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Coconuts and Coconut Milk

Coconut: In Support of Good Health in the 21st Century
by Mary G. Enig, Ph.D., F.A.C.N.,
12501 Prosperity Drive, Suite 340, Silver Spring, MD, 20904-1689 USA;
Tel: (301) 680-8600 Fax: (301) 680-8100

[Editor: This is the prepared text to a presentation made in Singapore in 1999 by Mary Enig, the world authority on trans-fatty acids. The attendees were the owners of the Asian palm oil industry and pertinent political operatives from all the countries and islands that harvest coconuts for their food and oil. They paid all her expenses to fly from the Washington DC area where she has a busy consulting lab and practice. After being shut out of the vast American market for a generation, they were delighted to book an expert with the good advice they had been missing for years.

In this very long report, you will learn the technical reasons for coconut milk, i.e., coconut oil and palm oil (same thing) being superior in all respects for nutrition and immune functions. Because this report is sooo long, I have inserted several pictures to provide stress relief, and broken it up into four fast loading pages. If you stay with this, you will have obtained twenty years of hard research in less than an hour. Additionally, you will have become the most informed person in your circle concerning fats, heart disease, and the immense, awesome fraud perpetrated on you and yours in the matter of good and bad fats that continues bigger than ever today— vigorously aided and abetted by our captured watchdog agencies starting with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

A short tutorial on how to make coconut milk is on a separate linked page. Amazingly simple—mostly a matter of boiling the coconut meat (the white stuff) for a minute to free up the integral oil. The oil then becomes the milk. Lots of nutrition and medicine. Real medicine. One of the few truly effective viricides, with no side affects! Comments in bold within [these brackets] are not Enig, they are mine. BL]


Abstract

Coconuts play a unique role in the diets of mankind because they are the source of important physiologically functional components.  These physiologically functional components are found in the fat part of whole coconut, in the fat part of desiccated coconut, and in the extracted coconut oil.   Lauric acid, the major fatty acid from the fat of the coconut, has long been recognized for the unique properties that it lends to nonfood uses in the soaps and cosmetics industry.  More recently, lauric acid has been recognized for its unique properties in food use, which are related to its antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal functions.  Now, capric acid, another of coconut's fatty acids has been added to the list of coconut's antimicrobial components.  These fatty acids are found in the largest amounts only in traditional lauric fats, especially from coconut.  Also, recently published research has shown that natural coconut fat in the diet leads to a normalization of body lipids, protects against alcohol damage to the liver, and improves the immune system's anti-inflammatory response.  Clearly, there has been increasing recognition of health- supporting functions of the fatty acids found in coconut.  Recent reports from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about required labeling of the trans fatty acids will put coconut oil in a more competitive position and may help return to its use by the baking and snack food industry where it has continued to be recognized for its functionality.  Now it can be recognized for another kind of functionality: the improvement of  the health of mankind.

Picture of a coconut

I.  INTRODUCTION

Mr. Chairman and members of the Asian Pacific Coconut Community, I would like to thank you for inviting me to once again speak to this gathering of delegates on the occasion of your 36th session as you celebrate the 30th anniversary of APCC.

When I addressed the 32nd COCOTECH meeting in Cochin, India, I covered two areas of interest to the coconut community.   In the first part, I reviewed the major health challenge facing coconut oil at that time, which was based on a supposed negative role played by saturated fat in heart disease.  I hope that my talk was able to dispel any acceptance of that notion.  In the second part of my talk I suggested that there were some new positive health benefits from coconut that should be recognized.  These benefits stemmed from coconut's use as a food with major functional properties for antimicrobial and anti-cancer effects.

In my presentation today, I will bring you up to date about the new recognition of functional foods as important components in the diet.  Additionally,  I would like to briefly review the state of the anti-saturated fat situation and bring you up to date on some of the research that compares the beneficial effects of saturated fats with those of omega-6 polyunsaturates, as well as the beneficial effects of the saturated fats relative to the detrimental effects of the partially hydrogenated fats and the trans fatty acids.  In particular I will review some of the surprising beneficial effects of the special saturates found in coconut oil as they compare with those of the unsaturates found in some of the other food oils.  Components of coconut oil are increasingly being shown to be beneficial.  Increasingly, lauric acid, and even capric acid, have been the subject of favorable scientific reports on health parameters.


II.  FUNCTIONAL PROPERTIES OF LAURIC FATS AS ANTIMICROBIALS

Earlier this year, at a special conference entitled, "Functional Foods For Health Promotion: Physiologic Considerations"; EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY '99, Renaissance Washington Hotel, Washington, DC Saturday, April 17, 1999, which was sponsored by the International Life Sciences Institute, ILSI NORTH AMERICA, Technical Committee on Food Components for Health Promotion, the term "functional foods" was defined as  "a functional food provides a health benefit over and beyond the basic nutrients."

