Coconut Oil: Keto Diet Savior or Total Health Saboteur?

Posted in

Dr. Aaron Hartman

June 24, 2021

Coconuts and coconut oil

If you’re on the internet at all (which I’m assuming you are since you’re reading this article), then there’s a very good chance you’ve heard of coconut oil and how it goes hand-in-hand with a ketogenic diet. Coconut oil has been all the craze over the past decade or so, and the health benefits seem to be great—but is coconut oil actually making us sick?

In this article, I will explain the potential disadvantages and side effects of coconut oil, as well as answering the controversial question “Is coconut oil bad for your health?”

The Atkins Diet (which eventually evolved into keto as we know it today) relied heavily on dairy products, but over time these low/zero carb diets transitioned to the use of coconut oil extract as a healthier alternative to butter, cheese, and heavy cream. But now it’s starting to look like coconut oil isn’t really the healthier option, after all.

We aren’t going to delve too far into ketogenic diets today (which, incidentally, I use in combination with interval fasting as my way to get maximum health benefits), but I specifically want to discuss how the main ingredient in coconut oil (a staple in keto diets) might actually be making us sick.

Buried in this amazing article by one of the top mitochondrial researchers in the world, Kevin L. Fritsche, is a nugget that addresses this controversial opinion on the natural oil. Let’s take a look.

Keto diet foods

Is Coconut Oil Bad For You? Is It Causing Keto Flu?

Coconut oil has been praised for its ability to make ketone bodies, an alternative source of energy to sugar that our body can use. The medium-chain triglycerides in coconut oil can cross the gut lining simply and easily. However, it can also drag across toxins (known as endotoxin or LPS) from the bacteria in our gut,

When someone gets a bad infection and is hospitalized, their gut integrity breaks down and starts to release small amounts of these toxins to the immune system surrounding the GI tract. This causes a whole cascade of inflammation, and many times requires strong antibiotics and steroids to eliminate said inflammation.

It turns out a side effect of consuming large amounts of coconut oil is that the triglycerides can cause the same inflammation.

What determines whether or not this release of toxins and inflammation that follows will happen is the composition of gut bacteria in the GI tract. If large amounts of gram-negative bacteria (which contain the LPS/endotoxin) are present then the ‘keto flu’ is a common occurrence.

I know. Most of us were told keto flu is a natural and normal part of ketosis—but it turns out it’s a sign that you’re increasing your liver’s load of toxins and your body isn’t tolerating it very well.

So, what’s the take-home point? First, moderation. Like most foods in life, there are side effects to consider when consuming large amounts. It’s definitely possible to have too much of a good thing when it comes to coconut oil. Second, individualization when it comes to any kind of diet or food is always imperative.

When Consuming Coconut Oil, Listen to Your Body

When we experience a negative side effect to eating a food like coconut oil, just slugging it through isn’t always the best answer. We need to do what is right for our own individual body, not what we’ve heard has worked for someone else.

So how do you do this? We have curated educational resources on our website for just this reason. The goal is that you can self-navigate the educational materials and begin applying the diet and lifestyle recommendations and self-assessment tools to get your own personalized plan. Check them out and let us know what you think.

Since 2010, Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine has been helping people to restore their health and hope with an integrative approach to conventional and alternative medicine that’s entirely science-backed. We at RIFM believe everyone is made for health. We offer a comprehensive, in-person patient membership program to ensure you get access to the care you need to thrive.


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