Is Coconut Oil Really a Thyroid Cure?

The Coconut Oil Controversy: An Open Letter to Dr. Bruce Fife

coconut coconut oil thyroid

Note from Mary Shomon: Coconut oil and coconut milk became popular in the last several years. More than ten years ago, coconut oil was frequently touted as a cure for thyroid disease.

Digging into the controversy of how medical results are reported in the media, holistic physician Dr. Ken Woliner took a look at the coconut oil-thyroid connection in his article, Is Coconut Oil Really a Thyroid Cure? A Holistic Physician Looks at the Question.

In time, a practitioner who supports the idea of coconut oil as a thyroid cure and weight loss treatment responded to Dr. Woliner. That practitioner, Dr. Bruce Fife, expressed his opinion in a letter, Is Coconut Oil Really a Thyroid Cure? Dr. Bruce Fife’s Reply to Dr. Ken Woliner.

After reviewing Dr. Fife’s response, Dr. Woliner then wrote an open response with his perspective on the issue.

To provide insight into coconut as a factor in overall thyroid and weight loss solution, and the coconut oil controversy altogether, we offer you an edited version of Dr. Woliner's letter, or you can read the letter in full.

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Dr. Fife and I agree that Woman's World is a tabloid outlet. I believe, however, that it does not attempt to report news. It attempts to sensationalize stories to sell issues and paid advertising.

I believe in using the most effective, least toxic therapy, at the lowest cost. I think upstream, and believe in treating causes, rather than simply covering up symptoms. I do write prescriptions when necessary, but with a bachelor's degree in Nutrition from Cornell University (among other training), I find that I am more effective when using a holistic approach that encompasses behavior changes, diet, exercise, vitamins, herbals, as well as prescriptions, as necessary.

I am not bent at suppressing natural approaches to medicine.

If you knew anything about my practice, you would realize that statement is false. I had no "quick way" of contacting you with a deadline of only one week (Mary Shomon asked me for advice directly after that Woman's World article appeared). I attempted to contact you, but despite visiting multiple coconut oil websites, and buying both your "Eat Fat, Look Thin" and "The Miracles of Coconut Oil", I did not have your e-mail address until now.

I try verifying my sources, whenever possible. I was able to contact Dr. Layman and included his comments in my article.

I do apologize if I have misinterpreted your financial relationships with the coconut oil industry. The web site for “Tropical Traditions” makes it appear that you are intimately entwined with that company. As you are not in current practice, your income is derived from writing books and lecturing upon them, with your two most popular titles are in relation to coconut oil. A book entitled, “Coconut oil is marginally effective at preventing weight gain in compared to eating other oils” would obviously not sell as well “Eat Fat, Look Thin”, and “The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil”.

I was attempting to help Mary Shomon's subscribers gauge the reliability of the sources they read. As an aside, I derive my income solely from my patient consultations. I do not sell supplements in my office. I do not receive a "kickback" from any nutraceutical company. I receive no money from pharmaceutical companies.

I do not allow pharmaceutical reps to sample their medication in my office and do not allow them to buy my staff lunch. I do not go to pharmaceutical sponsored dinners. When I do lecture, if a specific pharmaceutical or nutraceutical company was sponsoring the speaking fee, I donate the speaking fee to charity.

When I write my articles, I do not always reprint every quote in its entirety. I do stand by the statement that there are no research articles by you published in peer-reviewed journals indexed on Medline. When speaking with colleagues such as Joseph Pizzorno, ND, at the Institute of Functional Medicine Conference, they were not aware of any studies you have published in Naturopathy journals. You list no university affiliation, and I do not know if you have IRB approval to study human subjects. I did review your books and do feel that you have overstated the research that might support medium chain triglycerides containing foods such as coconut oil. As such, I felt it justified to omit your statement, “I’m now doing studies” in my review.

