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Coconut Oil Craze Arises from Weight Loss, Thyroid Claims

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Sep. 2--Three tablespoons of coconut oil a day will ...

A: Clog your arteries with cholesterol, says the American Heart Association.

B: Kick start a sluggish thyroid, promoting weight loss, says a naturopath and author who claims coconut oil doesn't act the same as other saturated fats and can be healthy.

The coconut oil trend has spawned a debate on's "thyroid disease" Internet page.

It has consumers deciding whether to purchase semi-refined coconut oil or the more expensive extra-virgin coconut oil.

And, it has medical news organizations -- including WebMD, another Internet site -- debating the findings of naturopath and nutritionist Bruce Fife, whose book, "Eat Fat, Look Thin," was published last year.

Area health-food stores trace the current coconut oil craze to the May 20 edition of Woman's World weekly news magazine, which reported Fife's findings.

According to the magazine's cover story, "The New Thyroid Cure," people with sluggish thyroids are finding help from two sources -- high-protein foods and coconut oil.

The demand for coconut oil started "a minute after the article came out," said Donna Farrell of the House of Nutrition in Dallas. "That magazine is like a bible to some women."

The House of Nutrition ordered four cases of the less-expensive semi-refined coconut oil -- and has sold all but a handful of the $3.99, 15-ounce bottles.

A few weeks later, managers found a source for the extra-virgin coconut oil. Before last weekend, the store had only one of the $15.99 bottles left.

Jack Banis of Kingston bought into the coconut-oil craze -- for a short time.

Banis couldn't find an area coconut-oil source so he ordered his from an Internet supplier.

But the West Side resident soon had second thoughts.

"I went through almost a gallon (during a few weeks) and I did not see anything but feeling bloated," he said. "I didn't see anything that impressed me at all."

He continued to read medical reports about the dangers of coconut oil and decided it worked against the cholesterol-lowering medication he receives through the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

His wife is a thyroid patient. He showed her doctor some of the information he had gathered about coconut oil.

"He said, 'There's nothing to substantiate those claims.' " "How many people are falling for this?" Banis wondered. "I know many people can get duped because they want to believe what's written.

"My concern is this could really be bad for you."

A spokeswoman at the heart association's national headquarters in Dallas, Texas, had not heard of coconut oil to promote weight loss.

But, she pointed out, the association has long suggested that Americans limit their intake of saturated fat to 7-10 percent of total calories each day. That includes coconut oil.

Fife and other supporters of coconut-oil-enhanced diets say the secret is in the fatty acids. Coconut oil is made from medium-chain fatty acids, which are ingested more quickly than the long-chain fatty acids found in other plant foods. That means coconut oil isn't stored in fat cells, he says.

Beyond weight loss, Fife has suggested coconut oil might be used medically to treat thyroid problems.

In doing so, he has squared off with a Boca Raton, Fla., family physician, Dr. Ken Woliner, on the Internet site to debate the use of coconut oil for weight loss and to treat thyroid conditions.

"Inability to lose weight is a complex symptom that requires a well-trained clinician to decipher the true causes," Woliner wrote in a July 30 posting.

Fife responded three days later. "Coconut oil by itself is not a thyroid cure. But when used as part of a thyroid-enhancing program it can be invaluable in improving some forms of hypothyroidism and even bringing about complete recovery."


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(c) 2003, The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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