Coconut oil is higher in saturated fat than butter, beef dripping and pork lard, and can increase “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. That’s the stark new warning contained in updated advice from the American Heart Association (AHA). A diet high in saturated fat can lead to clogged arteries and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Despite coconut oil being commonly sold as a health food and a “healthier” alternative to other saturated fats, the AHA says there are no good studies to support this. In fact, 82% of the fat found in coconut oil is saturated, which is higher than butter (63%), beef dripping (50%) and pork lard (39%). And studies show that like other saturated fats, coconut oil can increase “bad” cholesterol. The AHA says people should watch how much saturated fat they eat and replace some of it with unsaturated vegetable oils, like olive oil and sunflower oil. Dr Frank Sacks, lead author of the AHA advice, said: "We want to set the record straight on why well-conducted scientific research overwhelmingly supports limiting saturated fat in the diet to prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels." Nevertheless, saturated fat is still an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet and shouldn’t be completely cut out, just limited. In the UK, Public Health England advises that men should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat a day and women no more than 20g a day.
A vaccine that helps lower cholesterol will now be trialled on humans following successful studies in mice. Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna will now test the safety of their experimental treatment – which stops fatty deposits clogging the arteries – on 72 volunteers. If the trials are successful, the vaccine would offer an alternative for people who currently take pills on a daily basis to reduce their risk of angina, stroke and heart attack. Writing about their cholesterol-lowering vaccine in the European Heart Journal, Dr Guenther Staffler and colleagues from The Netherlands Organisation of Applied Scientific Research say it will take many more years of tests before it is known whether the treatment is safe and effective in humans. In studies of mice, the treatment cut low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (bad cholesterol) by as much as 50% over 12 months and appeared to stop the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries. Regardless of whether the vaccine becomes available in the future, the researchers were keen to stress that it should not be seen as an excuse for people to avoid exercise and eat lots of high-fat food. Nevertheless, the treatment could be useful for individuals who have high cholesterol due to an inherited condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia.