A diet including coconut oil, a medium chain fatty acid (MCFA), helps combat insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is the inability of cells to respond to insulin and take in glucose for energy. The pancreas tries to compensate for insulin resistance by producing even more insulin, but eventually glucose accumulates in the bloodstream. Over time, insulin resistance and obesity can lead to pre-diabetes or full-blown type 2 diabetes.
Dr Nigel Turner and colleagues at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Darlinghurst, Australia, compared fat metabolism and insulin resistance in mice and rats fed diets rich in coconut oil (a medium chain fatty acid) or lard (a long chain fatty acid). (The lard-based diet was similar to the diet eaten by people in the Western world.) The findings were published in the journal Diabetes.
MCFAs, like in coconut oil, were found to reduce fat accumulation while maintaining insulin action in muscle and fat tissue. “Dietary supplementation with MCFAs may therefore be beneficial for preventing obesity and peripheral insulin resistance”, said Dr. Turner in the study conclusions.
The saturated fats present in coconut oil also have antimicrobial properties that help combat various bacteria, fungi, and parasites that cause indigestion. Coconut oil also helps in absorption of other nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
The MCFAs in coconut oil are more like carbohydrates than other fats. They are more water soluble and are broken down more quickly. They enter the bloodstream faster and are taken directly to the liver, where they are used as an immediate source of energy. Medium chain fatty acids, unlike long chain fatty acids, are small enough to enter the cells’ energy powerhouses, the mitochondria, directly, where they can be converted to energy. Be warned, however, that medium chain fatty acids can also lead to fat build-up in the liver.
Fat storage is balanced by how much fat is taken in by cells and how much is burned for energy. When people eat a high fat diet, their bodies attempt to compensate by increasing their capacity to oxidize fat. The medium chain fatty acid (coconut oil) diet was more effective at increasing the oxidative capacity of muscle than the long chain fatty acids, leading to less fat storage in muscle and better insulin action.
Keeping in mind the potential for excess fat accumulation in the liver, substituting oils containing medium chain fatty acids for other oils in the diet may be beneficial. But make sure to include other fats as well. The fatty acids in fish oil, for example, are thought to improve fat oxidation in the liver.
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