There are many myths about oils and fats circulating and being believed by the public. The myth that people often believe is that oils and fats are substances that are harmful to health, and some even consider them "poisonous". Is that right? This article is adapted from an article in the Sunday Times, entitled "Myths and Facts of Coconut Oil", written by Dr. S.F.N. Silva, a senior medical practitioner and President of the Coconut Growers Association of Sri Lanka. He explained the scientific facts on coconut to straighten out various skewed views about it.
He explained the chemical composition, nutritional value, and metabolic processes of coconut oil in our bodies. The wrong myth is that fat or oil is a substance that is bad for our bodies. The media tends to exaggerate the negative health effects of fat. The truth is, just like protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, our bodies also need fat. Fat is an important part of the daily diet. And, oil is a source of fat for the body. Coconut oil and palm oil are the most widely used oils in our daily diet.
The composition of fatty oils
Fatty oil consists of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms arranged in carbon chains. Based on the number of carbon atoms in the chain, they are categorized into short-chain, medium-chain, and long-chain fatty acids.Coconut oil contains saturated medium-chain fatty acids (MCT), namely caprylic acid-C8, capric acid-C10, and lauric acid-C12. It is distinguished based on the number of carbon atoms in the chain, with a lauric acid content of about 45%. Meanwhile, in the palm oil is only 9%. This is the main difference between coconut oil and palm oil.
In our body, the metabolic process of MCTs is very different from long-chain fatty acids (LCT). The main differences between the metabolic processes of MCT and LCT and their effects on the human body are described below.
MCT metabolism process in our body
When we consume coconut oil, after we take the food into our mouths, the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil will be digested by lipase, the fat digested enzyme in saliva. Medium-chain fatty acids are broken down into small water-soluble particles. After they are in the stomach, these particles are absorbed into the venous system and carried directly to the liver, where they are metabolized into ketone bodies. The ketone bodies are carried to the heart and distributed throughout the body via the circulatory system to vital organs such as the brain, eyes, lungs, liver, kidneys, muscles and skin to be oxidized into energy. Since ketone bodies are not fatty substances, they will not get deposited on the walls of blood vessels. Fat deposited on the walls of blood vessels will block the supply of blood to vital organs which can lead to strokes, blindness, heart attacks, kidney failure, gangrene, etc.
The long-chain fatty acid metabolism process
Unlike MCTs, long-chain fatty acids cannot be digested in the mouth by salivary lipase, therefore these fatty acids are passed down to the stomach and from there to the small intestine where they are moved by powerful fat-digesting enzymes produced by the pancreas, called the pancreas lipase. The broken parts are absorbed into the intestinal wall and coagulated with proteins to form substances called chylomicrons. Since these are larger molecules, they cannot be taken up by the blood vessels and are taken up by the lymphatic system and carried to the heart. During their travel in the circulatory system, because chylomicrons are fatty materials, they are deposited in the blood vessels obstructing blood flow to vital organs. This deposition of fat causes strokes, blindness, heart attacks, kidney failure, incurable ulcers, gangrene, etc.
Lauric acid is a very important nutritional element in human growth from infancy. This element is contained in breast milk. The most important component in coconut oil is lauric acid which is converted into monolaurin which has antioxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-protozoal properties. Coconut oil, especially virgin coconut oil, is good for Alzheimer's disease. Coconut oil can be reused in frying because it is a non-drying oil. Therefore, taking into account all the benefits of coconut oil, coconut oil has become a much-loved delicacy and an internationally accepted Nutraceutical, Pharmaceutical and Cosmeceutical.