Coconut oil has become more and more popular over the last decade, often being hailed as having a number of beneficial health effects. Claims that coconut oil can decrease cardiovascular disease risk, improve weight loss, and even protect against diseases like Alzheimer’s abound.
A new meta-analysis takes a look at the scientific evidence behind these claims and reviews studies comparing coconut oil with other cooking oils. It examined the effects of coconut oil on blood lipids, body fat percentage, waist circumference, blood glucose, and C-reactive protein (a substance produced by your body in response to inflammation).
Compared to other cooking oils like olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, and safflower oil, coconut oil was no different in most respects. It does not affect body fat, blood sugar or inflammation differently compared to other oils.
However, coconut oil increased cholesterol levels significantly more than other, non-tropical vegetable oils. Both HDL-cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) and LDL-cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol). On average, coconut oil increased HDL-cholesterol by 4.00 mg/dL and LDL-cholesterol by 10.47 mg/dL, a quite substantial increase. That translates into a 5.4% increase in the risk of dying from heart disease.
The Effect of Coconut Oil on LDL-Cholesterol
As you can see, most of the black dots are to the right of the horizontal line. That means that most studies show an increase in LDL-cholesterol.
The authors of the meta-analysis argue that coconut oil is not a healthy oil for reducing cardiovascular disease. In addition, coconut oil doesn’t seem to have any benefits over other oils when it comes to other health markers, like inflammation, body fat, or blood sugar control.
In fact, they go as far as expressing concern about the effects of coconut oil on LDL-cholesterol. Even though it also increased HDL-cholesterol, they state that “efforts to reduce CVD risk by increasing HDL-cholesterol have been unsuccessful”.
In summary, the evidence does not seem to support the health claims of coconut oil. It does not seem to be a healthier alternative compared to other vegetable oils. In some respects, it might even be less healthy, and the authors of the meta-analysis suggest limiting its use.
Circulation, 13 January 2020. The Effect of Coconut Oil Consumption on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials.