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Coconut Oil And Kidney Disease: A Healthy Choice?

Updated: 11/22/23

In recent years, coconut oil has emerged as a popular fat and touted as a health food in the media. However, its true impact on health, particularly for people with kidney disease, have sparked debate even among healthcare professionals.

As the interest in natural and alternative therapies continues to grow, understanding the impact of coconut oil on kidney health is important.

This blog takes a look at why fat in your diet is important, the downsides of coconut oil, some potential benefits and if it’s a healthy choice if you have kidney disease.

The Benefits Of Fat

Before we dive into coconut oil, let’s first talk about the benefits of healthy fats in our diet.

Yes, we actually need fat in our diet! Here are a few reasons why:

  • Fat is one of the three main macronutrients (in addition to carbohydrates and protein)
  • Supplies Essential Fatty Acids which support the basic functions of our body (we cannot make EFAs on our own)
  • Regulates hormones
  • Helps build cell membranes, support cell growth
  • Promotes proper nerve functioning
  • Helps our body absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K)
  • Protects our vital organs
  • Nourishes our skin, hair, and nails

So, yes, fat is an important part of our diet. The key is choosing from a variety of healthier sources and not eating too much of it.

If you are on dialysis or have chronic kidney disease (CKD) you are at a higher risk for developing heart disease. Eating too much of the wrong kinds of fat can increase your bad cholesterol, cause inflammation in the body and raise your risk for stroke, heart attack, and diabetes.

This makes it important for you to know which types of fats are the most beneficial for good kidney health.

Coconut Oil: The Controversy

Picture of extra virgin coconut oil in a jar on the kitchen counter with a wok.

You have probably heard about the harmful effects of trans fats and saturated fats on heart health and inflammation. But, you may not know what food sources you usually find these fats in.

We mostly get trans fat from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. These oils are manufactured to use in food products to provide a longer shelf life and enhance taste and texture.

You find partially hydrogenated oils used in a variety of food products such as:

  • Baked goods (cookies, cakes, biscuits, rolls, pie crusts)
  • Fried foods (doughnuts, fried chicken, french fries, fried noodles)
  • Non-dairy creamer (Coffee mate)
  • Microwave popcorn, crackers, chips
  • Frozen pizza
  • Shortening

The FDA has actually banned the use of trans fats. However, you may still see partially hydrogenated oil on the ingredient list because manufacturers are still allowed to use trace amounts (up to 0.5g per serving).

Saturated fat is mainly found in animal sources like butter, red meat, whole milk, whole milk dairy products, cheese, and lard. You can also find it in tropical oils like palm oil, palm kernel oil, commercially prepared baked goods that use these oils, and, yes,……coconut oil.

In fact, coconut oil is about 90% saturated fat which is higher than butter (~64% saturated fat). For that reason, coconut oil is often considered an unhealthy oil by many health professionals. I know I personally had an issue using it for the longest time until a few years ago.

So, should you avoid coconut oil because it is high in saturated fat? Well, it appears that not all saturated fat is created equal. Some studies have found that the different fatty acid profiles of coconut oil (virgin unrefined) may even prove to be beneficial.

What Is Different About Coconut Oil?

For starters – and this is just me thinking out loud – coconut oil is from a plant source. I find it easier to understand that the saturated fat from a plant could potentially offer different qualities than the saturated fat coming from an animal source. Speaking of qualities, lets take a look at the chemical make-up of coconut oil and some possible benefits.

Lauric Acid and MCTs

Coconut oil consists of a variety of different fatty acids. About 50% of the fatty acid profile of coconut oil consists of lauric acid making it unique in comparison to other oils.

Lauric acid acts more like a medium chain saturated fatty acid which makes up what we call medium chain triglycerides or MCTs. The length of fatty acid chain refers to how many carbon atoms are attached.

picture of the fatty acid chemical structure of coconut oil.

Most of the fat that you consume in your diet comes from long chain fatty acids. Your body metabolizes long chain and medium chain fatty acids differently.

Unlike long chain fatty acids, your body rapidly metabolizes MCTs, sending them straight to the liver to be used as an instant energy source. This means they are less likely to be stored in your fat (adipose) tissue (1).

Coconut Oil And Cholesterol

While lauric acid has been shown to raise blood cholesterol, it mostly raises the “good” HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein). HDLs carry cholesterol back to the liver where it is flushed from the body.

High levels of HDLs and a decrease in total cholesterol to HDL ratio are associated with lower risk of coronary heart disease (2).

One randomized clinical trial looked at 91 men and women over a period of 4 weeks. They were randomized into groups consuming 50g daily of either extra virgin coconut oil, unsalted butter, or extra virgin olive oil.

They then measured changes in their blood lipid profile. The two main sources of saturated fat, butter and coconut oil, had different effects on blood cholesterol levels.

Coconut oil had a more similar affect to olive oil (a monounsaturated fat), showing no increase in LDL “bad” cholesterol but had a significant increase in HDLs. LDLs were significantly increased in the butter group along with an increase in total cholesterol to HDL ratio (3).

Note that this study used extra virgin coconut oil not refined.

Coconut Oil And The Brain?

Picture of a paper head laying flat on a table with a missing puzzle piece.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive brain disease and the most common form of dementia.

