In Defense of Coconut Oil: Rebuttal to USA Today

Ali Le Vere, B.S., B.S.

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the USA Today article entitled, “Coconut oil isn’t healthy. It’s never been healthy“. Fear-mongering, attention-grabbing headlines certainly sell copy, but do not make for evidence-informed, high quality science reporting.

As I expressed in my recent post on social media,

“The internet is full of erroneous claims. Science writers who forgo the nuances of empirical findings in the interest of sensational headlines.

False extrapolations made by people unequipped to interpret the research. Speculations by bloggers who missed the correlation-does-not-equal-causation lesson in epidemiology.

Over-generalizations from poorly designed, low quality in vitro and animal studies and studies that failed the test of statistical significance. Industry-funded, conflict-of-interest ridden rhetoric.

From eating for your blood type, to saturated fat causing heart disease, to heart-healthy whole wheat, to coffee causing gluten cross reactivity—in the natural and mainstream health communities alike, people take an idea and run with it without once going back to the primary and secondary literature to verify its scientific veracity.

The lack of scientific rigor that abounds in many corners of natural medicine is part of the reason that alternative medicine is marginalized by mainstream medicine. However, conventional medicine is equally culpable when it comes to its standards of care lacking a firm evidence-base.

I hope to fill this void, apply a scientific eye, and impart credence to therapeutic nutrition and holistic medicine by substantiating all my claims with high quality scientific data—instead of pulling statements out of thin air, which sadly is commonplace with headline-grabbing, yet substantive discussion-lacking online articles.”

The USA Today article, written in response to an American Heart Association (AHA) statement advising Americans to replace saturated fat with omega-6 rich polyunsaturated fatty acids from vegetable oils, exemplifies the lack of journalistic integrity, rushing to conclusions, and flagrant misrepresentation of the data to which I was referring.

The Omega-3 to Omega-6 Ratio Determines Inflammatory Potential

Contrary to the implications of this USA Today piece, the evidence has elucidated that omega-6 fatty acids, which occur in the corn, cottonseed, canola, safflower, sunflower, and soybean oil that the AHA was recommending, promote carcinogenesis, whereas omega-3 fatty acids inhibit cancer development (Seaman, 2002). Hence, the Standard American Diet, rich in omega-6 fatty acid consumption, generates the pro-inflammatory state that facilitates tumorigenesis (Rose, 1997).

The detrimental effects of omega-6s are articulated by Fernandes and Venkatraman (1993), with,

“The increased consumption of many vegetable oils particularly of the n-6 series is…viewed as pro-inflammatory and is suspected as one of the possible causes for the rise in certain malignant tumors, rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases primarily due to the increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines” (p. S19).

In contrast, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids from wild-caught fatty seafood, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can modify dynamics of the lipid bilayer, including elastic compressability and membrane permeability, promote membrane fluidity, and favorably modify membrane-bound protein activity (Stillwell & Wassall, 2003).

Thus, DHA is preventive in many inflammatory disorders, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative disease (Stillwell & Wassal, 2003). Specifically, DHA mitigates neuro-inflammation as it facilitates more efficient nerve cell communication (Crawford et al., 2013). The brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are deficient in DHA, and loss of structural and functional integrity of the brain correlates with loss of DHA concentrations in cell membranes in these patients (Seaman, 2002).

DHA and its long chain omega-3 precursor, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), are likewise involved in modulation of immune responses. In one study, supplementation of these fatty acids prolonged remission of systemic lupus erythematous (SLE) (Das, 1994). In another autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis, omega-3 supplementation was found to suppress the production of inflammatory cytokines and eicosanoids involved in the pathogenesis of the disease (Morin, Blier, & Fortin, 2015). Mechanistically, long chain omega-3 fatty acids suppress proliferation of pathogenic T cells and inhibit synthesis of inflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukin-1 (IL-1), and interleukin-2 (IL-2) (Das, 1994).

The dietary balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, which compete for incorporation into the phospholipid bilayer of cellular membranes, is integral for restoration of immune health and for prevention of long-latency, chronic, and degenerative diseases.

In order to generate optimal ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, ditch the toxic industrialized vegetable oils, and moderate consumption of grains and seeds as well, since they contain linoleic acid, the precursor to the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid.

As I illustrated above, arachidonic acid is processed by the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX) to produce pro-inflammatory signaling molecules called eicosanoids, including leukotrienes, prostaglandins, and thromboxanes. Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, promote the production of less inflammatory mediators. Therefore, USA Today’s recommendation to increase consumption of pro-inflammatory vegetable oils, amidst an epidemic of inflammatory chronic diseases, is negligent and irresponsible.

Applying an Ethnographic and Evolutionary Biology Lens

Of all the diets, an ancestral paleolithic diet reminiscent of ancient foragers has the most optimal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, of 1:1 (Simopoulos, 1991). Traditional hunter-gatherer cultures whose diets are composed of grass-fed game, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, wild-caught seafood, organic, local fruits and vegetables, roots and tubers, nuts and seeds are virtually free of the long-latency, degenerative diseases that plague Westerners.

Eskimos, for instance, who eat a high fish-based diet replete in omega-3s and very low in omega-6s, do not suffer from any of the diseases of modernity, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, diverticulitis, appendicitis, gallstones, or autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, or ulcerative colitis (Sinclair, 1981; Nettleton, 1995; Calder, 1998).

