In order to understand how coconut oil affects blood sugar, you’ll need to understand a little bit about the chemistry of coconut oil works with the chemistry in your body, which I’ll go into more detail below. However, here’s the short answer: coconut oil is used as energy directly by the liver while at the same time slowing down the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream.This has to do with the way in which coconut oil is metabolized in your body and by the way your cells get the energy they need to keep the mitochondria running.
“I have been oil pulling every morning for two weeks with Skinny Coconut Oil and I can honestly say my blood sugar is level and regulated naturally for the first time in 70 years.” – Alice Noebel
The liver breaks the coconut oil’s medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) down into ketones, which can be used by the mitochondria in cells as energy. If you forget from school, mitochondria are the “power plants” of cells. Cells can take two types of fuel: ketones and glucose (sugar). The difference is that ketones can be used directly by the cells while glucose requires insulin to be absorbed. The more sugar in your blood, the more insulin is needed, which is produced by your pancreas. By eating coconut oil, your body doesn’t need as much sugar for energy or insulin to use the sugar.
The more insulin your body has to produce for your cells to use sugar, the more chance of your body developing a resistance to it. “People who carry excess weight, especially in their midsection, are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes because the fat in their tissues causes an imbalance of insulin in the body. The condition is called insulin resistance. If they can eliminate that fat by exercising and limiting carbohydrates and alcohol, then many can drop their glucose levels. And for some, they can drop them back into the normal range,” writes CNN’s Val Willingham in Reversing Diabetes is Possible.
According to a study performed in 2011 by a team of international research and clinical partners from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, National University of Singapore, The Scripps Research Institute, Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, and University of Michigan showed that Decanoic acid, also known as “Capric acid,” can “improve glucose sensitivity and lipid profiles without weight gain in diabetic models,” said lead author Venkata R. Malapaka, Ph.D.. Capric acid occurs naturally in coconut oil, as well as in the milk and animal fats of some mammals.
Malapaka conducted his research at Van Andel Research Institute and now works as a Research Fellow in Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Center for Interdisciplinary Cardiovascular Sciences. “Together, these results suggest that decanoic acid is a modulating ligand for PPARs and the structure can aid in designing better and safer PPARγ-based drugs.” “PPAR” stands for peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors, which are a group of nuclear receptor proteins that play essential roles in the regulation of cellular differentiation, development, and metabolism (carbohydrate, lipid, protein).
While coconut oil is 7-10% capric acid it is 48-50% lauric acid and the relationship between peroxisomes and coconut oil’s lauric acid was reviewed by a group of researchers in 1999. The effects of dietary coconut oil on fatty acid oxidation were studied on cows and “insulin concentrations were lower in the CO group.” It was found that, “[lauric acid] is better catabolized by peroxisomes than long-chain fatty acids, especially in the liver.” The liver is where lauric acid from coconut oil is oxidized (catabolized) in the body and peroxisomes are organelles that actually carry out the oxidation in the liver.
About the Oxidation Process
Oxidation of coconut oil actually starts in the mouth when your body detects fats and releases lingual lipase enzyme along with your saliva to hydrolyze triglycerides. This oxidation process may cause some confusion because we are taught that oxidation is bad. If you’ve ever been told to get more “antioxidants” you know what I’m talking about. Oxidation within the body is necessary for the oil to be used by the body, it’s the oxidation outside of the body that’s bad. Temperatures over 350 °F (177 °C) can cause coconut oil to oxidize and go rancid. This is also called the “smoke point”.
However, coconut oil actually contains an acid with antioxidant properties called gallic acid, which is a phenolic acid. A study in 2009 found that virgin coconut oil has higher antioxidant properties than refined, bleached, and deodorized (RBD) coconut oil. Although gallic acid makes up less than 1% of the coconut oil, it contains anti-fungal and acts as an antioxidant to help protect human cells against oxidative damage. According to this study, virgin coconut oil prevents oxidative stress in the body, as indicated by the decreased formation of lipid peroxidation and protein oxidation.
So in summary, coconut oil is a special type of fat (MCFA) that when broken down (oxidized) by the liver produces ketones, which can be used directly by cells without the use of insulin. MCFAs do not need pancreatic digesting enzymes or bile for digestion - by the time they leave the stomach and enter the intestinal tract they are already broken down into MCFAs, which in addition to their antimicrobial properties, “seem to protect from lipotoxicity and subsequent insulin resistance without caloric restriction.”
As always, before you make any changes to your diet or medication, consult with your medical professional. This is not medical advice nor is it intended to be. I have seen the effects of coconut oil in my own life and I can point to articles stating how coconut oil has been shown to help in various different ways, but each person is different and situations vary. I encourage you to seek out a medical professional who will listen to your concerns and questions about how your diet can influence your health. Participate online with the hashtag #coconutoilpathway.