Many women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) struggle with low thyroid or hypothyroidism. This condition can slow metabolism and make it harder to lose weight. After a recent visit to the endocrinologist, I discovered that I was borderline hypothyroid. It wasn’t a big surprise considering I have been struggling with a sudden weight gain despite my normal healthy diet and exercise routine. What did come as a surprise however is that women with PCOS may be four times more likely to suffer from hypothyroidism?(1) When learning that I had a sluggish thyroid, I went online to see what natural therapies were available. Interestingly, I found countless testimonials praising the benefits of coconut oil, not only to help thyroid function, but also to help with insulin resistance and diabetes.
Coconut oil is an edible oil that has been consumed in tropical places for thousands of years. It is a medium-chain fatty acid (MCFAs). In nature, coconut oil has the largest concentration of MCFAs outside of human breast milk. Most other fats, such as polyunsaturated vegetable oils and animal fat, are long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs). For the hypothyroid sufferer the MCFAs in coconut oil speed up the body’s sluggish metabolism and promote weight loss as well. Ray Peat, Ph.D. is a renowned nutritional counselor who specializes in the study of hormones. Dr. Peat recommends using coconut oil for people with low thyroid. According to Dr. Peat, “Polyunsaturated oils block thyroid hormone secretion, its movement in the circulation, and the response of tissues to the hormone. When thyroid hormones are deficient, metabolism becomes depressed.”(2) Every time we eat polyunsaturated oils, our thyroid gland is compromised and loses its ability to function normally. Weight gain is one of the consequences.
Dr. Bruce Fife, N.D., author of Eat Fat Look Thin recommends adding coconut oil and substituting it for polyunsaturated oils (vegetable oils) to suppress appetite, boost metabolism, and bring about weight loss. Dr. Fife explains, “MCFAs in coconut oil are easily absorbed and put to use nourishing the body. Unlike other fats, they put little strain on the digestive system and provide a quick source of energy. On the other hand, long chain fatty acids (LCFA’s) are usually digested with digestive enzymes from the liver and take a long time to breakdown. Less enzymes and less energy are required for coconut oil digestion. You see, the MCFAs in coconut oil are digested and absorbed quickly and with minimal effort. Because of this there is less strain on the pancreas, liver and the digestive system.” (3) This is important for persons who suffer from metabolic problems like insulin resistance and diabetes.
Population studies of societies that consume a majority of their fat calories from coconut oil reveal that diabetes is very rare. A 1998 study conducted in India showed that when Indians abandoned traditional fats like coconut oil, and started using polyunsaturated fats, the rates of diabetes became alarmingly high. The authors of the study commented on the link between polyunsaturated oils and diabetes and recommend increasing coconut oil consumption as a means to prevent diabetes. (4) Similar studies carried out in the South Pacific have also confirmed these findings. When the traditional diet high in coconut oil is abandoned in favor a diet which includes polyunsaturated vegetable oils, there is a direct increase in the rate of diabetes and other western diseases.(5) More recently researchers have been able to cause test animals to develop diabetes by feeding them diets high in polyunsaturated fat. (6)
I have begun taking a tablespoonful of unrefined virgin coconut oil in the morning. Coconut oil is a solid until it reaches 80 degrees so it is easy to scoop out with a spoon. In addition, I have been using it to sauté vegetables or even cook eggs. You might try it in a smoothie, or in a bowl of oatmeal and can even spread it on toast. I must agree with the many coconut oil testimonials – my sugar cravings have subsided because the fat leaves me satiated longer and I have begun to shed those stubborn pounds.
If you have PCOS, it is important that you ask your doctor to test your thyroid. You should request tests that screen the thyroid hormones T4 and T3, as well as TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). Many women have been told they do not have a thyroid problem when in fact they do have low thyroid under the new guidelines established by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) in November, 2002. (7) When you have your results in hand, be sure that your doctor is comparing your results to these new TSH standards.
(1) Jancin, Bruce. “PCOS Strongly Linked to Autoimmune Thyroiditis: Thyroid function tests advised in PCOS – Prevalence is Fourfold Higher“. OB/GYN News. Oct 1, 2001. FindArticles.com. 04 Feb. 2008. Web Link
(2) Peat, R. Ray Peat’s Newsletter 1997 Issue, p.2-3 Web Link
(3) Nazario, Brunilda. “Coconut Oil: Diet Miracle or Fad?”. WebMD, Aug. 18, 2003. Web Link
(4) Sircar S, Kansra U. Choice of cooking oils–myths and realities. Journal Indian Medical Association. 1998 Oct;96(10):304-7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10063298?ordinalpos=7&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum
(5) Prior IA, Davidson F, Salmond CE, Czochanska Z. Cholesterol, coconuts, and diet on Polynesian atolls: a natural experiment: the Pukapuka and Tokelau island studies. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1981 Aug;34(8):1552-61. Web Link