In contrast, the Standard American Diet, customary in Western cultures where non-communicable chronic diseases reach epidemic levels, has an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio ranging from 10:1 to 25:1 (Simopoulos, 1991). This is largely due to the inclusion of pro-inflammatory, high-heat processed vegetable oils, which are subject to chemically-laden processes such as caustic refining, bleaching, and degumming, and then have to be chemically deodorized to negate rancidity.

In addition to minimizing vegetable oil intake, incorporating plenty of wild-caught, cold-water fatty fish, including mackerel, salmon, herring, caviar, and sardines, can enhance omega-3 levels. Crawford (1968) also demonstrated that wild animals eating their native diets have significantly more omega-3s compared to domesticated livestock. Grass-fed meat, for example, is replete in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants such as beta carotene and vitamin E compared to its conventional corn-fed counterparts, so incorporating grass-fed meat into your diet can restore balance in your fatty acid ratio (Daley et al., 2010).

Busting the Cholesterol Myth

Of note, is that the USA Today article vilified coconut oil on the basis that it raises LDL cholesterol. However, the most recent Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) removed dietary cholesterol as a nutrient of concern, given that there is “no appreciable relationship between dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol or clinical cardiovascular events in general populations,” so cholesterol content should not deter you from consumption of saturated fat (Mozaffarian & Ludwig, 2015, p. 2421).

Low total cholesterol, formerly believed to be protective against cardiovascular disease, has been demonstrated to have a litany of ill effects. In particular, women with a total cholesterol below 195 mg/dL have a higher risk of mortality compared to women with cholesterol above this cut-off (Petrusson, Sigurdsson, Bengtsson, Nilsen, & Getz, 2012).

Low cholesterol has been correlated with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, suicide, homicide, accidental deaths, and morbid depression (Boscarino, Erlich, & Hoffman, 2009; Morgan, Palinkas, Barrett-Connor, & Wingard, 1993, Mielke et al., 2005; Seneff, Wainwright, & Mascitelli, 2011).

In a group of men 50 years and older, researchers found depression to be three times more common in the group with low plasma cholesterol (Morgan, Palinkas, Barrett-Connor, & Wingard, 1993). Shockingly, men with total cholesterol below 165 m/dL were also found to be seven times more likely to die prematurely from unnatural causes, including suicide and accidents (Boscarino, Erlich, & Hoffman, 2009).

In fact, Morgan, Palinkas, Barrett-Connor, and Winged (1993) articulate this with, “In several clinical trials of interventions designed to lower plasma cholesterol, reductions in coronary heart disease mortality have been offset by an unexplained rise in suicides and other violent deaths” (p. 75).

In essence, in progressive circles, the cholesterol-demonizing, artery-clogging model of heart disease has been redacted in favor of one where inflammation leads to endothelial and vascular smooth muscle dysfunction as well as oxidative stress. Like firefighters at a fire, cholesterol is present at the scene of the crime, but it is not the perpetrator—rather, it is a protective antioxidant element that repairs damage to arteries.

Moreover, cholesterol is an important precursor to our steroid hormones and bile acids, a membrane constituent that helps maintain structural integrity and fluidity, and an essential component for transmembrane transport, cell signaling, and nerve conduction.

Saturated Fat is Not Bad For You

Further, the recommendations of the AHA are especially surprising in light of the results of the Minnesota Coronary Experiment performed forty years ago, where the saturated fat in the diets of 9000 institutionalized mental patients was replaced with polyunsaturated fats in the form of corn oil. A 2010 re-evaluation of the data from this experiment was published in the British Medical Journal (Ramsden et al., 2016).

According to this re-analysis, these patients experienced a 22% higher risk of death for each 30 mg/dL reduction in serum cholesterol (Ramsden et al., 2016). Thus, although substituting omega-6 fats in place of saturated fat led to reductions in cholesterol, these patients suffered worse health outcomes, highlighting that cholesterol is not the villain it was formerly construed to be.

What’s more, although the USA Today article declares the dangers of saturated fat, a recent meta-analysis in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which compiled data from 21 studies including 347,747 people that were followed for an average of 14 years, concluded that there is no appreciable relationship between saturated fat consumption and incidence of cardiovascular disease or stroke (Siri-Tarino, Sun, Hu, & Krauss, 2010).

Another meta-analysis published in 2015 in the British Journal of Medicine concluded that there is no association between saturated fat and risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke, type 2 diabetes, or all-cause mortality (the risk of death from any cause) (de Souza et al., 2015).

Along similar lines, a trial published in the American Journal of Nutrition in 2016 showed that eating a high fat diet, and deriving a large proportion of calories from saturated fat, improved biomarkers of cardiometabolic risk and insulin resistance, such as insulin, HDL, triglycerides, C-peptide, and glycated hemoglobin (Veum et al., 2016). The researchers conclude, “Our data do not support the idea that dietary fat per se promotes ectopic adiposity and cardiometabolic syndrome in humans” (Veum et al., 2016).

In actuality, saturated fat has been demonstrated to exert beneficial effects on levels of triglycerides and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL), the latter of which has been characterized as the “good cholesterol” that scavenges or transports cholesterol deposited in the bloodstream back to the liver (Mensink, Zock, Kester, & Katan, 2003). Saturated fat has also been shown to elicit minimal effects on apolipoprotein B, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, relative to carbohydrates (Mensink, Zock, Kester, & Katan, 2003).

