As summer approaches, more and more men dream of having a perfect six pack when they hit the beach on holiday. So what’s going to be their secret weapon? Is it a topical fat loss cream? A new diet perhaps? Or… could virgin coconut oil hold the answer?
Virgin Coconut Oil and Fat Loss
An open pilot study (1) was carried out on 20 obese volunteers (7 males and 13 females) to assess whether the use of virgin coconut oil helped reduce body fat. The body mass index (BMI) of participants ranged between 25 and 30. Volunteers consumed 10ml of virgin coconut oil three times a day (before meals). The weight of the participants was measured one week before and one week after the use of the virgin coconut oil. Body fat percentage, fat mass and fat-free mass were also measured. The safety of the product was checked by assessing the effects to the liver and glucose levels. Scientific measures were used to test the effects of virgin coconut oil on obese individuals such as paired t-tests.
The findings of the study showed that males and females significantly reduced their waist circumference size, with females experiencing a larger reduction than males (3.00 ± 6.03 cm in females versus 2.61 ± 2.17 cm in men). This echoed previous research showing the same results in women (2). In spite of this, the researchers went on to say that only the reduction in waist circumference in the males in the study was regarded as being statistically significant.
The virgin coconut oil assisted fat loss possibly due to the presence of a high ratio of medium chain fatty acids contained within it. Medium chain triglycerides allow for relatively efficient absorption and they do not enter the cholesterol cycle to be deposited in fat depots (3). Other than waist circumference though there were no significant changes in other variables.
Virgin coconut oil is rich in lauric acid which has been shown in previous research (4) to improve serum lipid profiles. This study attempted to establish the benefits of virgin coconut oil on weight reduction and other anthropometric markers by providing the subjects with virgin coconut oil while instructing study subjects to continue their normal daily diet and physical activities to minimise the potential that these two key factors could help to cause a possible weight loss. The fact that the subjects were aware that they were consuming the virgin coconut oil is a study flaw as it was not a blind study. Ideally the study would have compared virgin coconut oil to regular coconut oil with another oil to act as a placebo. The difference between male and female subjects outlined earlier in the results was relatively insignificant. The study authors themselves stated that the results for virgin coconut oil proved modest in both groups.
As conceded by the researchers, it would have been useful for the study to be conducted over a longer period of time to observe how long the results continued over a longer period of time. In addition, the relatively small number of participants makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions.
Future research in this area exploring the effects of virgin coconut oil would ideally do so using larger sample sizes, a placebo controlled group and ensuring there is some measure of dietary control to enable the effects of virgin coconut oil to be isolated more thoroughly. At this point, all we can say is that in obese subjects virgin coconut oil may play a role in possibly helping to reduce abdominal obesity. Its effects on athletes are unknown at this point although the use of this oil in cooking can be recommended given the lack of degradation under heat compared to other vegetable oils.
Author: Manjit Johal
1. Kai Ming Liau et.al (2011) An Open-Label Pilot Study to Assess the Efficacy and Safety of Virgin Coconut Oil in Reducing Visceral Adiposity. ISRN Pharmacol. 2011
2. Assuncao ML (2009): Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity. Lipids 2009 Jul;44(7):593-601.
3. Hashim SA, Bergen SS, Krell K, van Itallie TB. (1964) Intestinal absorption and mode of transport in portal vein of medium chain fatty acids. Journal of Clinical Investigation 43
4. De Roos N et.al (2001): Consumption of a solid fat rich in lauric acid results in a more favorable serum lipid profile in healthy men and women than consumption of a solid fat rich in trans-fatty acids. Journal of Nutrition 131:242-245.
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