Coconut oil is a medium-chain triglyceride fat derived from coconut. Most saturated and unsaturated fats that we consume are long-chain triglyceride fats. Because coconut oil is medium-chained, it is easier for the body to metabolize than long-chained triglycerides. As of 2011, there are no studies suggesting that medium-chained fat by itself can make cancer shrink, but medium-chained fat proves promising as a cancer treatment when combined with a ketogenic diet regimen.
Coconut oil contains saturated medium-chain triglycerides. Long-chain triglycerides cannot enter the bloodstream from the intestinal tract directly. Bile acids assist in converting them into water-soluble fat molecules that enter the bloodstream via the lymphatic system. Unlike long-chain triglycerides, medium-chain triglycerides do not require bile acids for their digestion and can enter the bloodstream without having to go through the lymphatic system first. Medium-chain triglycerides are thus easier to metabolize, entering the bloodstream in a way that is similar to the way glucose enters.
Fat as a Cancer Treatment
Cancer cells are simple cells that thrive best on glucose. It is unclear whether they can use fat as a source of energy. So, theoretically, a diet high in fat could create a hostile environment for cancer cells. The brain cannot use fat as fuel, however. When glucose is limited, neurons use ketone bodies, a byproduct of fat metabolism, as a source of energy. Cancer cells do not have the mechanisms for generating the extra mitochondria, or cell engines, required for metabolizing ketone bodies.
The Ketogenic Diet
Dr. R.M. Wilders developed the ketogenic diet in the 1920s as a treatment for seizures in epileptic children. The diet restricts carbohydrates to 10 to 15 g a day and protein to 1 g per kilogram of body weight. The remaining calories come from fat. As of 2011, the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Würzburg Hospital uses the diet as a treatment for patients in advanced stages of cancer. Existing research indicates that a ketogenic diet can halt cancer growths (Ref. 4, 5, 6)
Coconut Oil as a Cancer Treatment
Coconut oil is a saturated fat, and saturated fats are less likely than unsaturated ones to form cancer-inducing chemicals when digested. So eating coconut oil could help prevent cancer in the first place. A ketogenic diet given to cancer patients often includes a large percentage of medium-chain triglycerides, as this composition of fat seems most effective in reducing cancer growth. But as of 2011 no one knows the exact role medium-chained triglycerides play in the treatment of cancer.
- "Epilepsy Currents"; The Ketogenic Diet: Stoking the Powerhouse of the Cell; Jong M. Rho and Michael A. Rogawski; March 2007
- Würzburg Hospital: Information on a Ketogenic (Low Carbohydrate / High Fat + protein) Diet for Cancer Patients
- "British Journal of Cancer"; A Comparison of Long-Chain Triglycerides and Medium-Chain Triglycerides on Weight Loss and Tumour Size in a Cachexia Model; M.J. Tisdale, et al.; November 1988
- "Journal of the American Dietetic Association"; Implementing a Ketogenic Diet Based on Medium-Chain Triglyceride Oil in Pediatric Patients with Cancer; L.C. Nebeling, et al.; June 1995