In addition, in a recent article in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, an expert panel held jointly between the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) reviewed the relationship between saturated fat and coronary heart disease (CHD) (FAO/WHO, 2009).

From their examination of epidemiological studies, they found that saturated fatty acid intake was not significantly correlated with coronary heart disease events or mortality (FAO/WHO, 2009). Similarly, from their investigation of intervention studies, which are more powerful in that they can prove causality, they found that incidence of fatal coronary heart disease was not reduced by low-fat diets (FAO/WHO, 2009).

According to Mozaffarian and Ludwig (2015), “The 2015 DGAC report tacitly acknowledges the lack of convincing evidence to recommend low-fat–high-carbohydrate diets for the general public in the prevention or treatment of any major health outcome, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, or obesity” (p. 2422).

Part of this reversal in guidelines is based on the fact that replacing protein or carbohydrates with healthy fats in excess of the current 35% of the daily caloric fat limit reduces risk of cardiovascular disease (Appel et al., 2005; Estruch et al., 2013).

In a similar vein, “The 2015 DGAC report specifies that, ‘Consumption of ‘low-fat’ or ‘nonfat’ products with high amounts of refined grains and added sugars should be discouraged’” (Mozaffarian & Ludwig, 2015, p.2422). Despite new guidelines, the Nutrition Facts Panel still employs the outdated 30% limit on dietary fat, which Mozaffarian and Ludwig (2015) remark has been “obsolete for more than a decade” (p.2422).

Coconut Oil Doesn’t Negate Health—It Engenders It

Not only do these meta-analyses put the nail in the coffin as far as saturated fat causing heart disease, but a plethora of health benefits have been elucidated in the scientific literature regarding coconut oil consumption. For instance, the following studies, as catalogued in the GreenMedInfo database, have revealed metabolic, immunomodulatory, and cognitive benefits of the dietary inclusion of coconut oil.

For instance, extra virgin coconut oil consumption has been demonstrated to significantly reduce body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC) and produce significant increases in concentrations of HDL cholesterol in patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) (Cardoso et al., 2015). Another study by Liau in colleagues (2011) concluded that virgin coconut oil is efficacious for the reduction of waist circumference, especially in a male cohort. Likewise, a study by Assunção and colleagues (2009) demonstrated that dietary coconut oil reduces visceral adiposity and elevates HDL cholesterol in women, thus improving both anthropometric and biochemical risk factors for metabolic syndrome.

In rodent models, dietary virgin coconut oil improves glycemic control in high fructose fed rats, and is postulated to be “an efficient nutraceutical in preventing the development of diet induced insulin resistance and associated complications possibly through its antioxidant efficacy” (Narayanankutty et al., 2016). Research supports the use of coconut oil for obesity, dyslipidemia, insulin resistance, hypertension, and pathologically elevated LDL, all of which constitute risk factors for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s, the last of which is being re-conceptualized as type 3 diabetes (Fernando et al., 2015).

In addition, in a prospective study of patients with Alzheimer’s, improvements in cognitive function were observed for patients administered extra virgin coconut oil, since “medium chain triglycerides are a direct source of cellular energy and can be a nonpharmacological alternative to the neuronal death for lack of it, that occurs in Alzheimer patients” (Yang et al., 2015). Notably, the hormones, or cytokinins, and phenolic compounds found in coconut may prevent aggregation of amyloid-β peptide into plaques, thus arresting a critical step in pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s (Fernando et al., 2015). Research also suggests that coconut oil may directly stimulate ketogenesis in astrocytes and provide fuel to neighboring neurons as a consequence, thus improving brain health (Nonaka et al., 2016). On a different note, coconut oil mitigates amyloid beta toxicity in cortical neurons by up-regulating signaling of cell survival pathways (Nafar, Clarke, & Mearow, 2017).

Lastly, studies have illuminated anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antibacterial, and anti-pyretic properties of virgin coconut oil (Intahphuak, Khonsung, & Panthong, 2010; Ogbolu et al., 2007). Thus, unless you are part of the minority of the population that carries the APOE4 allele, a polymorphism that confers increased risk with saturated fat consumption, there is no reason to avoid coconut oil or saturated fat (Barberger-Gateau et al., 2011). Thus, instead of trashing your coconut oil, do yourself a favor and eat an extra helping—your body will thank you.

For evidence-based reseach on coconut oil, visit the GreenMedInfo.com Research Dashboard.

References

Appel, L.J., Sacks, F.M., Carey, V.J., Obarzanek, E. Swain, J.F., Miller, E.R. 3rd,…OmniHeart Collaborative Research Group. (2005). Effects of protein, monounsaturated fat, and carbohydrate intake on blood pressure and serum lipids: results of the OmniHeart randomized trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 294(19):2455-2464.

Assunção, M.L., Ferreira, H.S., dos Santos, A.F., Cabral, C.R., & Florêncio, T.M.M.T. (2009). Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity. Lipids, 44(7), 593-601.

Barberger-Gateua, P., Samieri, C., Feart, C., & Plourde, M. (2012). Dietary omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and Alzheimer’s disease: interaction with apolipoprotein E genotype. Current Alzheimer’s Research, 8(5), 479-491.

Calder, P.C. (1998). Dietary fatty acids and the immune system. Nutritional Reviews, II, S70-S83.

Cardoso et al. (2015). A coconut extra virgin oil-rich diet increases HDL cholesterol and decreases waist circumference and body mass in coronary artery disease patients. Nutrition Hospitals, 32(5), 2144-2152. doi: 10.3305/nh.2015.32.5.9642.

