There has been a lot of buzz lately about thyroid problems and the potential of coconut oil to help improve them. Dr. Mercola has talked about it, Dr. Oz seems to be joining the bandwagon, and other doctors are mentioning the link as well.
So is there a connection and if so, what is it?
Coconut Oil and Thyroid Problems
While there seems to be at least a correlation between certain dietary changes and an increase in thyroid problems (correlation doesn’t necessarily equal cause), there is some debate about what is actually causing the increase in thyroid problems. Mercola postulates that it is polyunsaturated oils and soy:
“Ray Peat Ph.D., a physiologist who has worked with progesterone and related hormones since 1968, says that the sudden surge of polyunsaturated oils into the food chain post World War II has caused many changes in hormones. He writes:
Their (polyunsaturated oils) best understood effect is their interference with the function of the thyroid gland. Unsaturated oils block thyroid hormone secretion, its movement in the circulatory system, and the response of tissues to the hormone. When the thyroid hormone is deficient, the body is generally exposed to increased levels of estrogen. The thyroid hormone is essential for making the ‘protective hormones’ progesterone and pregnenolone, so these hormones are lowered when anything interferes with the function of the thyroid. The thyroid hormone is required for using and eliminating cholesterol, so cholesterol is likely to be raised by anything that blocks the thyroid function.
There is a growing body of research concerning soy’s detrimental affect on the thyroid gland. Much of this research centers on the phytoestrogens (“phyto” means plant) that are found in soy. In the 1960s when soy was introduced into infant formulas, it was shown that soy was goitrogenic and caused goiters in babies. When iodine was supplemented, the incidence of goiter reduced dramatically.
However, a retrospective epidemiological study by Fort, et al. showed that teenaged children with a diagnosis of autoimmune thyroid disease were significantly more likely to have received soy formula as infants (18 out of 59 children; 31 percent) when compared to healthy siblings (nine out of 76, 12 percent) or control group children (seven out of 54; 13 percent).
When healthy individuals without any previous thyroid disease were fed 30 grams of pickled soybeans per day for one month, Ishizuki, et al. reported goiter and elevated individual thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels (although still within the normal range) in thirty-seven healthy, iodine-sufficient adults.
One month after stopping soybean consumption, individual TSH values decreased to the original levels and goiters were reduced in size.”
Another source explains that the cause could be a variety of contributing sources:
“A sluggish thyroid may be triggered by many unseen causes, including…
- MSG and bad fatty acids, so common in our diet, can weaken your thyroid.
- A deficiency of iodine is on the rise, and without enough iodine, your thyroid won’t produce the hormones you need.
- As you age, your risk of an unbalanced thyroid dramatically increases.
- Popular prescription drugs for your heart, bones and blood sugar can lead to a sluggish thyroid.
- Exposure to too much fluoride or chlorine in drinking water can interfere with normal thyroid function.
- Menopause or pregnancy and treatments such as Estrogen Replacement Therapy can throw the thyroid out of whack.
- A family history of thyroid concerns may cause thyroid dysfunction.
- Autoimmune health problems can cause your thyroid to go haywire.”
Can Coconut Oil Help?
Unlike the polyunsaturated oils in many foods, coconut oil is high in (healthy) saturated fat, lauric acid, and medium chain fatty acids. It’s unique structure makes it a highly usable source of energy for the body and its particular fat balance is nourishing to the thyroid. As this article elaborates:
50 percent of the fat content in coconut oil is a fat rarely found in nature called lauric acid. Your body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, which has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-protozoa properties. Lauric acid is a powerful virus and gram-negative bacteria destroyer, and coconut oil contains the most lauric acid of any substance on earth!
Nigel Turner and Jiming Ye from Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research compared fat metabolism and insulin resistance in mice fed coconut oil and lard based diets.
“The medium chain fatty acids like those found in coconut oil are interesting to us because they behave very differently to the fats normally found in our diets,” said study leader Turner.
“Unlike the long chain fatty acids contained in animal fats, medium chain fatty acids are small enough to enter mitochondria – the cells’ energy burning powerhouses – directly where they can then be converted to energy.
Coconut oil has a direct effect in suppressing inflammation and repairing tissue, and it may also contribute by inhibiting harmful intestinal microorganisms that cause chronic inflammation.
The medium-chain fatty acids and monoglycerides found in coconut oil are the same as those in human mother’s milk, and they have extraordinary anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. By disrupting the lipid structures of microbes, they inactivate them. Lauric acid, its metabolite monolaurin and other fatty acids in coconut oil are known to protect against infection from bacteria, viruses, yeast, fungi and parasites. While not having any negative effect on beneficial gut bacteria, coconut oil inactivates undesirable microbes.
An excellent study from McGill University reviewed many previous studies on this topic was published in the Journal of Nutrition (Vol. 132, pages 329-332). Researchers reported that several different studies have shown weight loss equivalent to 12 – 36 pounds a year simply by changing the types of oils used in everyday cooking and food preparation.
Vegetable oils also have a negative effect on the thyroid. In fact, these polyunsaturated oils may be the worst villains in the spread of thyroid diseases.
The thyroid is small, yet one of the largest glands in the endocrine system. Endocrine system diseases are usually caused by inadequacy or excess of hormones or inappropriate response to hormones by tissues.
Is coconut oil a thyroid cure? Not by itself. Can it help people with low thyroid function? Yes, because it stimulates metabolism and boosts energy. For this reason, coconut oil has been a blessing to many people who have been able to abandon their medications with the right combination of exercise, removal of processed foods, and a balanced diet.”
What I Do
Thyroid problems and thyroid cancer run in my family so I want to be as proactive as possible in protecting my thyroid. Thankfully, I love coconut oil and use it for everything already, but I’ve made a special effort to use it in high amounts daily to nourish the thyroid. This is what I do:
- Add up to 1/4 cup a day to hot teas and coffee (Here’s my favorite recipe)
- Use up to 1/4 cup a day in cooking
- Up to 1/4 cup a day added to smoothies
With all that saturated fat, have I gained a ton of weight? Quite the opposite, as this seems to help me lose weight and maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy. It seems others have had similar experiences too.
At the very least, this regimen has helped me have enough energy to meet the daily demands of raising five little ones without the afternoon slump I used to get. It has also helped my skin stay clear and improved my sun tolerance, so I’m not complaining!
Cautions About Coconut Oil
Coconut oil works great for me, but it might not be the answer for everyone.
If you’re new to taking coconut oil, be sure to get your lipids checked regularly. Some people experience elevated triglycerides and total cholesterol when they take coconut oil. If your levels increase, I recommend that you stop taking coconut oil.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Terry Wahls, a clinical professor of medicine and clinical research and has published over 60 peer-reviewed scientific abstracts, posters, and papers. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Have you used coconut oil to help with thyroid issues? Has it helped? Share below!