The brain’s ability to use glucose for energy is altered in people with AD. Coconut oil’s unique fatty acid profile is a good source of medium chain fatty acids or MCTs.

During the metabolism of MCTs, ketones are produced (alternate fuel made in the liver). It is thought that this alternative fuel source could be beneficial for someone with AD who’s brain is lacking glucose, helping to alleviate symptoms (4).

We are also finding that diet and lifestyle choices may play an important role in preventing and treating AD (5, 6). This is promising as there is currently no effective treatment for AD. I’m looking forward to seeing further studies on this!

Anti-Microbial Benefits Of Coconut Oil

As mentioned previously, a large percentage of coconut oil is made up of lauric acid which forms a chemical called monolaurin.

Lauric acid and especially monolaurin are known to have anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial properties. This could prove to be immune boosting (7, 8).

Ketones and Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD)

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a genetic disease causing growth of fluid filled cysts inside your kidneys. These cysts can grow very large causing high blood pressure and kidney failure over time.

These cysts can also be painful, often causing side or back pain. Animal studies have shown that producing a state of ketosis can help inhibit the growth of these cysts, delaying disease progression (9).

Ketosis is a metabolic state that happens when your body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates to burn for energy. Your body then turns to fat instead of glucose for fuel and produces ketones (made by your liver).

Since coconut oil is a good source of MCTs, this can potentially provide a more quick source of fuel. If you have PKD, adding coconut oil to your diet along with a low carbohydrate intake can help you achieve ketosis, potentially inhibiting the growth of your cysts.

The RESET-PKD pilot trial was not able to show short-term effects in humans (12). However, there’s currently a 24 month randomized study evaluating the effects of this dietary approach to treatment of PKD (10). It will be interesting to see the results!

Picture of coconut oil and coconuts. Coconut Oil And Kidney Disease: A Healthy Choice?

Coconut Oil And Kidney Disease: A Healthy Choice?

So, is coconut oil a healthy choice for dialysis patients and people with chronic kidney disease?

I would say it can be when used in limited amounts while including a variety of other mostly unsaturated fat sources.

Unsaturated fat sources include: most vegetable and nut and seed oils in addition to small amounts of unsalted nuts, seeds, nut butters and low sodium olives.

What To Look For

If you decide to use coconut oil it’s important to look for virgin unrefined cold pressed coconut oil. This unrefined form does not involve high temperatures or added chemicals.

Avoid refined, processed forms of coconut oil which does not have the same antioxidant health properties. Unrefined coconut oil has been shown to have a more negative impact on your LDL cholesterol levels.

Note that most prepackaged foods that use coconut oil use refined coconut oil. I would limit or avoid foods with coconut oil in the ingredients list unless it specifically states unrefined.

Storage And Cooking

Ideally, it is best to store coconut oil in a dark, cool place and somewhere where the temperature doesn’t often change (like above the stove). Make sure the lid is on tightly to avoid oxygen exposure. It is normal for the consistency to go from a white solid to a clear liquid depending on the temperature of the room.

Despite Coconut oil’s lower smoke point (350 °F), it has been found to be able to withstand high temperatures without breaking down. This makes it a stable oil to use in all different types of cooking (11). Common uses are sautéing, stir-frying, baking, and added to smoothies. You can also substitute coconut oil for butter in recipes.

How Much Coconut Oil A Day?

It is generally thought that 1-2 Tablespoons (15-30 ml) a day is enough to bring you benefit without overdoing it. This gives you room to incorporate other healthy oils into your diet such as extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil.

Best Oils Guide

For more information on healthy oil options check out my Best Oils Guide located under the Resources and Helpful Lists tab.

Here’s to adding better healthy fat options to your diet!

6 thoughts on “Coconut Oil And Kidney Disease: A Healthy Choice?”

  1. My husband has been diagnosed with stage 3 cdk. We have had a healthy life style I many years. The literature on the net is confusing about what to eat and not to eat to prevent degeneration of the kidneys. This has led to a limitation in our choices of grains and vegetables. We’re used to eating varieties of vegetables and whole grains. What can we do to avoid problems with evacuation of the bowels?

    1. He can still eat whole grains and vegetables! Including enough fiber in his diet is very beneficial for not only avoiding constipation but improving gut health and inflammation. Following a more plant-based diet with limited animal based proteins can be really helpful in avoiding progression of kidney disease. Of course everyone has different needs. You can always send me an email if you have further questions.

  2. I need to know if coconut oil is ok to put on skin for a kidney patient with 28% kidney function. Skin is severely dry and itchy. Extra virgin olive oil has not really helped nor have the 10 or 12 creams I have tried. I thought of using unrefined coconut oil as a carrier oil for lavender oil. I have been living with this for over 2 years. Kidney function has gradually gotten better with a strict diet . I just drink Aquafina water to keep magnesium in check. My kidneys were attacked by my immune system in 2019. I was on dialysis and had chemo but am now off both. Your knowledge and help would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Hi Lorrie. First, congratulations for overcoming both dialysis and chemo. It sounds like you have put a lot of effort into staying healthy, so kudos to you because I’m sure it hasn’t been easy. Coconut oil works great topically for dry skin and as a carrier oil. I would use it on a small test area first to see how your skin responds. Aloe vera gel or fresh aloe is another good option. Eating a plant based diet is also recommended. I hope this helps 🙂

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