Can Coconut Oil Cause Acid Reflux?

coconut oil
A jar of coconut oil next to a split open coconut. (Image: dewpak/iStock/Getty Images)

Due to its rising popularity, coconut oil has been the subject of various health claims. Meanwhile, millions of Americans each day experience heartburn -- a symptom of acid reflux. So you may wonder if coconut oil and acid reflux are related in some individuals. There is no research to connect coconut oil, specifically, with acid reflux. However, if coconut oil is a part of a high-fat diet, there is plenty of evidence to relate the two: Fatty foods are commonly listed among the dietary culprits that can aggravate heartburn symptoms.

The Fat in Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is 90 percent saturated fat, and the American Heart Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics still recommend reducing the amount of saturated fat in the diet. While these recommendations relate to heart health, reducing dietary fats may be helpful for some individuals with acid reflux as well. An August 2014 article published in "BMC Gastroenterology" found that people with severe reflux symptoms had higher total fat consumption. And according to the 2013 clinical guidelines published in the October issue of the "American Journal of Gastroenterology," fatty food intake was associated with increased esophageal acid exposure time. With this in mind, it may be helpful for some people to keep fat consumption, including coconut oil, low at each meal.

Weight Loss and Coconut Oil

Coconut oil contains fatty acids called medium-chain triglycerides. These have been studied for their effects on obesity, but most of this research has been conducted on animals. Obesity is linked to acid reflux, and weight loss is often recommended to mitigate heartburn. Short-term studies have shown a beneficial effect of coconut oil on weight loss, but long-term effects have not been researched. A November 2015 article in "Nutrition Hospitalaria" concluded that a small amount of coconut oil every day, about 1 tablespoon, decreased weight circumference in the study subjects. However, coconut oil is a dietary fat and still must be included in daily caloric intake when eating for weight loss.

Moderation Is Important

With any oil, it is important to practice moderation and use it sparingly. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that the total intake of fat per day should be between 20 and 35 percent of daily calories. For a 2,000-calorie diet, a person should consume between 44 and 77 grams of fat, or 3 to 5 tablespoons of healthy oil, each day. In addition, foods high in fat are known to be aggravating foods to acid reflux sufferers, so use caution when consuming coconut oil exclusively. Moreover, those with acid reflux should attempt to vary their oil consumption with other types of healthy oils, such as olive and canola.

Warnings and Precautions

The American College of Gastroenterology recommends only eliminating foods that cause acid reflux symptoms -- not entire food groups. Common lifestyle modifications include weight loss, smoking cessation and not lying down within 2 to 3 hours after eating. If you're seeking ways to add coconut oil to the diet, get advice from a registered dietitian or nutritionist, who can evaluate your diet, determine how much fat should be consumed daily and help make appropriate and healthy changes. If experiencing severe symptoms of acid reflux or any associated symptoms of nausea or vomiting, abdominal pain, chronic cough or difficulty swallowing -- or if diet and lifestyle modifications are not working and heartburn is more than occasional -- seek care from a medical professional, as acid-supressing therapy may be necessary.

Medical advisor: Jonathan E. Aviv, M.D., FACS

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