This is exactly what coconut and its edible products such as desiccated coconut and coconut oil do.  As a functional food, coconut has fatty acids that provide both energy (nutrients) and raw material for antimicrobial fatty acids and monoglycerides (functional components) when it is eaten.  Desiccated coconut is about 69% coconut fat, as is creamed coconut.  Full coconut milk is approximately 24% fat.

Picture of a coconut

 Approximately 50% of the fatty acids in coconut fat are lauric acid.  Lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid, which  has the additional beneficial function of being formed into monolaurin in the human or animal body.  Monolaurin is the antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal monoglyceride used by the human or animal to destroy lipid-coated viruses such as HIV, herpes, cytomegalovirus, influenza, various pathogenic bacteria, including listeria monocytogenes and helicobacter pylori, and protozoa such as giardia lamblia.  Some studies have also shown some antimicrobial effects of the free lauric acid.

Also, approximately 6-7% of the fatty acids in coconut fat are capric acid.  Capric acid is another medium chain fatty acid, which has a similar beneficial function when it is formed into monocaprin in the human or animal body.  Monocaprin has also been shown to have antiviral effects against HIV and is being tested for antiviral effects against herpes simplex and antibacterial effects against chlamydia and other sexually transmitted bacteria. (Reuters, London June 29, 1999)  See below for details.

The food industry has, of course, long been aware that the functional properties of the lauric oils, and especially coconut oil, are unsurpassed by other available commercial oils.  Unfortunately, in the U.S., both during th g th 1930s and again during the 1980s and 1990s, the commercial interests of the U.S. domestic fats and oils industry were successful in driving down usage of coconut oil.  As a result, in the U.S. and in other countries where the influence from the U.S. is strong, the manufacturer has lost the benefit of the lauric oils in its food products.  As we will see from the data I will present in this talk, it is the consumer who has lost the many health benefits that can result from regular consumption of coconut products.

The antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal properties of lauric acid and monolaurin have been recognized by a small number of researchers for nearly four decades: this knowledge has resulted in more than 20 research papers and several U.S. patents, and this past year it resulted in a comprehensive book chapter, which reviewed the important aspects of lauric oils as antimicrobial agents (Enig 1998).  In the past, the larger group of clinicians and food and nutrition scientists has been unaware of the potential benefits of consuming foods containing coconut and coconut oil, but this is now starting to change.

Kabara (1978) and others have reported that certain fatty acids (FAs) (e.g., medium-chain saturates) and their derivatives (e.g., monoglycerides (MGs)) can have adverse effects on various microorganisms: those microorganisms that are inactivated include bacteria, yeast, fungi, and enveloped viruses. Additionally, it is reported that the antimicrobial effects of the FAs and MGs are additive, and total concentration is critical for inactivating virus-es (Isaacs and Thormar 1990).

The properties that determine the anti-infective action of lipids are related to their structure: e.g., monoglycerides, free fatty acids.  The monoglycerides are active; diglycerides and triglycerides are inactive.  Of the saturated fatty acids, lauric acid has greater antiviral activity than either caprylic acid (C-8), capric acid (C-10), or myristic acid (C-14).  In general, it is reported that the fatty acids and monoglycerides produce their killing/inactivating effect by lysing the plasma membrane lipid bilayer. 

The antiviral action attributed to monolaurin is that of solubilizing the lipids and phospholipids in the envelope of the virus, causing the disintegration of the virus envelope.  However, there is evidence from recent studies that one antimicrobial effect in bacteria is related to monolaurin's interference with signal transduction (Projan et al 1994), and another antimicrobial effect in viruses is due to lauric acid's interference with virus assembly and viral maturation (Hornung et al 1994).

Recognition of the antiviral aspects of the antimicrobial activity of the monoglyceride of lauric acid (monolaurin) has been reported since 1966.  Some of the early work by Hierholzer and Kabara (1982) that showed virucidal effects of monolaurin on enveloped RNA and DNA viruses was done in conjunction with the Center for Disease Control of the U.S. Public Health Service.  These studies were done with selected virus prototypes or recognized representative strains of enveloped human viruses.  The envelope of these viruses is a lipid membrane, and the presence of a lipid membrane on viruses makes them especially vulnerable to lauric acid and its derivative monolaurin.

The medium-chain saturated fatty acids and their derivatives act by disrupting the lipid membranes of the viruses (Isaacs and Thormar 1991; Isaacs et al 1992).  Research has shown that enveloped viruses are inactivated in both human and bovine milk by added fatty acids and monoglycerides (Isaacs et al 1991), and also by endogenous fatty acids and monoglycerides of the appropriate length (Isaacs et al 1986, 1990, 1991, 1992; Thormar et al 1987).

Some of the viruses inactivated by these lipids, in addition to HIV, are the measles virus, herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1), vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), visna virus, and cytomegalovirus (CMV).  Many of the pathogenic organisms reported to be inactivated by these antimicrobial lipids are those known to be responsible for opportunistic infections in HIV-positive individuals. 

