Medical Files

‘Coconut Oil: From Diet to Therapy’

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The dust has not settled yet on the coconut oil controversy. A lot of new data for and against the health benefits of coconut oil, including its “virgin” form, are being published in various journals and presented in scientific fora. It can be tough sifting the data to separate the grain from the chaff.

The latest book of Dr. Fabian “Toby” Dayrit, titled “Coconut Oil: From Diet to Therapy” updates the information in the first book of his father, the late Dr. Conrado Dayrit, one of the pioneers of Philippine cardiology, and a staunch advocate for the use of coconut oil as nature’s gift to promote health and wellness.

Toby himself is a respected researcher and academician. He is one of the distinguished academicians of the National Academy of Science and Technology since 2009, and a full professor at the Department of Chemistry of Ateneo de Manila University, where he was dean of the School of Science and Engineering. He has been president of the Integrated Chemists of the Philippines since 1996.

Because of the unresolved issues on coconut oil, former health secretary Manolet Dayrit, Toby’s elder brother, describes the book as part of an “unfinished agenda” started by their late father. Toby has done a great job separating the grain from the chaff in his book, as he debunks coconut oil myths and cites evidence-based benefits in the treatment of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and for those who want to lose weight.

Low cost alternative

“At present, the use of coconut oil has grown exponentially in spite of the negative tag,” said Dr. Reynaldo Jun Pacheco, spokesperson of Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) Association of the Philippines, during the book launching recently. He added that our country can save millions of pesos on healthcare cost if the use of coconut oil, including VCO, is popularly practiced. “We can have a low-cost alternative to antibiotics, therapies, or treatments,” said Pacheco.

Other proponents of coconut oil ask how anyone can doubt its health benefits when one looks at the health and longevity of tropical populations that have been consuming large quantities of coconut oil for centuries. Although avoiding food sources that are fatty and oily still make good advice, it’s unfortunate that coconut oil has been unfairly caught up in this “avoid-all-fats” campaign.

Of the fats that make up coconut oil, almost half have been shown to be composed of lauric acid, which is a potent health-enhancing fatty acid. Various studies have also demonstrated lauric acid’s antimicrobial and antiviral properties, and it helps boost the immune system. In fact, it is a component in human breast milk, which is known to provide immunological benefits to babies to increase their resistance to infections and other diseases.

Saturated fats

But there are an equal number of unbelievers of coconut oil. The United States Food and Drug Administration warns consumers to avoid coconut oil, which they say mainly consists of saturated fats. They consider the scientific data submitted to them on the health benefits of coconut oil, including VCO, as either inadequately controlled or not extensive enough to be conclusive.

In the book, Toby debunks the prevailing misconception in the United States that coconut oil can lead to a higher incidence of heart diseases. He also details how coconut oil was blocked from the United States and how it is continuously being blocked because they’re trying to protect their own products like corn oil. Coconut oil mostly comes from tropical countries like the Philippines.

Not over

The struggle to get coconut oil better understood in the world started in the 1960s with the late Dr. Dayrit’s pioneering research together with other advocates like Dr. Jose Eleazar. “The fight is not over yet,” says Manolet, who just got back from the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva where he had a stint as director for human resources for health. He is currently the dean of the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health (ASMPH).

He urges local researchers to continue developing the science for VCO, and do clinical trials on its efficacy in promoting health, and in the treatment of many diseases, including Alzheimer’s.

“As this is an unfinished agenda of this generation, we need to influence the young consumers as well as young professionals, and this book is only one of the instruments to influence them,” says the former health secretary.

For those who are interested to learn more about the coconut oil controversy, and the health benefits of VCO, you may get a copy of Toby’s book from any leading bookstore. I hear the book is selling briskly and some outlets are out of stock. If you can’t get a copy, try emailing Toby at toby_dayrit@yahoo.com or his publisher (Anvil) at karina.bolasco@gmail.com.

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