Bad Press: Does Coconut Oil Really Promote Heart Disease?

The American Heart Association made waves last summer when it issued a report condemning coconut oil as a promoter of cardiovascular disease. Coconut oil devotees across the world were openly skeptical, but for the average American, the AHA’s position caused doubt and confusion. They had been told that coconut oil was a healthy alternative to processed or grain-based oils, and now the vaunted American Heart Association was saying just the opposite. Many swapped their naturally-sourced coconut oil for corn or canola oil, as the AHA suggested. After all, wouldn’t the premiere cardiac-health-promoting organization in the most medically advanced nation in the world know best?

Well … not necessarily. There are several good reasons to view the AHA’s recommendation with a critical eye:   

  • A Lack of Objectivity? While the American Heart Association has cultivated a lofty reputation as a dedicated and impartial consumer watchdog, in practice it’s primarily a trade organization that receives a large portion of its funding from corporate donations. Yes, the AHA is legally a non-profit, and ostensibly dedicates itself to the mission of improving cardiovascular health for all Americans. It’s difficult, however, not to question the AHA’s objectivity when you consider that their official recommendations tend to heavily favor the products sold by their largest sponsors and donors. (Perhaps not surprisingly, the coconut oil industry isn’t one of them—but the list does include agrochemical giant Monsanto and pharmaceutical manufacturers Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Novartis, and Sanofi.)
  • No Retreat, No Surrender. The AHA has known the role of sugar in promoting and worsening heart disease for decades. Yet when the AHA began its campaign to encourage low-fat diets for prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease (CVD), they appeared to inexplicably ignore the implications of the food industry’s strategy of compensating for the loss of flavor inherent in creating reduced-fat or fat-free versions of various foods by adding ever-increasing amounts of  sugar. As a result, rates of obesity skyrocketed, as did rates of cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association to this day has never addressed the massive harm suffered by the general public as a result of its failure to address this issue. In fact, the AHA still allows products with up to 2+ teaspoons of sugar per serving (or 5 teaspoons for yogurt!) to receive its official “Heart Check” label that supposedly certifies a food as heart-healthy—for a fee, of course. Could this refusal to take action to counter the deleterious effects of sugar have anything to do with pressure from corporate sponsors? When you note that official AHA policy prohibits corporate partnerships with tobacco companies but explicitly approves partnerships with candy and soda companies, one has to wonder.
  • Moving the Goalposts. The American Heart Association has long championed a diet that limits saturated fats like the ones found in coconut oil, but has sometimes failed to address two facts: First, that replacing saturated fats with refined sugar and carbohydrates can be detrimental to health in its own right (as discussed above); and second, that there’s conflicting data about just what role saturated fats actually play in the development or exacerbation of CVD. While some research shows a reduction in rates of CVD when saturated fats are replaced with poly- or monounsaturated fats, others either show no effect or demonstrate that the effect is reversed when the saturated fats in question come from plant or animal sources. There’s some real-world support for the idea that all saturated fats aren’t created equal, considering that many indigenous groups who consume diets high in coconut oil and have lower-than-average rates of heart disease.
  • Cholesterol: A Misunderstood “Monster”. The entire goal of limiting saturated fat is to lower cholesterol, but not all cholesterol is unhealthy. In fact, the human body needs cholesterol to function properly, and healthy levels of cholesterol are especially critical to brain function. As indicators of risk for CVD, neither total cholesterol nor the total level of LDL (“bad” cholesterol) necessarily has the best predictive value. Although many doctors fixate on those two numbers (and pharmaceutical companies who are also AHA sponsors are quick to encourage use of their statin drugs when those numbers are “too high”), there may be a stronger correlation with CVD risk among the following three factors: high triglyceride levels, lower levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol), and the type of LDL particles—NOT strictly the amount of them—found in your bloodstream. Smaller, denser LDL particles appear to be more likely to clog arteries, while larger, more diffuse particles don’t seem to adhere to blood vessel walls in the same manner.  Quite a bit of research indicates that naturally-sourced saturated fats such as coconut oil are associated with increased HDL counts and increases in mass of LDL particles. All of this would indicate that judicious use of coconut oil is not just unlikely to be harmful to your heart, it could potentially have a protective effect against CVD.

