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Can Coconut Oil Help Manage Crohn's Disease?

By Linda Tarr Kent ; Updated August 14, 2017

Some believe coconut oil has powerful healing effects that can help people with Crohn’s disease. Nutritionists often recommend adding coconut oil to the diet when a person suffers from a digestive disorder, though concrete scientific evidence that this works still is lacking. The theory is that the oil can reduce the inflammation characteristic of Crohn’s and could even play a role in killing bacteria believed by some to cause the disorder.

Identification

Crohn’s disease is a disorder that affects the digestive tract. It can cause inflammation to any area of the tract, from the mouth all the way to the anus. It affects the ileum most often, which is the lower part of the small intestine. The inflammation can be painful and can cause frequent emptying of the intestines, or diarrhea. Many of the symptoms are similar to those of irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC).

Theories/Speculation

Replacing some of a person’s dietary fat with coconut oil, a medium chain triglyceride, may have a therapeutic effect in people with Crohn's disease, concludes a 2009 study published in the Journal of Nutrition. As reported by lead author J. Mane of Badalona, Spain, the researchers gave one group of mice sunflower oil and another group half sunflower oil and half coconut oil. The mice that received the coconut oil had less intestinal inflammation and fewer digestive distress signs and symptoms. Mane recommends further study of coconut oil for Crohn’s.

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Function

Coconut oil may benefit people with Crohn’s because it has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and healing properties, according to wearecrohns.org. The first two effects can soothe inflammation, which allows healing in the digestive tract. The antimicrobial action aids intestinal health by killing microorganisms that can lead to chronic inflammation.

Benefits

Some researchers theorize Crohn’s is caused by a bacterium called mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis, or MAP. A Journal of Clinical Microbiology article published in July, 2003, found MAP in 92 percent of Crohn's patients who were examined. This compared to 26 percent of people in a control group, according to lead author T.J. Bull of St. George's Hospital Medical School in London. Coconut oil kills the H. pyloris bacterium, which can cause ulcers in humans, so may also be beneficial in combating MAP, theorizes Bruce Fife in his book “The Coconut Oil Miracle.”

Considerations

Companies that sell coconut oil and clinics that advocate it are not allowed to make medical claims that this oil will aid people with Crohn’s. For example, Dr. Joseph Mercola, who has been featured on the "Today Show," CNN, CBS, ABC, Fox News and NBC news channels giving nutrition advice, was notified by the Food and Drug Administration in 2005 that he violated the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act in giving information about coconut oil on his website. The site told viewers that Tropical Traditions Virgin Coconut Oil could “Improve Crohn’s, IBS [irritable bowel syndrome], and other digestive disorders,” according to a letter from the FDA. That claim established the oil as a drug, which is not allowed under the act.

Expert Insight

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America advises that Crohn’s cannot be cured by diet, nor is it caused by what people eat. “Unfortunately, that seems to be too simplistic an approach, which is not supported by clinical and scientific data,” reports the foundation. Foods can, however, have a role in the underlying inflammatory process, the foundation notes. The NDDIC echoes this sentiment, saying that no special diet has proven effective for treating or preventing Crohn’s disease.

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