Part 2: Coconut & autoimmunity - finally some clarity

Fresh coconut

Fresh coconut

I wrote a post a few months ago about my confusion over coconut products for MS. Since starting OMS it has plagued me - why do so many people hail coconut oil as a superfood? including celebrity doctors like Dr Axe, Dr Oz and Dr Mercola?... yet Dr Jelinek the creator of OMS and Dr Ian Gawler say don't go near any coconut products, concluding there is just not enough sound scientific evidence that we'll be okay on it because of its high saturated fat content. 

On the OMS forum there are hundreds of posts to do with coconut, people are just so confused. 

In that previous post I concluded that I literally swing back and forth with the debate. I get convinced one way, then convinced back the other way as both arguments are quite convincing. But I kept coming back to the fact that this was a plant food and surely it cant be that bad if you choose extra virgin organic coconut oil. Surely the od bit in my healthy baking wouldn't hurt? And for someone on a plant based diet it really opens up a lot more options for meals and desserts. So I decided to have coconut oil in my diet, BUT in moderation, and never exceeding the 15-20gm a day like in Swanks study. 

But over the months there have been a few things that have made me think that maybe other coconut products like the flesh, milk and cream might not be so bad for someone with MS.

Firstly - it's a plant food put on this earth by mother nature - like the fish we eat and the fruit, nuts and vegetables we consume on a daily basis, so surely its gotta be good for us? 

Secondly - I follow a lot of people with autoimmune disease on instagram and I see a lot of people eating coconut products. Some of which have successfully reversed their illnesses. For example @earthyandy who has 357K followers. She lives in Hawaii and eats a plant based diet including coconut milk and cream, and has successfully reversed a myriad of health problems including chronic stomach pains and digestive issues, celiac disease, fatigue, asthma, allergies, brain fog, leaky gut syndrome, IBS, mood swings, irregular menstrual cycles, candida overgrowth, hypothyroidism, and skin problems.

Another is Dr Terry Wahls, she successfully reversed SPMS with a ketogenic paleo diet including fat like coconut cream and bullet proof coffee. On her program The Wahls Protocol, fat is consumed with every meal. If your not familiar with bullet proof coffee it's a brand of coffee created by Dave Asprey that's been processed in a way that there is no mold or toxins on it. The brewed coffee is then blended with tablespoons of grass-fed butter and brain octane oil, MCT oil or coconut oil.  There's also another lady whom I follow on instagram that does The Wahls Protocol and has successfully reversed her MS symptoms also.

Another thing I noticed, on Australian TV right now is a program called Survivor. These people are literally only surviving on coconuts, rice maybe and the odd bit of seafood they scavenge. I thought surely if this was so unhealthy and/or unethical they wouldn't be able to air the show?

So then I began to think about these people and their diets as a whole. The common theme here is that all of these people are predominantly plant based. On Wahls you have 9 cups of fruit and vegetables a day. Earthyandy has a very rich plant based diet with very little processed food at all, she's pretty much raw. She shares her recipes and the foods she eats daily with her followers. So, does that mean, if your plant based, is eating coconut products including the oil easier on your system?. Certainly eating a plant based diet means your healthier over-all and your consuming food the way it should be, does this mean you can tolerate coconut products including the oil better? I was beginning to feel in my gut that it might not be such a bad thing. But I still didn't have the scientific evidence to justify eating coconut products and how much.

So with some more digging, and months of googling and asking more questions I found this incredible article. It's by Ben Greenfield who has been named one of the worlds most influential people in the world of health and fitness. He's written a best selling book, is an athlete, bio-hacker, celebrity trainer, has a fantastic podcast account and he's trained in nutrition with a masters in sports science. He wrote this post titled

"The dark side of coconut oil - a cautionary tale for coconut extremists"

which is based on the study...

"Dietary fatty acids directly impact central nervous system autoimmunity via the small intestine"

This article put to rest immediately my concerns with coconut oil and coconut products and I hope it will do the same for you.

in a nutshell

Yes coconut oil has been proven to cause inflammation in the small intestine. However, the inflammation is mitigated by short chain fatty acids. Short chain fatty acids are found in plant based foods and good fats like flaxseed oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. BUT, the key here is moderation, literally only 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil per day with PLENTY of plant matter and fibre, not just the odd carrot or light salad. As sums it up...

"Coconut oil + SCFAs (short chain fatty acids) = good.

Coconut oil + fibre = good.

Coconut oil dumped into a cup of coffee, followed with a lone carrot beside your lunch and perhaps a scant serving of roasted vegetables with dinner? Not so good."

To put this in perspective, as you can read about here, Ben eats about 15-20+ servings of plants per day. And because of this, he gets away with a decent amount of coconut milk, coconut oil and MCT oil intake. All the SCFAs and fibre help balance out the potentially damaging effects of the fat, while still allowing him to get all the benefits of the fat.

Coconut oil, with around 90% of calories from saturated fat, 65% of which are MCTs, has been lauded as an ideal fat for cooking, ketosis, and prevention of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. So we’re not saying coconut oil is unhealthy – just that it may be overhyped, and is too often recommended without simultaneous recommendations to eat your friggin’ vegetables."

Finally! an article on coconut that isn't one sided and actually makes sense. 

So after reading this and literally spending a year researching this topic i've concluded that when I choose to eat coconut oil (which I always do with caution and moderation) I'll be eating it with more consciousness. Always unrefined and organic, and never over the 15-20 gms a day and most importantly always with plenty of fibre rich whole plant-based foods. That said, the addition of coconut oil in my diet is a decision I don't take lightly. It's usually only when i'm baking healthy treats that call for it in the recipe.  I also take into consideration that my diet is predominantly raw, about 75% of what I eat is literally raw in the form of smoothie bowls, smoothies, raw treats and raw salads, i'm a pretty strict oms'er.  

This of course goes against the laws of OMS so by no means am I suggesting you do this - it's a risk I choose to take. Part of this illness for me is doing my own research and finding out what's good for me, what I'll stick with long term and also what I enjoy. 

Much love x


More interesting reading by Chris Kresser on Coconut Oil Is Still Healthy, Despite AHA Claims