So what’s the final analysis? As always, you should do your own research. While the American Heart Association’s suggested alternatives weren’t ALL bad (at least in the case of olive oil), their assertion that grain-based and/or heavily-processed oils that are high in inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acids are better for your heart than a clean, naturally-derived oil such as coconut oil is open to interpretation, to say the least.

Many holistic doctors take a moderate stance—they say that coconut oil can be bad for you, but only if it’s overused or combined with an otherwise unhealthy diet. As long as you’re not downing coconut oil by the cupful or chasing it with sugar and complex carbs, they say there’s no reason to shelve it and plenty of good reasons not to. Until the research is more conclusive, this seems like a logical approach.

As for the American Heart Association, we’ve just scraped the tip of the iceberg concerning the discrepancies in some of their “heart healthy” criteria, so there’s plenty more to discuss—and a lot of it may shock and even anger you. Stay tuned as we explore these “Matters of the Heart” further during the month of February!  

The 1918 Influenza Pandemic and Chiropractic

Although chiropractic approaches the management of disease from a different perspective than allopathic medicine does, the enduring popularity of the chiropractic model of care is due at least in part to the role it played in the 1918 flu pandemic.

Maybe you were unaware that chiropractic played ANY role in the 1918 pandemic. After all, that was nearly 100 years ago, and chiropractic was a fairly young profession at the time. But health statistics from 1918 reveal some pretty startling trends:

  • In Davenport, Iowa, medical doctors cared for 4,953 cases of flu with 274 deaths, while chiropractors saw 1,635 cases with only one death. Davenport MDs therefore lost one patient out of every 18, or 5.5% of flu patients, yet the death rate among people with influenza who were attended by chiropractors was an astonishing 0.06%.
  • For the entire state of Iowa, medical doctors treated 93,590 patients, with 6,116 deaths—a loss of one patient out of every 15 (6.7%). Outside of Davenport, 4,735 patients were seen by chiropractors with a loss of only six patients (0.13%). In summary, medical doctors statewide reported that one out of every 15 flu patients they treated died, but chiropractors lost only one patient out of every 789. These numbers are strikingly similar to those observed in Davenport.
  • Nationwide, chiropractors cared for 46,394 patients with influenza during 1918, with a loss of 54 patients, or one out of every 859 (0.12%).
  • In the state of Oklahoma, chiropractors assumed care for 233 patients whom medical doctors had essentially pronounced “beyond help or hope”. Rather than the 100% death rate that could be expected from these cases, 89.3% recovered after receiving chiropractic care and only 10.7% died.

So what do all these numbers mean? Taken together, they demonstrate that people with influenza who were cared for by chiropractors were anywhere from around 40 to 100 times less likely to die from the flu than those who were treated by medical doctors. One could make the argument that medical doctors received the more serious cases, while chiropractors managed milder cases or cases with fewer complications. However, the statistics from Oklahoma contradict the notion that chiropractors didn’t deal with severe cases of the flu, or didn’t achieve better survival rates than medical doctors. They simply viewed and managed the flu differently, and those differences showed in the statistics.

In our next entry, we’ll examine why these numbers are still pertinent today, and why our current methods of managing outbreaks aren’t giving us the results we want.

Getting Organized in the New Year

Now that we’ve established some tips on how to create New Year’s resolutions that offer the best opportunity for success, you may wonder about the most efficient ways to keep track of your progress. Creating a simple personal logbook called a bullet journal will not only help you in this respect, but can offer a quick yet effective system for organizing your life in general.

