Updated July 30, 2003A note from Mary Shomon: The May 20, 2003 issue of the weekly newsstand publication, Womans World, featured a cover story The New Thyroid Cure. Since that article hit the newsstand about ten days ago, Ive been inundated with emails from people who want to know if what the article seems to claim is true: Can coconut oil "cure" your hypothyroidism and ensure rapid weight loss? I asked holistic physician Dr. Ken Woliner to respond to this question for us.
Please note: Dr. Woliner has no financial relationship to any companies that sell coconut oil, and reports no conflicts of interest with the coconut oil industry, or with any other vitamin or pharmaceutical company.
by Ken Woliner, MD, ABFP
In their May 20th, 2003 issue (actually distributed around May 10th), Womans World published a cover story, The new thyroid cure describing how a low carbohydrate/high protein diet and coconut oil could cure thyroid disease. Though I have not been able to directly interview the authors or their sources, I have done my best to make a reasonable assessment of the validity and reliability of this article. My opinion is based upon my review of this article, information available on Tropical Traditions (one major supplier of coconut oil), independent research published in peer-reviewed medical journals, and my own personal medical school training and clinical experience. For simplicitys sake, it is perhaps best to split my comments into two: a discussion of the article itself and a balanced discussion regarding coconut oil and its relation to thyroid disease and weight loss.
What is the quality of this article?
Womans World is a tabloid style magazine that is sold in checkout aisles in supermarkets across the United States. They have been cited on numerous occasions for fabricating quotes and other information. There is no consistency from article to article in each issue, with some stories promoting a low carbohydrate / high protein diet for weight loss, while on other pages, listing recipes for very high carbohydrate recipes. There is no way to contact the magazine to write letters to the editor or to contact authors of their articles. Simply put, Womans World is not a reliable source of medical information.
Popular Spanish-language television host Cristina Saralegui is featured on the cover of the magazine and inside the main article. It does not appear that she is using (or has ever used) coconut oil. It appears that a majority of her weight loss and increase in energy was due to her new eating and exercise pattern. She now consumes less total calories by omitting white carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes, pasta and rice and forgoes the fried tempura, consuming only the fish (sashimi?) instead. In addition, this dietary change limits her carbohydrate and saturated / trans-fat intake, limiting her need to produce insulin to metabolize these foods. Insulin is a hormone that leads to fat deposition, most notably in the hips and belly. High insulin levels also lead to fatigue, and by reducing her insulin requirements, she appears to have more energy (and discipline) to exercise on a treadmill 30 minutes a day, four times a week. This increased exercise burns calories, and further lowers her insulin resistance. Though I have not had the chance to interview or examine Ms. Saralegui, I could reasonably infer that she is insulin-resistant and prone to diabetes (which is more common in Latino populations). As she still is a size 10 (and only about 5'5" tall), she is still considerably overweight (and if not "overweight", her picture portrays her as "overfat" and "undermuscled" with abdominal obesity), and most likely has other issues that could be addressed to optimize her health. Whether or not she has a thyroid problem or not cannot be ascertained by the information presented in this article.