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Is Coconut Oil Really a Thyroid Cure?

By Dr. Ken Woliner

Updated July 30, 2003

Coconut palm tree
Dr. Donald Layman, Ph.D., is a professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois. He quotes that dieters receiving only 15% of their calories from protein have lower thyroid hormone levels but does not pay attention to the fact that they also have lower levels of thyroid binding globulin. He did not measure "Free T3" nor "Thyroid Binding Globulin". (See Understanding Thyroid Lab Tests) Dr. Layman's article was in reference to different diets and weight loss, and the data regarding thyroid hormone levels was reported only as an incidental finding. Somehow, the writers at Woman's World heard about this "incidental finding" in this article and interviewed him. Dr. Layman realized that they were misinterpretting his data and said to them, "Any extrapolation of our data to thyroid would be inappropriate." He did not intend to link Tyrosine (as quoted), nor weight loss diets (which he studied) with the ability to regulate thyroid function. (Layman DK, et al. "A reduced ratio of dietary carbohydrate to protein improves body composition and blood lipid profiles during weight loss in adult women." J Nutr 2003; 133:411-417)

Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld, M.D., has written many health books including “Thyroid Balance” (Amazon.com sales rank 5/20/03 14,719). This book is considerably less popular than three other books on thyroid (“Living Well With Hypothyroidism” by Mary Shomon (Amazon rank 5/20/03 -- 969), “Thyroid Solution” by Ridha Arem, M.D. (Amazon rank 5/20/03 -- 1,530), and “Thyroid Power” by Richard Shames, M.D. and Karilee Shames, R.N., Ph.D. (Amazon rank 5/20/03 1,848). It is not considered a key source for information regarding thyroid disease. He emphasizes tyrosine, the amino acid that is found in thyroid hormone. Although low levels of tyrosine have been associated with hypothyroidism, this is thought to be mainly due to low serum levels of iron, tetrahydrobiopterin, and NAD, all necessary for the conversion of the essential amino acid phenylalanine to tyrosine. Because it enhances intestinal absorption of iron, vitamin C can help restore tyrosine formation when there is a deficiency of iron. Iron deficiency is quite common in women and can be tested with a serum ferritin level.

Dr. Bruce Fife, N.D., no longer sees patients and now derives a majority (if not all) his income from the coconut oil industry. He has not published nor cited any research relating coconut oil to thyroid function. It is unclear whether he has IRB approval to safely conduct human studies. As he is not a MD or DO physician licensed to prescribe (or de-prescribe) prescription medication, his suggestion to "give up thyroid medications and simply use coconut oil instead," is improper. Inadequately treated hypothyroidism could lead to osteoporosis, early heart attacks, and other disability. Though foods are generally less toxic than refined prescription medications, they do have the potential for harmful effects if taken in excessive dosages. For example, too much consumption of Vitamin E in the form of d-alpha tocopherol prevents the absorption of beta- and gamma-tocopherols, increasing the risk for heart disease. Dr. Fife references a University of Colorado review article (not a research article) that speculates on the possibility that medium-chain triglycerides could preserve muscle glycogen during exercise. From this theorized discussion, it would be difficult to come to his conclusions that "coconut oil can increase your calorie-burning power by up to 50%," leading to a weight loss of "36 pounds a year without dieting."

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