The Philippines has hosted many international-grade medical congresses in the past, treating delegates from all corners of the globe, not only to world-class scientific presentations, but with fond memories of their local experiences.
The country has again this honor as it hosts the 11th Congress of the Asian Pacific Society of Atherosclerosis and Vascular Disease (APSAVD), to be held in Iloilo City Feb. 27-March 1.
Dr. Eugenio Jose F. Ramos, president of the Philippine Lipid and Atherosclerosis Society (PLAS) which is hosting the congress, is optimistic that it will be another big success. The organizing committee is expecting 1,500 foreign and local delegates.
Clinically relevant and timely issues will be discussed in six plenary lectures, 15 symposia, and nine industry-sponsored satellite symposia, with an impressive faculty of 21 foreign and 25 local speakers.
Atherosclerosis, which is the progressive narrowing of the big and small arteries of the body, is not a disease entity by itself. It is the common pathologic mechanism causing various disease processes leading to stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, leg gangrene, nonhealing ulcers or wounds, aneurysms, complicated high blood pressure, diabetes, and many more disorders which can cut short one’s life.
Hence, scientists and clinical investigators continue to research on it, to understand it better, and find ways and means to prevent it and its deadly complications.
The role of VCO
One interesting topic in the congress which a lot of delegates are looking forward to is the role of coconut oil, specifically virgin coconut oil (VCO), in atherosclerosis.
Dr. Fabian Dayrit, who has inherited the passion of his late father, Dr. Conrado Dayrit, in thoroughly investigating the benefits and side effects of VCO, will be dissecting the saturated fat controversy involving coconut oil.
All oils are composed of fatty acids which may come in different types—saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Saturated fats are notorious for clogging the arteries (atherosclerosis), and some scientists believe that since coconut oil is also composed of saturated fats, it may promote more atherosclerosis and a higher risk of all its complications including heart attack and stroke.
The fallacies of the so-called Lipid-Heart Theory implicating the type of fats found in coconut oil, were a favorite topic for lectures of Dr. C. Dayrit when he was alive. I recall he talked about it passionately in one of the annual conventions of the Philippine Heart Association (PHA), and I was able to dig up from my files the transcript of that talk.
According to Dr. Dayrit, coconut oil cannot be atherogenic, i.e. promoting clogging of the arteries, because it consists predominantly (65 percent) of medium chain fatty acids
(MCFA), which are generally metabolized rapidly in the liver to energy and do not participate in the formation of cholesterol.
Of the fats that make up coconut oil, almost half have been shown to be composed of lauric acid, which is a potent health-enhancing fatty acid. Various studies have also demonstrated lauric acid’s antimicrobial and antiviral properties, and it helps boost the immune system.
It is a component in human breast milk, which is known to provide immunological benefits to babies to increase their resistance to infections and other diseases.
The benefits of VCO in HIV/Aids patients are now well documented, and continue to be the subject of local researches.
In his talk at the PHA convention in 2003, Dr. Dayrit also cited studies showing that coconut oil tends to increase the good type of cholesterol known as HDL (high-density lipoprotein), and reduces the bad type of cholesterol or LDL (low-density lipoprotein). A high HDL with a low LDL level is healthy and helps prevent atherosclerosis.
Dr. Dayrit further said that coconut oil is not deposited in fatty tissues and, therefore, does not contribute to obesity.
“It is primarily an energy supplier and as fast a supplier of energy as sugar,” he explained in his talk. “MCFAs therefore differ in their metabolism from all the long chain fatty acids, whether saturated or unsaturated.”
Indeed, Dr. Dayrit was right in arguing that atherosclerosis should no longer be looked at as simply the deposition of fats on the arteries. Way back then, he was already talking about inflammatory factors—referring to a slow swelling process in the arteries—caused by inflammatory hormones secreted by the body itself. It’s only in the last 10 years that the elaborate mechanisms causing this swelling or inflammation of the arteries are better understood.
Dr. Dayrit, and his equally prominent children—Fabian, called Toby by friends, and Manolet, who is a former health secretary—share the conviction that scientists and doctors are barking up the wrong tree if they believe coconut oil is a major culprit in atherosclerosis.
Toby himself is a respected researcher and an academician of the National Academy of Science and Technology since 2009, and a full professor at the Department of Chemistry of Ateneo de Manila University, where he was dean of the School of Science and Engineering.
In a book on the coconut oil controversy he authored, he debunks coconut oil myths and cites evidence-based benefits in the treatment of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and weight loss.
He and his brother, former health secretary Manolet, believe that the country can save millions of pesos on healthcare cost if the use of coconut oil, including VCO, is popularly practiced. It may even be considered a low-cost alternative to antibiotics, therapies, or treatments.
Other proponents of coconut oil ask how anyone can doubt its health benefits when one looks at the health and longevity of tropical populations that have been consuming large quantities of coconut oil for centuries.
Although avoiding food sources that are fatty and oily still make good advice, it’s unfortunate that coconut oil has been unfairly caught up in this “avoid-all-fats” campaign.
In his book, Toby debunks the prevailing misconception in the United States that coconut oil could lead to a higher incidence of heart diseases. He also details how coconut oil was blocked from the US, and how it is continuously being blocked because they’re trying to protect their own products like corn oil.
Coconut oil mostly comes from tropical countries like the Philippines.
“The fight is not over yet. This is an unfinished agenda,” says Manolet of the coconut oil controversy in one of his previous e-mails to me. Manolet is currently dean of the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health (ASMPH).
He urges local researchers to continue developing the science for VCO, and do clinical trials on its efficacy in promoting health, and in the treatment of many diseases including Alzheimer’s.
“As this is an unfinished agenda of this generation, we need to influence the young consumers as well as young professionals,” says the former health secretary.
For those interested to get updates on the coconut oil controversy and many more clinically relevant topics on atherosclerosis, you might consider joining the APSAVD congress in Iloilo.