By Dr. Mercola
For people suffering from Crohn’s disease, here is one of the most recent — and possibly most dramatic — breakthroughs in its treatment: Good fats can bring about positive changes in your gut bacteria, decreasing the symptoms of this debilitating, long-term condition. One caveat, though, is that the fat must be derived from plants. Scientists say eating a diet containing high amounts of coconut oil and other plant-based fat lowers gut inflammation, which causes damage to your health in a number of ways.
According to Medical News Today, patients with Crohn's disease — which, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK),1 affects half a million people in the U.S. — could decrease their symptoms with one simple tweak in their diet: changing the type of fat they eat. Here’s how it works, as first study author Dr. Alexander Rodriguez-Palacios and his colleagues wrote:
“A high fat diet may lead to specific changes in gut bacteria that could fight harmful inflammation — a major discovery for patients suffering from Crohn's disease, research indicates. Crohn's disease, a type of inflammatory bowel syndrome, causes debilitating intestinal swelling, cramping and diarrhea.”2
‘Remarkable’ Findings, Researchers Say
Scientists used animal models (mice), which were given two different diets. One group was fed “good” fats, such as coconut oil and cocoa butter. The other group was given a “normal” diet. Study authors wrote:
“Mice fed beneficial fatty diets had up to  percent fewer kinds of gut bacteria as those fed a normal diet, collectively resulting in a very different gut microbial composition … Mice fed even low concentrations of coconut oil or cocoa butter also had less severe small intestine inflammation.”3
Interestingly, a portion at the opening of the intestine, called the cecum, is where Crohn’s disease typically causes the most inflammation, and that was an area positively impacted by coconut oil on the subjects in the study. The decrease in intestinal inflammation caused by consuming healthy fats was just as dramatic even when the fats were eaten in small amounts.
One of the most significant points the scientists discussed from their research was in regard to the way good fats impacted the composition of gut microbes. Rodriguez-Palacios noted that all (human) patients need to do to glean similar effects in their bodies is to “replace a 'bad' fat with a 'good' fat, and eat normal amounts.”
Gut Bacteria Changes When Coconut Oil Is Introduced
The featured study, conducted at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, was one of the first to identify specific changes in gut bacteria as impacted by Crohn’s disease, and the first to show that the type of fats people eat directly influences the diversity of their gut bacteria, and that, in turn, modulates the severity and even presence of the disease.
Rodriguez-Palacios said he believes the findings could help doctors identify beneficial bacteria that could treat patients with ongoing inflammatory bowel disorders and said the next move will be to identify which components in said good and bad fats make the difference in gut microbes — and use the good ones in anti-inflammatory probiotics testing. In addition, one of their findings was that consuming different types of fats may not have the same effects in everyone. He noted:
“Mice (studies) indicate that each person could respond differently. But diet is something we are very hopeful could help at least some patients without the side-effects and risks carried by drugs. The trick now is to really discover what makes a fat 'good' or 'bad' for Crohn's disease."4
Besides the coconut oil and cocoa butter used in the study as good fats, scientists also used other delicious sources of good fats such as avocados, nuts (particularly macadamias, pecans and walnuts), salmon (and note that wild-caught Alaskan salmon is the healthiest variety) and extra-virgin olive oil.
Crohn’s Disease: Symptoms and Who’s at Risk
Onset of Crohn’s disease is most common among adults in their 20s. Symptoms include intestinal swelling, cramping, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, weight loss and anemia. Express, a U.K. publication, notes that ulcerative colitis is another way bowel inflammation causes damage and can mimic Crohn’s symptoms.5 The study synopsis adds something that could spark an interesting debate, which has to do with the cause of Crohn’s disease.
Many scientists say it’s anybody’s guess what causes it and insist there’s currently no cure; however, they’re also quick to mention that certain medications may ease symptoms. Besides colitis and related problems, some of the most serious symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:
✓ Swollen, painful skin on areas of your body
✓ Abdominal pain
✓ Blood or mucus in your bowel movements
✓ Fever or high temperature
✓ Sore, red eyes
✓ Unintended weight loss
✓ Mouth ulcers
Recent News Claims Coconut Oil Is ‘Dangerous’
Although many studies have emerged in recent years refuting claims that saturated fat is bad for you and that you should limit or completely eliminate your intake, entities like the American Heart Association (AHA) and American Stroke Association continue to throw beneficial animal fats such as whole-fat dairy products into the same vat as trans fats.6
Another AHA site places vegetable oils like canola, corn and soybean oil in the same group as olive oil, calling them “better for you” cooking oils. As it happens, there are a lot of crucial differences you should be aware of, from trans fats to cooking temperatures to the presence of such ingredients as highly inflammatory aldehydes, which may be implicated in Alzheimer’s and heart disease.