Crawford, M.A., Broadhurst, C.L., Guest, M., Nagar, A., Wang, Y., Ghebremeskel, K., & Schmidt, W. (2013). A quantum theory for the irreplaceable role of docosahexaenoic acid in neural cell signaling throughout evolution. Prostaglandins Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids, 88(1), 5-13.

Daley, C. A., Abbott, A., Doyle, P. S., Nader, G. A., & Larson, S. (2010). A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutrition Journal, 9(1), 10.

Das, U.N. (1994). Beneficial effect of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids in the management of systemic lupus erythematosus and its relationship to the cytokine network. Prostaglandins Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids, 51(3), 207-213.

de Souza et al. (2015). Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-anlaysis of observational studies. British Medical Journal, 351.

Estruch, R., Ros, E., Salas-Salvado, J., Covas, M.I., Corella, D., Aros, F.,…PREDIMED Study Investigators. (2013). Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. New England Journal of Medicine, 368(14), 1279-1290. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1200303

FAO/WHO. (2009). Fats and fatty acids in human nutrition. Proceedings of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation. November 10-14, 2008. Geneva, Switzerland. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 55, 1-3.

Fernando, W.M.A.D.B., Martins, I.J., Goozee, K.G., Brennan, C.S., Jayasena, V., & Martins, R.N. (2015). The role of dietary coconut for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: potential mechanisms of action. British Journal of Nutrition, 1-14.
Intahphuak, S., Khonsung, P., & Panthong, A. (2010). Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic activities of virgin coconut oil. Pharmacological Biology, 48(2), 151-157.

Kalmijn, S., Feskens, E.J.M., & Kromhout, D. (1997). Polyunsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants, and cognitive function in very old men. American journal of Epidemiology, 145, 33-41.

Liau, K.M., Lee, Y.Y., Chen, C.K., & Rasool, A.H.G. (2011). An open-label pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of virgin coconut oil in reducing visceral adiposity. ISRN Pharmacology. doi: 10.5402/2011/949686
Mensink, R.P., Zock, P.L., Kester, A.D., & Katan, M.B. (2003). Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 77(5), 1146-1155.

Mielke, M.M., Zandi, P.P., Sjogren, M., Gustafson, D., Ostling, S., Steen, B., & Skoog, I. (2005). High total cholesterol levels in late life associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Neurology, 64(10), 1689-1695.

Mozaffarian, D., & Ludwig, D.S. (2015). The 2015 US Dietary Guidelines: Lifting the Ban on Total Dietary Fat. Journal of the American Medical Association, 313(24), 2421-2422.

Morin, C., Blier, P.U., & Fortin, S. (2015). Eicosapentaenoic acid and docosapentaenoic acid monoglycerides are more potent than docosahexaenoic acid monoglyceride to resolve inflammation in a rheumatoid arthritis model. Arthritis Research Therapies, 17, 142. doi: 10.1186/s13075-015-0653-y.

Morgan, R.E., Palinkas, L.A., Barrett-Connor, E.L., & Wingard, D.L. (1993). Plasma cholesterol and depressive symptoms in older men. The Lancet, 341(8837), 75-79. doi:10.1016/0140-6736(93)92556-9

Nafar, F., Clarke, J.P., & Mearow, K.M. (2017). Coconut oil protects cortical neurons from amyloid beta toxicity by enhancing signaling of cell survival pathways. Neurochemical International, 105, 64-79. doi: 10.1016/j.neuint.2017.01.008.

Narayanankutty, A., Mukesh, R.K., Ayoob, S.K., Ramavarma, S.K., Suseela, I.M., Manalil, J.J.,…Raghavamenon, A.C. (2016). Virgin coconut oil maintains redox status and improves glycemic conditions in high fructose fed rats. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 53(1), 895-901.

Nettleton, J. (1995). omega-3 fatty acids and health. New York Chapman & Hall. p. 67-73.

Nonaka, Y., Takagi, T., Inai, M., Nishimura, S., Urashima, S., Honda, K.,…Terada, S. (2016). Lauric acid stimulates ketone body production in the KT-5 astrocyte cell line. Journal of Oleo Science, 65(8), 693-699.

Ogbolu, D.O., Oni, A.A., Daini, O.A., & Oloko, A.P. (2007). In vitro antimicrobial properties of coconut oil on Candida species in Ibadan, Nigeria. Journal of Medical Foods, 10(2), 384-387.

Petrusson, H., Sigurdsson, J.A., Bengtsson, C., Nilsen, T.I., & Getz, L. (2012). Is the use of cholesterol in mortality risk algorithms in clinical guidelines valid? Ten years prospective data from the Norwegian HUNT 2 study. Journal of the Evaluation of Clinical Practice, 18(1), 159-168.

Ramsden et al. (2016). Re-evaluation of the traditional diet-heart hypothesis: analysis of recovered data from Minnesota Coronary Experiment (1968-1973). British Medical Journal, 353.Simopoulos, A.P., & Salem Jr., N. (1992). Egg yolk as a source of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in infant feeding. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 55, 411-414.

Rose, D.P. (1997). Dietary fatty acids and cancer. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 66(suppl), 998S-1003S.

Seaman, D.R. (2002). The diet-induced pro-inflammatory state: a cause of chronic pain and other degenerative diseases? Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 25(3), 168-179.

