The Truth About Fats and Oils

Many dietary oils can negatively affect thyroid health. We cook with them almost every day and they are plentiful in commercially prepared foods. Expeller-pressed or solvent-extracted oils only became a major part of the American diet in the last century.  It is possible they are among the worst offenders when it comes to the thyroid.  They are known as vegetable oils or polyunsaturated oils. The most common source of these oils used in commercially prepared foods is the soybean.

Large-scale cultivation of soybeans in the United States began after World War II and quickly increased to 140 billion pounds per year.  Most of the crops are produced for animal feed and soy oil for hydrogenated fats such as margarine and shortening. Today, it is nearly impossible to eat at restaurants or buy packaged foods that don’t have soy oil in the ingredients.  Often labels simply state “vegetable oil.”

Ray Peat Ph.D., a physiologist who has worked with progesterone and related hormones since 1968, says that the sudden surge of polyunsaturated oils into the food chain post World War II has caused many changes in hormones. He writes:

Their [polyunsaturated oils] best understood effect is their interference with the function of the thyroid gland.  Unsaturated oils block thyroid hormone secretion, its movement in the circulatory system, and the response of tissues to the hormone.  When the thyroid hormone is deficient, the body is generally exposed to increased levels of estrogen. The thyroid hormone is essential for making the ‘protective hormones’ progesterone and pregnenolone, so these hormones are lowered when anything interferes with the function of the thyroid.  The thyroid hormone is required for using and eliminating cholesterol, so cholesterol is likely to be raised by anything which blocks the thyroid function.4

There is a growing body of research concerning soy’s detrimental affect on the thyroid gland. Much of this research centers on the phytoestrogens ("phyto" means plant) that are found in soy.  In the 1960s when soy was introduced into infant formulas, it was shown that soy was goitrogenic and caused goiters in babies. When iodine was supplemented, the incidence of goiter reduced dramatically. However, a retrospective epidemiological study by Fort, et al. showed that teenaged children with a diagnosis of autoimmune thyroid disease were significantly more likely to have received soy formula as infants (18 out of 59 children; 31 percent) when compared to healthy siblings (nine out of 76, 12 percent) or control group children (seven out of 54; 13 percent).5 

When healthy individuals without any previous thyroid disease were fed 30 grams of pickled soybeans per day for one month, Ishizuki, et al. reported goiter and elevated individual thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels (although still within the normal range) in thirty-seven healthy, iodine-sufficient adults.  One month after stopping soybean consumption, individual TSH values decreased to the original levels and goiters were reduced in size.6

Traditionally, polyunsaturated oils such as soybean oil have been used for livestock feed because they cause the animals to gain weight.  These oils are made up of what is known as long chain fatty acids­the kind of fatty acids that promote weight gain. In the North Carolina State University’s Extension Swine Husbandry 1998-2000 Departmental report, for example, was a study entitled “EFFECT OF DIETARY FAT SOURCE, LEVEL, AND FEEDING INTERVAL ON PORK FATTY ACID COMPOSITION” by M.T. See and J. Odle. Ironically, since the market in its low-fat dogma of recent years is demanding leaner meats, this study showed that one could produce leaner meat and reduce the weight on swine by reducing their intake of soy oil and substituting it with saturated animal fat!7

According to Dr. Ray Peat, the fattening effect of polyunsaturated oils (primarily soy and corn) is due to the presence of Linoleic and linolenic acids, long-chain fatty acids, which have an anti-thyroid effect. Peat says:

Linoleic and linolenic acids, the "essential fatty acids," and other polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are now fed to pigs to fatten them, in the form of corn and soy beans, cause the animals’ fat to be chemically equivalent to vegetable oil.  In the late 1940s, chemical toxins were used to suppress the thyroid function of pigs, to make them get fatter while consuming less food.  When that was found to be carcinogenic, it was then found that corn and soy beans had the same antithyroid effect, causing the animals to be fattened at low cost.  The animals’ fat becomes chemically similar to the fats in their food, causing it to be equally toxic, and equally fattening.8

Of course in the 1940s the fat from pigs (lard) was highly desirable, as were most saturated fats. Today, saturated fats are fed to pigs to keep them lean, while most people buy polyunsaturated soy and corn oils in the grocery stores as their primary cooking oil! So we have a population now characterized by lean pigs and obese people…

Coconut Oil: A-Healthy Choice for the Thyroid

Coconut oil, on the other hand, is a saturated fat made up primarily of medium chain fatty acids. Also known as medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), medium chain fatty acids are known to increase metabolism and promote weight loss.  Coconut oil can also raise basal body temperatures while increasing metabolism. This is good news for people who suffer with low thyroid function. We have seen many testimonies to this effect.

The "proof is in the pudding". Try it yourself and then you be the judge. All these people certainly can’t "be wrong". Everyone will experience different benefits, some more than others, but definitely something. In my own personal experience, I was suffering with hypothyroidism that even prescription medications couldn’t help. After a few short weeks of taking Virgin Coconut Oil, my reading was normal for the first time in a year. I use it on my skin after a shower and no longer struggle with the incredibly dry skin that often goes along with hypothyroidism, and I have used it on my hair as a conditioner. All I can say that the phrase "The world’s perfect food" is quite accurate. Try it and see for yourself. Warmly, Melanie (Coconut Diet Forums)

I am just now jumping on the coconut oil bandwagon (about three weeks now) and I’m really starting to feel GREAT! I have suffered from severe migraines for the past 25 years, the last 15 becoming increasingly severe, coinciding with the addition of soy and the "low-fat mentality" to my diet. Nothing helped! I should be experiencing my pre-menstrual migraine by now and instead I feel like I could climb Mt. Everest! Also I wondered if it decreased the waist to hip ratio because mine has gone from 7.2 all my life to 7 (or something like that).  I think I had the sluggish thyroid too, with a low body temperature of between 96 and 96.8. Now it’s starting to climb for the first time in years.
 Thank you… Sincerely, V. Potter (Coconut Diet Forums)

For more information on how Virgin Coconut Oil works to promote weight loss, see our article on Weight Loss.