While the site encourages you to make your own salad dressings rather than settle for store-bought selections, which are often laced with rancid vegetable oils, added sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, no differences are noted in the balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids or the way these oils the are affected by high heat — or how they affect your arteries.
As usual, a little truth is mixed in with a lot of misinformation. Recent reports have been heralding things like, “Coconut oil has more ‘bad’ fat than beef and butter,” or titled “Stop eating coconut oil! It’s only good as a moisturizer, study says.” One quote declares, “According to the (AHA), coconut oil is not as healthy as everyone has been hyping it up to be. As a matter of fact, it isn't even healthy.”7 But author and nutrition authority David Wolfe says:
“The benefits of coconut oil for thyroid problems come from its unique medium-chain fatty acid. Lauric acid, a type of medium-chain triglyceride found in coconut oil, has excellent anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Capric acid has potent antimicrobial and antiviral properties, and caprylic acid boasts a number of health benefits, thanks to its anti-fungal and antibacterial properties.”8
Leptin, Lectin and the Link to Autoimmune Diseases
If you’re overweight and still crave food, especially junk food and sugars, these are indications that you may have a leptin issue. Your body is designed to naturally regulate how much you eat and the energy you burn. Part of how this occurs is through the release of the hormones ghrelin and leptin.
When you eat a sugar dessert, for instance, your body increases production of leptin, which regulates your appetite and fat storage. Ghrelin, on the other hand, is known as the "hunger hormone" because people given the hormone in a study on grehlin became so ravenous, they ate markedly more than their usual food intake. And, according to a study in the journal Nutrients, an imbalance of omega-6 fatty acids increases leptin and insulin resistance:
"The scientific evidence to balance the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is robust and necessary for normal growth and development, prevention and treatment of obesity and its comorbidities including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.9
The study concluded that the balancing act can be put in place if more studies explore how nutrients are metabolized and how genes function. Lectins, on the other hand, bind to carbohydrates and attach to cells that allow them to do harm. Just like sugar, many lectins are proinflammatory, immunotoxic, neurotoxic and cytotoxic. Certain lectins may also increase blood viscosity, interfere with gene expression and disrupt endocrine function.
Among the most problematic lectin-containing foods are wheat and other seeds of the grass family, beans, soy and other legumes, peanuts, and members of the nightshade family such as eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. There is some confusion about the difference between leptin and lectins — lectins may promote leptin resistance. Naturopathic doctor Jon Dunn notes:
“Lectins are carbohydrates that plants make to protect themselves from insects and diseases. Some plants have high levels of lectins including all legumes, dried beans, soy, peanuts and the nightshade family: potato (especially genetically modified potatoes), tomato, eggplant and peppers. The other major source of dietary lectins comes from cereal grains: wheat, rye, barley, wheat germ, quinoa, rice, oats, millet and corn.”10
Describing leptin, Dunn continues:
“Leptin is a weight regulating and appetite control hormone produced in fat. Under normal conditions, when fat cells fill up, they begin to secrete leptin. Carried in the blood stream, leptin works its way deep into the brain and stimulates the hypothalamus. A leptin stimulated hypothalamus releases hormones that speed up metabolism, burn excess fat, provide satiety and maintain healthy weight.”
Persistently elevated leptin levels adversely affect insulin levels, as well as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and obesity, while decreasing fertility and hastening aging.
Dr. Steven Gundry, who just completed a human study on lectins, also talks about the hidden dangers of lectins, and advocates a lectin-avoidance diet. His book, “The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in ‘Healthy’Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain,” describes examples of patients whose Crohn’s simply disappeared, then recurred when they introduced lectins back into their diet.
Interestingly, Gundry is not a fan of coconut oil in the initial stages, and in fact suggests that people with the beginnings of Crohn’s get off it, because lauric acid specifically piggy-backs the lipopolysaccharides and facilitates their transport into the bloodstream. He likes MCT oil better.
However, I believe it would be a mistake to assume all lectins are bad for you. For example, coconut oil is loaded with MCTs that are easily metabolized because MCTs do not require special enzymes and they can be utilized more effectively by your body, thus putting less strain on your digestive system.
They bypass the bile and fat storage process and go directly to your liver, where they are converted into ketones, which are quickly released into the bloodstream and used as fuel — which may explain why our featured article shows that people with Crohn’s disease may ultimately benefit from coconut oil.