Coconut oil is a very popular fat used in cooking and baking. It has a unique fatty acid profile, high in medium-chain fatty acids, specifically lauric acid.
Lauric acid has a host of benefits, which include:
- Enhancing energy production
- Being thermogenic (enhances body temperature)
- Increasing intra-testicular cholesterol as well as testosterone levels
- Optimizing mitochondrial function and ATP production
- Lowering inflammation
- Improving insulin sensitivity
- Exerting anti-microbial and anti-fungal effects
But there is some evidence that it might inhibit 5-alpha reductase and lower DHT (our most potent androgen).
Evidence that coconut oil might inhibit 5-alpha reductase
There are 2 main in vitro studies showing that lauric acid, the main fatty acid in coconut oil, is one of the most potent inhibitors of 5-alpha reductase.
In this graph (left one), you can see that pentadecanoic, myristic and lauric acid are equally effective at inhibiting 5AR, followed by palmitic acid. In the right graph, you can see that oleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid are potent inhibitors of 5AR as well, but they weren’t compared to saturated fats.
The other in vitro study found that lauric acid inhibits both type 1 and 2 (R). Myristic acid wasn’t as effective, and oleic acid had a preference for 5AR type 1.
So already you can see discrepancies between the first and now the second study.
Evidence that saturated fat doesn’t inhibit 5-alpha reductase
This, also in vitro, study found that saturated fat had no effect on 5AR, whereas PUFA did (R). The more double bonds the PUFA had, the stronger the inhibitory effect it had.
This list goes from most potent to least potent 5AR inhibitor.
- Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) (found in evening primrose oil, blackcurrant seed oil, borage seed oil, and hemp seed)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (found in fatty fish and fish oils)
- Arachidonic acid (found mostly in eggs and poultry fat)
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (found in flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybeans and soybean oil, pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil, perilla seed oil, Tofu, walnuts and walnut oil.)
- Linoleic acid (found in all vegetable, nut and seed oils)
- Palmitoleic acid (An omega 7, found in macadamia nut oil and sea buckthorn oil) ->
- Oleic acid (found in olive oil, avocados, and most other foods) ->
- Myristoleic acid
The study also found that palmitic acid didn’t inhibit 5AR whereas stearic acid actually had a stimulatory effect (R).
This is the final study on coconut oil and 5AR and this one was in rats (in vivo). They compared 16 different fats to see what effect they had on serum and prostate levels of testosterone and DHT. Coconut oil was without effect (R).
Here are the graphs for you to obsess over. 🙂 Group C is coconut oil.
Lauric acid doesn’t stay long in your body
After consuming lauric acid, the body burns it for fuel very quickly and it doesn’t accumulate in the body. Other fatty acids, such as lauric acid, oleic acid and stearic acid do accumulate and therefore should have a greater inhibitory effect.
Two major factors influence how quickly fat is burned for energy:
#1 The shorter the fat is (C8 vs C18; Caprylic vs stearic acid) the faster it’s burned for energy. Palmitic (C16) is burned about twice as fast as stearic acid (C18) (R).
Also, medium-chain fatty acids don’t require the carnitine shuttle to enter the cell. This also speeds up the oxidation of the shorter-chain fatty acids.
#2 The more double bonds the fat has, the faster it’s burned for energy. Alpha-linolenic acid (C18:3; the plant omega 3 with 3 double bonds) is burned twice as fast as linoleic acid (C18:2; an omega 6 with 2 double bonds)
In summary, the shorter the fatty acid is and the more double bonds it contains, the faster it’s oxidized.
The body oxidizes fatty acids as follows:
With that being said, lauric acid doesn’t hang around as long as oleic or palmitic acid, thus these two fatty acids are more likely to have an inhibitory effect than lauric acid.
If that’s the case, eating red meat is more likely to lower DHT than coconut oil.
If you want to avoid coconut oil due to lauric acid, you’d also need to avoid milk (high in palmitic, myristic and pentadecanoic acid), red meat (high in palmitic and oleic acid) and olive oil (high in oleic acid) (R).
So far there are only 2 in vitro studies showing that coconut oil lowers DHT. Another in vitro study and 1 in rats showed that saturated fat and coconut oil don’t lower DHT.
My conclusion from the research is that coconut oil is very unlikely to lower DHT in humans, and the boost in testosterone and ATP is more likely going to make you feel good.
As I showed in this article, coconut oil might dramatically help to boost testosterone levels, and more testosterone means more DHT as well.
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