by Brian Shilhavy
(Health Impact News) Results of an extensive study on coconut oil in the diet of people iving in Sri Lanka were published today in the Sunday Sun Times of Sri Lanka. Dr. Janaki Gooneratne, the head of Food Technology at the Industrial Technology Institute in Sri Lanka, conducted the research while analyzing the therapeutic value of coconut residue products in relation to heart disease. The report today speculates that Dr. Goonerante’s research, which is described as “an extensive and rare kind of research – for the first time in the world,” will soon be used in treating heart disease.
While all the details of her research were not revealed in the report, it is centered around the high fiber coconut residue, called “Polkudu” in the local language. Dr. Gooneratne did her PhD work on the active components of the dietary fiber of the coconut meat. The report today mentioned that the fiber in the coconut residue contains 23% of “galactomannon.” Galactomannon in recent years has also been studied in the Philippines, particularly in the Makapuno variety of coconuts which has a more gelatin characteristic in the meat of the coconut than the regular varieties of coconuts have. Recently, researchers in the Philippines have begun using galactomannon as a food stabilizer to replace imported stabilizers such as guar gum. Galactomannon is also reportedly a “good dietary fiber which can enhance digestion and weight reduction.” (See: The Potential Health Benefits Of Makapuno Coconut Byproduct) Previous studies done on coconut flakes and coconut flour have also shown that the dietary fiber of coconut can reduce cholesterol levels (e.g. see: The Cholesterol-Lowering Effect of Coconut Flakes in Humans with Moderately Raised Serum Cholesterol)
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Dr. Goonerante’s research that was referenced today, however, was her extensive research on coconut oil in the diet of people living in Sri Lanka. In modern day Sri Lanka, Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death among adults, and coconut oil is usually implicated as a reason for this high rate of CVD. Coconut is second only to rice in food consumption in Sri Lanka, and there have been attempts to discredit and undermine the value of coconut. However, Dr. Gooneratne said that according to research, heart diseases are traditionally uncommon among high coconut consuming populations.
In fact, Dr. P. Rethinam and Muhartoyo wrote in the Jakarta Post, on June 18, 2003, that before 1950, heart attacks were not common in Sri Lanka. However, hospital admission rates for heart attacks grew dramatically from 1970 to 1992. On the other hand, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka had determined that the coconut consumption has gone down from 132 nuts per person per year in 1952 to 90 per person per year in 1991. Because of the saturated fat scare of recent years condemning coconut oil, people ate fewer coconuts and heart disease and the associated weight gain actually increased. H. Kaunitz wrote in 1986 that the 1978 edition of the Demographic Yearbook of the United Nations reported that Sri Lanka had the lowest death rate from ischemic heart disease, while coconut oil was their main dietary fat. (See: Medium chain triglycerides in aging and arteriosclerosis)
Before undertaking the time to study and research the medicinal effects of coconut fiber therefore, Dr. Goonerante had to deal with the current bias against coconut oil as a saturated fat. She carried out an extensive research project to establish whether there was a relationship in the consumption of coconut oil with cholesterol, in the Gampaha District of Sri Lanka – an area coming under the “Coconut Triangle”- adopting a random sampling of a target group of 957 people. A group of 957 volunteers (males 340, females 617) between 18 and 65 years of age were enlisted for the research, and all the factors such as socio-demographic data, family history of disease and lifestyle were assessed. Anthropometry and arterial blood pressure were measured, and lipid profiles were determined. The nutrient intake was measured by 3-day dietary records, and they were grouped as either high fat or low fat.
Associations between selected CVD risk factors and Coconut Fat (CF) intake were investigated by Dr. Goonerante using Chi-square test, and further examined in a multivariate model adjusting for potential confounding variables. Data was analyzed using SPSS statistical software. The results of this extensive research concluded that consumption of CF at 16.4% of total energy per day had no CVD risk on the study population. (Note: for a standard 2000 calorie diet that would equate to about 2.5 tablespoons of coconut oil a day.) Dr. Goonerante believes that this extensive research is one of the first studies of this magnitude on dietary coconut oil ever conducted anywhere in the world. Since coconut oil is not a product that can be patented, it is highly unlikely that such studies like this will ever be funded in western nations, and it is now up to the coconut oil producing countries to carry out this research to vindicate coconut oil from the attacks levied against it over the past several decades in western nations. She believes her research will give great value to a product that up to this time has been simply a waste product, the coconut residue, but which in fact has great therapeutic value at the fraction of the cost of expensive western medicines.
As I predicted on the last day of 2010 in my blog post “Significant Research and News from 2010 Regarding Coconut Oil and Saturated Fats,” 2011 is seeing some major research being committed to the health properties of coconut oil from the coconut producing countries. Last month (January 2011) a study was published in Malaysia showing how Virgin Coconut Oil helped prevent liver damage. (See: Hepatoprotective Activity of Dried- and Fermented-Processed Virgin Coconut Oil) As the foundation of the lipid theory of heart disease and the prejudices against saturated fats and coconut oil in particular continue to crumble, more and more research will validate the truth of what is already known by millions of coconut oil consumers around the world: coconut oil is the healthiest dietary oil on earth!
1. ‘Polkudu’ treatment for heart ailments The Sunday Times – Sri Lanka, Sunday February 6, 2011 edition
2. The Cholesterol-Lowering Effect of Coconut Flakes in Humans with Moderately Raised Serum Cholesterol – Trinidad P. Trinidad, Anacleta S. Loyola, Aida C. Mallillin, Divinagracia H. Valdez, Faridah C. Askali, Joan C. Castillo, Rosario L. Resaba, Dina B. Masa. Journal of Medicinal Food. June 2004, 7(2): 136-140. doi:10.1089/1096620041224148.
3. The Potential Health Benefits Of Makapuno Coconut Byproduct – Ideas Galore, Arnold Cafe
4. Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) in aging and arteriosclerosis. - - J Environ Pathol Toxicol Oncol. 1986 Mar-Apr;6(3-4):115-21.
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