Q: My friend is discouraged because she’s not losing weight. She’s heard that coconut oil will make you lean and healthy. What do you think? — Brenda, Frederick, Md.
A: Did you know that there’s a manufacturing plant in the Philippines that is turning coconut oil into a biofuel? We say put it in your car before you put it in your body.
While most plant products are good for you, coconut oil is a complete misfit. It is loaded with saturated fat, the kind that clogs your internal engine (your arteries and heart) with lousy LDL cholesterol and puts you on the wait list for the cardiac care unit.
Virgin coconut oil recently got a PR makeover, claiming it can do all kinds of miraculous things, from speeding up weight loss to stopping cancer. Coconut oil is a health food? Not! It has more saturated fat than butter, burgers, even lard, which means it can lead to everything from heart attack to — if you live long enough — dementia. Some say it is a medium chain saturated fat, and that makes it healthy. That’s bad science. The data give coconut oil no more a clean bill of health than butter or menthol cigarettes.
What makes you lean and healthy isn’t the trend-of-the-month PR, it’s a no-BS lifestyle: plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, fish and whole grains that fill you up without filling you out; modest amounts of skinless white-meat poultry and the good fats found in nuts, avocados, olive and canola oils; and walking for 30 minutes every day.
Q: I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007. My doctor wants me to start taking medication to prevent paralysis, but it has side effects I don’t like. I’ve found some research that says swallowing worms called helminths can ease MS. Could that be true? — Anonymous
A: Remember that old childhood ditty, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me; guess I’ll eat some worms?” About a decade ago, some serious scientists must have been humming that as they investigated whether swallowing certain parasites might help Crohn’s disease, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis patients.
It’s not a therapy someone just pulled out of the air — or the ground — either. It’s an outgrowth of the so-called hygiene hypothesis, which suggests that asthma, allergies and some chronic conditions are on the rise because we’re just too clean. That is, because our immune systems aren’t challenged enough as kids and overreacts when confronted by pollen, peanuts, the family cat or wriggly, parasitic helminths, like whipworms.
One study has found that feeding helminths (well, actually, their eggs) to people with inflammatory bowel disease turns off the inflammation and sends them into temporary remission. Another reports that swallowing them could alter the immune system in a way that suppresses MS. In fact, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has funded a helminth study. Interested? Check for clinical trials of the treatment at www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/results?term=helminth+therapy. We’re not ready to endorse this one, or dismiss it, yet.