For example, concurrent infection with cytomegalovirus is recognized as a serious complication for HIV+ individuals (Macallan et al 1993).  Thus, it would appear to be important to investigate the practical aspects and the potential benefit of an adjunct nutritional support regimen for HIV-infected individuals, which will utilize those dietary fats that are sources of known antiviral, antimicrobial, and antiprotozoal monoglycerides and fatty acids such as monolaurin and its precursor lauric acid.

Until now, no one in the mainstream nutrition community seems to have recognized the added potential of antimicrobial lipids in the treatment of HIV-infected or AIDS patients.  These antimicrobial fatty acids and their derivatives are essentially nontoxic to man; they are produced in vivo by humans when they ingest those commonly available foods that contain adequate levels of medium-chain fatty acids such as lauric acid.  According to the published research, lauric acid is one of the best "inactivating" fatty acids, and its monoglyceride is even more effective than the fatty acid alone (Kabara 1978, Sands et al 1978, Fletcher et al 1985, Kabara 1985).

The lipid-coated (envelope) viruses are dependent on host lipids for their lipid constituents.  The variability of fatty acids in the foods of individuals as well as the variability from de novo synthesis accounts for the variability of fatty acids in the virus envelope and also explains the variability of glycoprotein expression, a variability that makes vaccine development more difficult.

Monolaurin does not appear to have an adverse effect on desirable gut bacteria, but rather on only potentially pathogenic microorganisms.  For example, Isaacs et al (1991) reported no inactivation of the common Escherichia coli or Salmonella enteritidis by monolaurin, but major inactivation of Hemophilus influenzae, Staphylococcus epidermidis and Group B gram positive streptococcus.

The potentially pathogenic bacteria inactivated by monolaurin include Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus agalactiae, Groups A,F & G streptococci, gram-positive organisms, and some gram-negative organisms if pretreated with a chelator (Boddie & Nickerson 1992, Kabara 1978, Kabara 1984, Isaacs et al 1990, Isaacs et al 1992, Isaacs et al 1994, Isaacs & Schneidman 1991, Isaacs & Thormar 1986, Isaacs & Thormar 1990, Isaacs & Thormar 1991,  Thormar et al 1987, Wang & Johnson 1992).

Actually, an active anti-saturated fat bias started as far back as 1972 in CSPI.  But beginning in 1984, this very vocal consumer activist group started its anti-saturated fat campaign in earnest.  In particular, at this time, the campaign was against the "saturated" frying fats, especially those being used by fast-food restaurants.  Most of these so-called saturated frying fats were tallow based, but also included was palm oil in at least one of the hotel/restaurant chains.

Then in a "News Release" in August 1986,  CSPI criticized what it called "Deceptive Vegetable Oil Labeling: Saturated Fat Without The Facts," referring to "palm, coconut, and palm kernel oil" as "rich in artery-clogging saturated fat."  CSPI further announced that it had petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to stop allowing labeling of foods as having "100% vegetable shortening"if they contained any of the "tropical oils."  CSPI also asked for mandatory addition of the qualifier "a saturated fat" when coconut, palm or palm kernel oils were named on the food label.

In 1988, CSPI published a booklet called "Saturated Fat Attack."  This booklet contained lists of processed foods "surveyed" in Washington, DC supermarkets. The lists were used for developing information about the saturated fat in the products.  Section III is entitled "Those Troublesome Tropical Oils," and it contains statements encouraging pejorative labeling.  There were lots of substantive mistakes in the booklet, including errors in the description of the biochemistry of fats and oils and completely erroneous statements about the fat and oil composition of many of the products.

At the same time CSPI was conducting its campaign in 1986, the American Soybean Association began its anti-tropical oil campaign by sending inflammatory letters, etc., to soybean farmers.  The ASA took out advertisements to promote a "[tropical] Fat Fighter Kit." The ASA hired a Washington DC "nutritionist" to survey supermarkets to detect the presence of tropical oils in foods.

Then early in 1987, the ASA petitioned the FDA to require labeling of "Tropical Fats," and by mid-1987, the Soybean Digest continued an active and increasing anti-tropical oils campaign.  At about the same time (June 3, 1987), the New York Times  published an editorial, "The Truth About Vegetable Oil," in which it called palm, palm kernel, and coconut oils "the cheaper, artery-clogging oils from Malaysia and Indonesia" and claimed that U.S. federal dietary guidelines opposed tropical oils, although it is not clear that this was so.  The "artery-clogging" terminology was right out of CSPI.

Two years later in 1989, the ASA held a press conference with the help of the CSPI in Washington DC in an attempt to counter the palm oil group's press conference of 6 March.  The ASA "Media Alert" stated that the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and National Research Council "recommend consumers avoid palm, palm kernel and coconut oils."  Only months before these press conferences, millionaire Phil Sokolof, the head of the National Heart Savers Association (NHSA), purchased the first of a series of anti-saturated fats and anti-tropical fats advertisements in major newspapers.  No one has found an overt connection between Sokolof (and his NHSA) and the ASA, but the CSPI bragged about being his advisor.

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