Seneff, S., Wainwright, G., & Mascitelli, L. (2011). Nutrition and Alzheimer’s disease: The detrimental role of a high carbohydrate diet. European Journal of Internal Medicine, 1-7.

Simopoulos, A.P. (1991). Omega-3 fatty acids in health and disease and in growth and development. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 54, 483-463.

Sinclair, H. (1981). The relative importance of essential fatty acids of the linoleum and linolenic families: studies with an Eskimo diet. Progress in Lipid Research, 20, 897-899.

Siri-Tarino, P.W., Sun, Q., Hu, F.B., & Krauss, R.M. (2010). Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91(3), 535-546.

Stillwell, W., & Wassall, S.R. (2003). Docosahexaenoic acid: membrane properties of a unique fatty acid. Chemistry and Physical Lipids, 126(1), 1-27.

Veum et al. (2016). Visceral adiposity and metabolic syndrome after very high-fat and low fat isocaloric diets: a randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. doi: 10.3945/​ajcn.115.123463

Yang, H.Y., de la Rubia Orti, J.E., Sabater, P.S., Castillo, S.S., Rochina, M.J., Ramon, N.M., & Montoya-Castilla, I. (2015). Coconut oil: Non-alternative drug treatment against Alzheimer’s disease. Nutrition in Hospitals, 32(6), 2822-2877.

Ali Le Vere holds dual Bachelor of Science degrees in Human Biology and Psychology, minors in Health Promotion and in Bioethics, Humanities, and Society, and is a Master of Science in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine candidate. Having contended with chronic illness, her mission is to educate the public about the transformative potential of therapeutic nutrition and to disseminate information on evidence-based, empirically rooted holistic healing modalities. Read more at @empoweredautoimmune on Instagram and at www.EmpoweredAutoimmune.com: Science-based natural remedies for autoimmune disease, dysautonomia, Lyme disease, and other chronic, inflammatory illnesses.




‘Why I would not kill in war’

On International Conscientious Objectors’ Day, four men explain the very different reasons why they refused to fight in four very different conflicts.

DESMOND DOSS

The army said I saved 100 men during one battle on Okinawa. I said it couldn’t be more than 50, so the citation on my Congressional Medal of Honor says 75. When President Truman pinned it on me he said: ‘It is a greater honour than being president.’

Desmond DossPresident Truman said I really deserved this’

Before I was born my father bought a illustration of the 10 Commandments. I looked at that picture hundreds of times as I grew up. The Sixth Commandment showed Cain killing Abel, and I wondered how a brother could do such a thing. It gave me such a horror of killing that I never wanted to kill or even hurt anyone.

When the US went to war against Japan and Germany, my boss at the shipyard offered me a deferment as an essential worker. I did not want to be known as a draft dodger. I felt it was an honour to serve God and country, but I wanted to do it as a medic, by saving life instead of taking life.

When I registered for the draft at 18, I said I wanted to be a non-combatant. But I was told there was no such classification and that I would have to be a conscientious objector. If I did not take that classification and – as a Seventh-day Adventist – wanted to keep the Saturday as the Sabbath or not carry a weapon, I would most likely be court-martialled. So there was nothing else I could do.

The reaction of the other soldiers and officers was pretty bad, having me around was not to their liking. I was not the kind of conscientious objector that so many were in those times, who would not salute the flag, wear the uniform or cooperate with the army in any way. But my comrades classed me with them. I did not try to tell them different, because they would not have believed me.

The bullets were going near enough that I could practically feel them

One of my majors tried to have me discharged from the army, saying I was mentally off. I felt I would be a poor Christian if I would accept a discharge because of my religion.

After we went overseas, my comrades began to realise that I would always be there to help them if they got wounded, their attitude changed. They knew I would come to their aid if I possibly could. From then on we had a very good relationship.

Some of my men felt I should carry a weapon for protection, but I told them that would put my trust in God. They could do the fighting and I would do the patching.

In May 1945, we were sent up on the top of a 400-foot-high cliff to fight the Japanese. I suggested to the lieutenant that we should have prayer, because we knew how many people had been killed on this escarpment.

US troops fighting on Okinawa

‘We knew how many people had been killed on this escarpment’

One day we were given what we thought would be an easy mop-up job. Everything seemed to go wrong and we were finally told to retreat. But about 75 men were wounded and could not move. I was the only medic and I would not leave my men.

I stayed on top and let them down one by one over the escarpment, to where they could be taken on down to the aid station.

I kept praying: ‘Lord, help me to get one more.’ And He did help me. I got all the men down safely and I did not get a scratch from the bullets that were going near enough that I could practically feel them.

Going into battle helped me to realise how tragic wars, bloodshed and killing are. When anyone is killed it is a tragic thing.

I have nothing against those who kill people in battle. It seems to be a necessary part of living. Soldiers must decide for themselves what it is right to do. But for me, it was wrong to kill and I felt I could not do it. I put my trust in God and made my decision to keep commandments.


RUDOLPH KIRST

Hitler had a theory that Germany would be defended to the last drop of blood, so I was among a group of boys taken for military training in 1945 and then lined up and asked to fight. I said: ‘Hitler is an evil man and I won’t volunteer.’

Boy soldiers of the Hitler Youth in 1945

‘The other boys were sent to the front as cannon fodder’

Of the 600 boys – mostly 15 year olds – about 10 of us didn’t agree to join the Hitler Youth division going to the front. We were interrogated by army officers, and the boys said that their parents would not like them volunteering. I was the only one who said: ‘I don’t want to volunteer.’

