adds the AHA ignores results from some of the biggest stud­ies ever con­ducted, includ­ing the Minnesota Coronary Survey, the Sydney Heart Study and the Women’s Health Initiative.

Whether con­sciously or uncon­sciously, they assume that what they think is true surely is, and then they method­i­cally elim­i­nate the neg­a­tive and accen­tu­ate the pos­i­tive until they can make the case that they are surely, clearly and unequiv­o­cally right.”

Anthony Pearson, a car­di­ol­o­gist at St. Lukes of Chesterfield hos­pi­tal in St. Louis, argued in a post on his blog that the AHA’s rec­om­men­da­tions are flawed because not all fatty acids are cre­ated equal.

The kinds of sat­u­rated fats in coconut oil dif­fers markedly from both dairy sat­u­rated fatty acids and beef sat­u­rated fatty acids. Some sat­u­rated fatty acids may have ben­e­fi­cial effects on blood lipids, weight, and car­dio­vas­cu­lar health,” he said. The types of unsat­u­rated fatty acids in veg­etable oils dif­fer markedly and may have dif­fer­en­tial effects on car­dio­vas­cu­lar health.”

He added: Although con­tain­ing lots of sat­u­rated fat, the sat­u­rated fatty acids in coconut oil are dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent from other dietary sources of sat­u­rated fatty acids The medium-chain fatty acids like lau­ric acid, which make up the coconut, are absorbed and metab­o­lized dif­fer­ently from long-chain fatty acids found in ani­mal fat,” Pearson wrote.


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