You state that coconut oil “when used as part of a thyroid-enhancing program can be invaluable in improving some forms of hypothyroidism and even bring about complete recovery.” I would be happy to review any data you may have regarding your “drugless thyroid program,” but as of now, there is no evidence linking coconut oil with thyroid in the peer-reviewed medical literature, indexed on Medline or otherwise.

Though I do believe case reports to be a valid form of medical data, neither you nor anyone else has published any case reports in mainstream or holistic journals such as Dr. Pizzorno’s “Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal.” Perhaps you could consider submitting some of your cases for peer-review before making unsupported claims in regard to coconut oil and thyroid function. Unpublished case histories and testimonials (such as your claims that coconut oil can cause patients to lose up to 60 pounds of excess fat) have been shown to be an unreliable source of evidence, and if the response you see is valid, I encourage you to publish your findings in the peer-reviewed literature (MD, DO, DC, ND, RD, etc.) so they would carry more weight.

You misquote Dr. Jones (1) in his McGill University review article when you say, “They reported that several different studies have shown weight loss equivalent to 12 – 36 pounds a year simply by changing the types of oils used in everyday cooking and food preparation.” He did not say that, and when you read the original research he reviewed, those researchers did not say this either.

The original research was based on 4 different short-term studies each lasting between 1 and 14 days long. The referenced Flatt study (2) “compared diets rich in Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT), Long Chain Triglycerides (LCT) and low in fat, they concluded that a low fat diet was more prudent when aiming for weight loss." He did study a group in which MCT was added to the diet, which did have an increase in energy expenditure, but this does not lead to weight loss that the low fat group experienced because the MCT group had a greater increase in energy consumption. The referenced article by Hill (3) was a short 6-day “overfeeding” study in which male volunteers were fed 150% of their daily energy requirement.

The group overfed MCT oils may have stored the excess energy less efficiently that the group receiving LCT oils, but they still did store this excess energy and gained weight from the beginning of the study. This does not support weight loss with MCT oils such as coconut oil. The article by Stubb (4) related only to calorie intake, and not to energy expenditure. Though participants in this 14-day study had a decreased their energy intake when consuming a diet containing MCT, they also had a decreased energy expenditure so, “Body Weight (BW) were not affected." Lastly, Van Wymelbeke (5) showed that participants eating a lunch immediately following a breakfast that contained MCT oils consumed fewer calories in that meal, but the amount of calories consumed during dinner was not affected. This one-day study did not measure energy expenditure nor MCT effects on body weight.

Simply, none of this data supports your claims that coconut oil helps thyroid function or weight loss. I remain underwhelmed, and with the exception that MCT oils may be healthier when substituted for (not added to) a diet containing excess carbohydrates or unhealthy trans-fats, it is my assessment that coconut oil is no better than “snake oil.”

Kenneth N. Woliner, M.D., A.B.F.P.

1. Jones PJH and St-Onge MP. (2002) Physiological effects of medium-chain triglycerides: potential agents in the prevention of obesity. Journal of Nutrition 132; 329-332.

2. Flatt, J. P., Ravussin, E., Acheson, K. J. & Jequier, E. (1985) Effects of dietary fat on postprandial substrate oxidation and on carbohydrate and fat balances. J. Clin. Investig. 76:1019-1024.

3. Hill, J. O., Peters, J. C., Yang, D., Sharp, T., Kaler, M., Abumrad, N. N. & Greene, H. L. (1989) Thermogenesis in humans during overfeeding with medium-chain triglycerides. Metabolism 38:641-648.

4. Stubbs, R. J. & Harbron, C. G. (1996) Covert manipulation of the ration of medium- to long-chain triglycerides in isoenergetically dense diets: effect on food intake in ad libitum feeding men. Int. J. Obes. 20:435-444.

5. Van Wymelbeke, V., Himaya, A., Louis-Sylvestre, J. & Fantino, M. (1998) Influence of medium-chain and long-chain triacylglycerols on the control of food intake in men. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 68:226-234.

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