Coconut Oil and Oxidative Stress

One of the reasons the long chain fatty acids in vegetable oils are so damaging to the thyroid is that they oxidize quickly and become rancid.  Food manufacturers know about this propensity towards rancidity and, therefore, highly refine their vegetable oils. Considerable research has shown that trans fatty acids, present when vegetable oils are highly refined (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated), are especially damaging to cell tissue and can have a negative affect on the thyroid as well as health in general.  Because the longer chain fatty acids are deposited in cells more often as rancid and oxidizing fat, impairment of the conversion of thyroid hormone T4 to T3 occurs, which is symptomatic of hypothyroidism. To create the enzymes needed to convert fats to energy, T4 must be converted to T3.

Dr. Ray Peat says:

When the oils are stored in our tissues, they are much warmer, and more directly exposed to oxygen than they would be in the seeds, and so their tendency to oxidize is very great. These oxidative processes can damage enzymes and other parts of cells, and especially their ability to produce energy. The enzymes which break down proteins are inhibited by unsaturated fats; these enzymes are needed not only for digestion, but also for production of thyroid hormones, clot removal, immunity, and the general adaptability of cells. The risks of abnormal blood clotting, inflammation, immune deficiency, shock, aging, obesity, and cancer are increased. Thyroid [hormones] and progesterone are decreased.

 

Since the unsaturated oils block protein digestion in the stomach, we can be malnourished even while "eating well." There are many changes in hormones caused by unsaturated fats. Their best understood effect is their interference with the function of the thyroid gland. Unsaturated oils block thyroid hormone secretion, its movement in the circulatory system, and the response of tissues to the hormone. Coconut oil is unique in its ability to prevent weight-gain or cure obesity, by stimulating metabolism. It is quickly metabolized, and functions in some ways as an antioxidant.9

Because coconut oil is saturated and very stable (unrefined coconut oil has a shelf life of about three to five years at room temperature), the body is not burdened with oxidative stress as it is with the vegetable oils. Coconut oil does not require the enzyme stress that vegetable oils do, preventing T4 to T3 hormone conversion, not only because it is a stable oil, but also because it is processed differently in the body and does not need to be broken down by enzyme dependent processes as do long chain fatty acids. Also, since the liver is the main place where damage occurs from oxidized and rancid oils that cause cell membrane damage, and since the liver is where much of the conversion of T4 to T3 takes place, eliminating long chain fatty acids from the diet and replacing them with medium chain fatty acids found in coconut oil can, in time, help in rebuilding cell membranes and increasing enzyme production that will assist in promoting the conversion of T4 to T3 hormones.

More research in this area is necessary. In the meantime, those switching from polyunsaturated oils to coconut oil are reporting many positive results.  For example, Donna has experienced encouraging improvements in her thyroid health.  She writes:

I’ve been on coconut oil since September, 2002 and, although, that doesn’t seem like long, it has changed my life and the lives of my family and friends. My weight actually went UP when I started on coconut oil but I felt so GREAT!   Being hypothyroid, I was on Synthroid and Cytomel and had been for years, but with inconsistent results and feeling worse. Other changes besides the addition of coconut oil were the complete removal of soy (and that is a major challenge in itself!), all trans fatty acids, no refined sugar, and organ cleanses seasonally. My thyroid meds were discontinued with my doctor’s knowledge as I was getting too energetic and having trouble sleeping!  [Imagine], from being a “sleepaholic” couch potato that was cold!  My weight stayed steady until the last three weeks and it has now started the downward move. My goal was health and just believed the weight would come off when I found the right diet and exercise routine that my life was comfortable with. I’ve tried removing the coconut oil but my energy drops and I don’t feel as good. Donna (Coconut Diet Forums)

Another coconut oil user writes:

I have experienced thyroid problems . . .  body temperature not going above 97 degrees, cold hands and feet, can’t lose weight, fatigued, slow heart rate, can’t sleep some nights, dry skin, etc….. My doctor did the thyroid test and it came back normal.  I am 46 and peri-menopausal. My Naturopath symptomatically diagnosed me with hypothyroidism.  She explained the blood tests currently used by allopathic medicine are not sensitive enough.  I started on the coconut oil 5 weeks ago. In the first week I noticed my body temperature had risen and my resting heart rate had gone from 49 to 88 beats per minute.  This has since settled to 66. My energy is now really high and I am slowly losing the weight – 3 lbs. in the past 5 weeks. I also had been taking flaxseed oil and gamma linoleic acid oil but have stopped eating every other oil but what Dr. Raymond Peat recommends, which is coconut oil, olive oil and butter… I take 3 tablespoons of coconut oil daily.  Cindy (Coconut Diet Forums)
http://coconutdiet.com/thyroid_health.htm

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