Looking back it was an extraordinarily brave act for a 16-year-old. If I had been 18, I probably would have been shot.

My father had already been forced into fighting for the Nazis, but he never shot at people. He would aim over the heads of Allied soldiers, and that was his way of being a conscientious objector without being executed.

He was formerly a musician, but had been forced out of his orchestra in Cologne because he would not say ‘Heil Hitler’. Many of his fellow musicians were Jews and had disappeared. That gave us the clue that something was fishy.

By the time I ordered to report for training in 1945, more information had percolated through about Hitler’s treatment of the Jews. Anyone who had ears knew about the extermination camps. I decided I would not fight to defend such evil.

Hitler decorating boy soldiers in 1945

‘Hitler wanted Germany to be defended to the last drop of blood’

I was immediately ostracised by the other boys. I was taken from our camp and spent that night in the officers’ quarters.

The next day, when the boys gathered for the flag raising, an announcement was made that I was being sent home. I was not allowed to see anyone. I was poison.

Ironically, my stand saved my life. The other boys were sent to the front as cannon fodder – we had only had a few days of training. Those who turned back from the fighting were shot by their own officers. It was a great tragedy of those final days of the war.

I did not refuse to fight because I was concerned that my life might be in danger. It was a matter of conscientious objection, and looking back that day had a profound effect on my life. Throughout my life I have stood up for my views. Today, I campaign against genetically modified crops.


ISHAI MENUCHIN

You’re 18 and a paratrooper. You’re learning new things and meeting interesting people. You’re an officer, commanding others. It’s an adventure. You think that what you are doing is defending Israel, but soon find what you are really doing is occupying another country.

Israel soldiers man a Gaza checkpoint in the 1990s

‘I was in an elite unit … and had no contact with the Palestinians’

I was called up to fight in the invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980s. I was naive and believed it was a war of defence. It was easy for me, since as I was in an elite unit, I had very little to do with daily life of the occupation.

When we went to train in the Occupied Territories – the West Bank or Gaza – we would be off in the mountains or the desert and had no contact with the Palestinians.

That was until I was leading my men on a training mission in the Sinai desert and was ordered into Gaza after a Palestinian grenade attack on an army truck, which had killed two.

Intelligence had tracked the man responsible to a refugee camp and my unit, being the closest, was sent in to capture him.

So there was I, crawling through the mud and sewage of this camp in the middle of the night. We knew he still had grenades, so we had to rush his house fast.

We caught him in bed. His wife sleeping beside him was crying. His children were crying.

The [Palestinian] man knew, like I did, that if he had obeyed the [Israeli officer’s] command run, he would have been shot

We took him outside and handed him over to officers from another unit, so we could begin the search for the hand grenades.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of these officers cock his pistol and tell the prisoner to run in Arabic.

I didn’t know what to do, I was shocked. The man knew, like I did, that if he had obeyed the command run, he would have been shot. He lay down and didn’t get up, even though they kicked him. Israeli military police eventually arrived to arrest him.

We never found the grenades and eventually were told our prisoner was the wrong man – he just happened to share the same name as the grenade attacker.

I don’t know why I didn’t do anything to stop what happened that night. It was so hard to not be a part of such things when you are a soldier in the Occupied Territories.

That incident made me understand occupation and humiliation and showed me exactly what being an occupier was. It still haunts me.

An Israeli soldier with Palestinian prisoners

‘I did not refuse to be called up, but I refused to be involved in policing actions’

I began what is now called selective refusal. As a reservist, I did not refuse to be called up, but I refused to be involved in policing actions. Then I refused to cross into Lebanon or the Occupied Territories.

I talked with my soldiers. A small minority said I was doing the right thing. Another minority refused to talk to me because I had gone against our brotherhood. The rest said we’d talk again when I got back from jail.

I was sent to prison for 35 days. It was the beginning of the mass refusals and there were demonstrations in Tel Aviv calling for my release.

Once out, an officer again ordered me to go to Lebanon, and again I refused. I heard him on the phone saying he wanted to send me back to my cell, but he was told to send me to a less elite unit as a punishment.

I felt it was too easy for me just to stop taking part in the occupation, so I set up the group Yesh Gvul [There is a limit] to act as a model for other reservists and to support those who become refuseniks like me.


STEPHEN FUNK

At Marine boot camp it’s constantly ‘Kill! Kill! Kill!’ There are contests to see which recruit can shout it the loudest. Every time you do a push-up you shout ‘Kill!’ I thought it was insane, but mouthed the word so as not to get in trouble.

Stephen Funk reports for duty

‘I felt disgusted, hypocritical and trapped in a contract to do things I thought were wrong’

My recruiter spotted I wasn’t suited to the Marine Corps, but he sold me on all the valuable things I could learn. I was going to be a reservist, not in the regular infantry, and would learn leadership skills and Boy Scout things like tying knots.

If I had talked to my family and friends before I had enlisted, I would never have joined. Everyone was surprised. It was so against my nature – I’m known as a liberal, non-violent person.

I’d graduated high school, and had left one college and moved to San Francisco to apply to another. Being out of school for the first time and in a strange city, I felt I lacked direction. I was depressed and not thinking clearly.

On the first day of boot camp everyone feels like they have made a big mistake. But as the training progressed I realised the Corps’ only reason for having me there was to teach me to kill people.

