CVM Study Reveals Potential Health Benefits Of Coconut Oil

Story by Madeline Patton, CVMBS Communications

Dr. Annie Newell-Fugate
Dr. Annie Newell-Fugate

Many so-called “super-food” fads come and go before the scientific community has a chance to study them, but new research suggests that one recent trend—coconut oil—may mitigate the features of metabolic syndrome.

Dr. Annie Newell-Fugate, an assistant professor in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Department of Veterinary Physiology and Pharmacology (VTPP), recently presented research that offers insight into the potential benefits of dietary coconut oil.

Approximately 40 percent of American women are obese and are at risk for metabolic syndrome, which is characterized by increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels, all of which increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Newell-Fugate’s work focuses on improving the metabolic health of obese females struggling with metabolic syndrome, rather than focusing on weight loss alone.

“Most people in the nutrition and kinesiology fields are focused on weight loss to improve the health of obese patients,” Newell-Fugate said. “There are researchers looking at different types of diets—like the Mediterranean diet or Keto diet—and their effects on weight loss and overall health. However, the notion that you can potentially change the diet without causing weight loss yet still improve an individual’s health has not received much attention.”

In her study, Newell-Fugate and her team sought to determine whether a high-fat diet that incorporates coconut oil, a plant fat source, could improve the overall health and metabolism of obese females in comparison to the health of obese females fed a Western-style diet containing lard, an animal fat source.

Over an eight-month period, Newell-Fugate and her team fed two groups of female pigs high-fat diets consisting of 4,500 calories per pig per day. Both the Western-style diet and the coconut oil diet received 9 percent of their daily caloric intake from their respective fat sources. A third group was fed a low-calorie, lean diet as a control.

“We established each animal’s baseline before they went on their diet,” Newell-Fugate said. “Then, we assessed their blood glucose, cholesterol, and weight throughout the study; at the end, we were able to compare how much difference each of the diets had on these metabolic health parameters over time.”

The researchers found that the obese group, which received coconut oil had decreased features of metabolic syndrome, specifically with respect to cholesterol and blood glucose levels, in comparison to the obese group fed the lard-containing diet.

“Our research suggests that dietary coconut oil may be used in conjunction with lifestyle modifications and anti-diabetic drugs to treat metabolic syndrome, at least in women, with obesity,” Newell-Fugate said.

“The one thing I set out to understand with this particular project is determine whether coconut oil can modulate these metabolic parameters despite the fact that the females are still obese?” she said. “And the answer is yes.”

She recently presented her findings on the potential health benefits of coconut oil virtually at the annual Endocrine Society meeting, ENDO 2020.


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Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science;; 979-862-4216

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