  • All you need is a durable, portable notebook. Keeping a bullet journal requires only an inexpensive spiral notebook, but choose wisely: Too small, and it probably won’t suit your needs; too large or flimsy, and you’ll never carry it with you. The key to a good bullet journal is spending a minute or two each day on keeping it updated, and that can’t happen if you don’t find it user-friendly enough.
  • If you can make dots and circles, you can manage a bullet journal. While some people prefer to customize their journals with color coding and decorations, those adaptations are strictly optional. A good bullet journal requires only a straightforward list of items coded by symbols: dots for tasks, circles for events, stars for priority tasks, etc. Pages can also be labeled with different topic headings to allow you to keep track of items on a daily, monthly, or yearly basis.
  • Keeping up with a bullet journal or similar organizational tool can decrease your stress level and help you achieve greater success in multiple arenas.  Again, it’s not just about your New Year’s resolution progress here. Keeping tasks, appointments, obligations, etc. organized and in one place reduces your stress level, which in turn positively impacts your health. All of the above can help you move into the new year with a sense of purpose and renewed clarity. 

Here are some great apps and informational tools to check out to help you get started on your organizational journey:

Making Your New Year's Resolutions Stick

Over half of all Americans who make New Year’s resolutions will abandon them by June. Avoid the New Year’s resolution trap with the following tips:

1. Keep resolutions simple and specific.

Don’t try to change your entire lifestyle all at once. Making small, manageable, precise resolutions that address one area of your life at a time is key to your success at keeping those resolutions. For example, if you want to begin an exercise routine, don’t give yourself a very broad, vague goal like “start exercising”. Resolve instead to make it to the gym for at least 30 minutes 3-4 days a week. Once that behavior has become a habit, you can make the next small step forward.

2. Share your resolutions with family and friends.

When you make your resolutions known, not only do you have a greater support system for achieving your goal, but you hold yourself accountable for following through with those resolutions.

3. Surround yourself with positive reinforcement.

Avoid people who bring you down or don’t share your motivation to move forward in a positive way, and instead look for those who make you feel good inside when you’re around them. Similarly, reward yourself when you meet your individual goals, and don’t beat yourself up when you backslide. Perfection is an unattainable ideal, so some minor missteps are unavoidable. When these little mistakes threaten to undermine your progress, just remind yourself that tomorrow is a whole new day and a whole new opportunity to get back on track.

A New Beginning

Welcome to Rollette Chiropractic Center's Information Station! If you're looking for a reliable, comprehensive source for the most up-to-date facts concerning chiropractic care and general wellness, then you've come to the right place. In particular, we want to keep you informed about issues that don't always get as much attention in the mainstream press.

If you're not familiar with the basic principles of chiropractic, we'll start from the beginning. Chiropractors are the only professionals trained specifically in correcting and maintaining the natural alignment of the spinal column.

Why is this important?

When the bones in your spine (vertebrae) move out of alignment, these positional changes can create pressure on the nerves that branch off the spinal cord, causing inflammation and irritation. This in turn interferes with the function of the spinal nerves. These misalignments are known as subluxations.

The alignment of your spine can be affected by numerous everyday physical, chemical, and emotional stressors. Even infants and toddlers are often affected by subluxations caused by the normal birth process, or the by the typical bumps and spills that accompany their unique stage of development. Over time, these subluxations often linger or even worsen, causing dysfunction in the nervous system.  Literally any bodily organ or function governed by the brain, spinal cord, and spinal nerves can become compromised by the inflammation and irritation that develops as a result of these subluxations.

The good news is that these subluxations are correctable, and that any non-degenerative changes in the bones of the spine or spinal nerves can be reversed with chiropractic care. Wellness packages can help you maintain your spinal health once corrective care is completed.

At Rollette Chiropractic Center, we hope to transform the health of the individual and the community in the most natural, effective, and non-invasive ways possible. A vital part of that mission involves keeping others informed about their full range of healthcare options.  We look forward to taking this wellness journey with all of our patients and readers, and welcome your questions and feedback.