They try to deprogram recruits, make them forget things that are common to all people, forget the human aversion to killing.

I’d never even been in a fight before joining. Boot camp made me think about my attitudes to violence. I felt disgusted, hypocritical and trapped in a contract to do things I thought were wrong.

The Corps told my lawyer it would try to court martial me for desertion. I’m not worried. Perhaps I should be

My speciality was landing support – loading fighting troops on and off of helicopters and landing craft. Part of the job was to motivate the Marines to kill, to pump them up for battle.

When we practised it, I’d hide at the back of the group, I couldn’t believe I’d really have to do this crazy thing. When my turn was called, I just couldn’t motivate the people to kill. I thought it was wrong.

I expressed my concerns and raised questions during training, but was never told I could become a conscientious objector. I only found out after I’d gone back to civilian life, and started to work on my application to leave the reserves.

It’s not a simple process, and before I’d even finished the first draft, I was called up to go to Iraq.

A lawyer looked at my form and said it needed more work. So I told my base I wasn’t going to report, that I was a conscientious objector and that I would hand myself in when the form was finished.

US Marine in southern Iraq

‘I just couldn’t motivate the people to kill. I thought it was wrong’

Mine was a small base, and I wasn’t sure they knew what they were doing. I didn’t want to report in case they did something crazy, like detaining me.

I wanted to go public with my story, to warn other young people thinking of joining up. When I got the media involved, the Corps put a warrant out for me for desertion.

I reported back and was transferred to New Orleans with 20 other objectors. We mostly sit around reading, waiting for our application to be processed.

It’s not just the politics of the war on Iraq that I oppose, it’s war in general. I’m a pacifist and opposed to participating in any conflict. They don’t solve anything and just perpetuate a bad situation.

The Corps told my lawyer it would try to court martial me for desertion, but it would have to prove I had no intention of returning. I handed myself in, so I’m not worried. Perhaps I should be.

Source




Update: Israeli conscientious objectors

Atalia Ben-Abba is an imprisoned Israeli conscientious objector

After 115 days of imprisonment, Israeli conscientious objector Tamar Ze’evi has had her objection to military service recognised, and has been granted CO status as a political refuser. However, conscientious objectors Atalia Ben-Abba and Tamar Alon have been imprisoned again for their refusal to take part in the occupation and serve in the IDF. This is Atalia’s second, and Tamar’s sixth imprisonment, and each will spend 30 days more behind bars. Click here send a protest email to the Israeli authorities.

“Our present reality needs to be changed, and my refusal is my way to change it”

In her declaration, Atalia, who has already spent 20 days behind bars and is currently spending 30 more following the final court decision, states:

My social responsibility as a stakeholder in our society is important to me. The people living here are important to me, all of the people living here, and it’s my responsibility and the responsibility of all of us to act for a better life here. My refusal to be drafted doesn’t come out of a renunciation of this responsibility, but out of the understanding that our present reality needs to be changed, and that my refusal is my way to change it…

I spoke once to a Palestinian activist who described the first time he met Israelis. All he saw, as a kid, were foreign soldiers, speaking a language he doesn’t understand, entering his village and demolishing houses. He feared them and was angry. Only years later he met Israelis who showed him another side. Hearing him made me understand the endless cycle we’re in – violence begets violence, there’s no solution in this way. Cooperation with Palestinians enables us to create a relationship that paves the way to peace and proves that there is a chance for partnership between the two sides for a better future.

Along with Atalia, Tamar Ze’evi and Tamar Alon have also repeated their refusal and sentenced to 30 days each. This will add to 97 and 100 days each has already spent behind bars in total respectively.

Read Tamar Ze’evi’s declaration here.

Read Tamar Alon’s declaration here.

Solidarity

As well as filling in our email alert you can also send your emails of support to Atalia, Tamar and Tamar. Use this link to write them and your messages will be passed on.

You can also write to Israel’s embassies abroad. Find a list of these here.




When Muhammad Ali took the real heavy weight

A reposting for International Conscientious Objectors Day.

In an era defined by endless war, we should recognise a day in history that wasn’t celebrated on Capitol Hill or in the White House. On June 20, 1967, the great Muhammad Ali was convicted in Houston for refusing induction in the US armed forces. Ali saw the war in Vietnam as an exercise in genocide. He also used his platform as a boxing champion to connect the war abroad with the war at home, saying: “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs?” For these statements, as much as the act itself, Judge Joe Ingraham handed down the maximum sentence to Cassius Clay (as they insisted upon calling him in court): five-years in a Federal penitentary and a $10,000 fine. The next day, this was the top-flap story for the New York Times with the headline: “Clay Guilty in Draft Case; Gets Five Years in Prison.”

The sentence was unusually harsh, and deeply tied to a Beltway, bipartisan consensus to crush Ali and ensure that he not develop into a symbol of anti-war resistance. The day of Ali’s conviction the US Congress voted 337-29 to extend the draft for four more years. They also voted 385-19 to make it a federal crime to desecrate the flag. Their fears of a rising movement against the war were well-founded.

The summer of 1967 marked a tipping point for public support of the Vietnam “police action”. While the Tet Offensive, which exposed the lie that the United States was winning the war, was still six months away, the news out of south-east Asia was increasingly grim. At the time of Ali’s conviction, 1,000 Vietnamese noncombatants were being killed each week by US forces. One hundred US soldiers were dying each and every day, and the war was costing $2bn a month.

