Does Coconut Oil Help Lower Cholesterol?

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Confusion abounds when it comes to the cholesterol lowering-potential of coconut oil. Coconut oil is rich in saturated fat, a type of fat linked to increased cholesterol. To add to the confusion, you'll find different types of coconut oil, virgin, refined, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated. The former is extracted from the fresh fruit, without using elevated temperatures. Refinement often includes high heat and chemical bleaching. Processed coconut oils may not have the same health benefits as virgin.

Current Recommendations

A diet high in too much saturated fat is linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Saturated fat can increase the level of cholesterol in your blood, according to the American Heart Association. Limit your saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of your daily calories, recommends the AHA. If you consume 2,000 calories per day, this amount is equivalent to about 16 grams of saturated fat.

Coconut Oil Fat Profile

Coconut oil is composed primarily of saturated fat. One tablespoon contains close to 12 grams. Coconut oil contains saturated fats in the form of lauric and myristic acids, while animal foods contains palmitic and stearic acids. The type of saturated fats found in coconut oil may not exert the same adverse effects on cholesterol, according to Natalie Digate Muth, M.D. For example, lauric acid, the primary saturated fat in coconut oil, increases beneficial HDL cholesterol, according to Muth.

Reduces Cholesterol in Animal Data

Despite its saturated fat content, coconut oil contains antioxidants and beneficial polyphenol compounds. Researchers in India examined the effects of virgin coconut oil in an animal study and found that it reduced total cholesterol as well as LDL and VLDL, which are bad forms of cholesterol. The researchers postulate the results may be attributed to the polyphenols present in coconut oil. The results are published in the September 2004 issue of the journal "Clinical Biochemistry."

Increases HDL in Population Studies

In a community-based study, researchers found a link between coconut oil consumption and higher HDL cholesterol profiles in Filipino women from age 35 to 69. HDL is a type of beneficial cholesterol that helps remove bad forms of cholesterol from your body. Researchers concluded more studies examining the relationship between coconut oil and cholesterol profiles are needed. The team published the results in the "Asian Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition" 2011 edition.