Anti-war sentiment was growing and it was thought that a stern rebuke of Ali would help put out the fire. In fact, the opposite took place. Ali’s brave stance fanned the flames. As Julian Bond said, “[It] reverberated through the whole society. … [Y]ou could hear people talking about it on street corners. It was on everyone’s lips. People who had never thought about the war before began to think it through because of Ali. The ripples were enormous.”

Ali himself vowed to appeal the conviction, saying: “I strongly object to the fact that so many newspapers have given the American public and the world the impression that I have only two alternatives in this stand – either I go to jail or go to the Army. There is another alternative, and that alternative is justice. If justice prevails, if my constitutional rights are upheld, I will be forced to go neither to the Army nor jail. In the end, I am confident that justice will come my way, for the truth must eventually prevail.”

Already by this point, Ali’s heavyweight title had been stripped, beginning a three-and-a-half-year exile. Already Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam had begun to distance themselves from their most famous member. Already, Ali had become a punching bag for almost every reporter with a working pen. But with his conviction came a new global constituency. In Guyana, protests against his sentence took place in front of the US embassy. In Karachi, Pakistan, a hunger strike began in front of the US consulate. In Cairo, demonstrators took to the streets. In Ghana, editorials decried his conviction. In London, an Irish boxing fan named Paddy Monaghan began a long and lonely picket of the US Embassy. Over the next three years, he would collect more than twenty thousand signatures on a petition calling for the restoration of Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight title.

Ali at this point was beginning to see himself as someone who had a greater responsibility to an international groundswell that saw him as more than an athlete. “Boxing is nothing, just satisfying to some bloodthirsty people. I’m no longer a Cassius Clay, a Negro from Kentucky. I belong to the world, the black world. I’ll always have a home in Pakistan, in Algeria, in Ethiopia. This is more than money.”

Eventually justice did prevail and the Supreme Court overturned Ali’s conviction in 1971. They did so only after the consensus on the war had changed profoundly. Ali had been proven right by history, although a generation of people in Asia and the United States paid a terrible price along the way.

Years later upon reflection, Ali said he had no regrets. “Some people thought I was a hero. Some people said that what I did was wrong. But everything I did was according to my conscience. I wasn’t trying to be a leader. I just wanted to be free. And I made a stand all people, not just black people, should have thought about making, because it wasn’t just black people being drafted. The government had a system where the rich man’s son went to college, and the poor man’s son went to war. Then, after the rich man’s son got out of college, he did other things to keep him out of the Army until he was too old to be drafted.”

As we remain mired in a period of permanent war, take a moment and consider the risk, sacrifice, and principle necessary to dismantle the war machine. We all can’t be boxing champions, but moving forward, all who oppose war can rightfully claim Ali’s brave history as our own

Dave Zirin




Remembering Gaza and Rachel on her 38th birthday, a message from Cindy Corrie

APRIL 10 – Remembering Gaza and Rachel – on her 38th birthday

Today is my daughter Rachel Corrie’s 38th birthday. In Olympia, Washington, where she grew up, we will mark the occasion with a gathering to inaugurate our Rachel Corrie Foundation (RCF) Gaza Committee. Rachel was killed in Rafah, Gaza, March 16, 2003, as she engaged in nonviolent direct action to challenge mass demolitions of Palestinian homes by the Israeli military. In the intervening years, our family, our community, and the Rachel Corrie Foundation have connected with Gaza in different ways. We have partnered with others throughout the U.S. and world who have made  those connections, as well.

There have been delegation trips to the Gaza Strip to meet with families Rachel  knew and organizations with which she worked. RCF programs have provided for a Gaza student to study at The Evergreen State College, for a recipient of our Leadership Studies Fellowship to learn and to teach in our community, and for speakers from Gaza to share their stories firsthand in the U.S. The Olympia-Rafah Solidarity  Mural Project in downtown Olympia has for many years been a visible reminder of our relationship, and at this month’s Olympia Arts Walk on April 28th will feature work from Gaza  artists and others who have contributed to creating the mural and making the connections. RCF Gaza projects have supported the grassroots efforts and imagination of Rachel’s Gaza friends and of Gaza youth who continue to find inspiration and hope in her story. The Gaza Sport Initiative, Remedial Education Project for Learning Disabled Children, and artistic and cultural youth performances through the Palestinian Cultural Palace are current efforts that keep the connections strong.

As we in the U.S. deal with our own challenges, and as terrible conflict continues and worsens in other parts of the Middle East and world, at the Rachel Corrie Foundation we feel a strong need to make sure Gaza is remembered. The people there continue to live with enormous hardship, under blockade and siege, with a failed economy, and with ever increasing threats to their health and safety.

Rachel wrote to me in 2003, “I do think that it’s important to recognize all the zillions of small things we can do for change…small revolutionary things.” Remembering her words, I thank those of you who have reached out to us this month with thoughtful messages and taken your own actions in support of the people of Gaza. Thank you, too, for the critical financial support you’ve sent for our RCF Gaza projects and efforts. We look forward to including you in the work of our new Gaza Committee. Our staff identified a fundraising goal of $15,000 for this period in order to support our current projects for youth and families in Gaza. Through your generosity, we are nearly 2/3 the way there! If you haven’t yet donated, and are able to do so, your support for Gaza on Rachel’s birthday will mean a great deal to all of us and to our colleagues in Gaza.

Many thanks,
Cindy Corrie

Rachel Corrie Foundation For Peace and Justice