October to December



Virgin coconut oil’s prime health and commercial potentials

coconutInterest for the virgin coconut oil (VCO) is spreading like flood because of its purported health benefits.  The Philippine scientific community is busy sifting scientific truth on VCO’s health-enhancing claims.  Extra caution is being recommended now that new encouraging prospects drive the oil’s popularity. 

A draft standard defines VCO as oil obtained from mature kernel of the coconut through mechanical or natural means, with or without the use of heat, without undergoing chemical refining, bleaching or deodorizing, and which does not lead to the alteration of the nature of the oil.  It should be suitable for consumption without the need for further processing, colorless, and with characteristic coconut flavor and aroma.

VCO contrasts with commercial refined, bleached, and deodorized (RBD) coconut oil from copra, which is yellow in color.  Both are stable to oxidative rancidity or long shelf life and without cholesterol.

The increasing demand for VCO elicited curiosity among small and big entrepreneurs, which renewed vigor in the once near-stale coconut industry.  Coconut farmers now stare at a creamy income-generating option from the “tree of life” after a long slump.

Amid all these, the National Academy of Science and Technology, together with major stakeholders were meeting and setting the path towards developing the future of the celebrated oil.

Scientific view
NAST convened a group of health experts and scientists in a roundtable discussion on the Controversy on Coconut Oil last June 8, 2004 underscoring specific measures because of the urgent need to address issues confronting the Philippine scientific community on coconut oil, particularly VCO. 

NAST formed the National Committee on Coconut Oil Research for Health with eminent rice chemist and National Scientist Bienvenido O. Juliano as chair. Co-coordinators are renowned biochemist and Acd. Solita F. Camara-Besa,  and Dr. Gemiliano D. Aligui, then the executive director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, an agency of the Department of Science and Technology.

The committee’s specific task is to present and coordinate the needed research and development agenda for the coconut oil with focus on health concerns.  Among those involved are the National Institutes of Health-University of the Philippines Manila, Department of Health, Philippine Coconut Authority, Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Product Standards, Department of Trade and Industry’s Bureau of Product Standards, DOST’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute, and PCHRD.  Nutrition and biochemistry experts are also involved including Nutrition Foundation of the Philippines ’ Dr. Rodolfo L. Florentino and UP Diliman’s Dr. Concepcion Lizada.

Healthiest oil
Dr. Conrado S. Dayrit, a former NAST president and prominent VCO expert identified the coconut oil as the best oil in creation after several decades of studies.  Dr. Dayrit’s assertion is backed by American nutritionist Bruce Fife who also said “Coconut oil is the healthiest dietary oil on earth.” 

As a vegetable oil, coconut oil is richest in medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), mainly lauric acid that is common to VCO.  MCT is metabolized differently from long-chain triglycerides and is rapidly hydrolyzed and absorbed in the intestine and transported directly to the liver, where it is metabolized rapidly to energy and ATP or adenosine triphosphate that functions as “energy currency”.  This essentially means that CO generates higher body temperature.  But it is a fat that does not fatten and may in fact help reduce obesity.  VCO provides instant energy and the only fat that induces weight loss.

It is reported that VCO is a good antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, and anti-protozoal agent. It also provides many dermatologic and cosmetic uses, improves digestion, nutrients absorption, and even regular bowel movement.  Anecdotal observations suggest that CO influences the immune system’s signaling and repair process.

Difference in the minor constituents of RBD CO and VCO has not been studied, and so with markers for cold-process and heat-process VCO.  The veracity of health claims for VCO over CO and the effect of heat processing require validation by studies in large number of subjects and undertaken with funds from non-VCO producer sources. 

The Agenda
By setting the path of CO, specifically VCO, several R&D agenda were formulated to date for the various subcommittees and endorsed by the committee.

The subcommittee on basic research chaired by Dr. Lizada was tasked to coordinate the necessary studies on biochemistry composition, shelf life, stability, and toxicology with emphasis on marker(s) for cold and heat processes for VCO, in cooperation with Dean Fabian Dayrit of Ateneo de Manila University.

The standards subcommittee chaired by Dr. Gilbert Layese of BAPS updated the March 2004 draft standard of the ad hoc inter-agency technical working group initiated by DTI’s Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions.  An interim technical committee headed by the PCA met Aug. 9 with Dr. Layese, Dr. Lizada, Dr. Dayrit and Dr. Juliano and prepared a revised draft on Philippine National Standard for Virgin Coconut Oil in Codex Alimentarius format.  PCA cleared and revised the draft through public consultations with the VCO Producers and Traders Association of the Philippines conducted nationwide and to be signed by the DA secretary.

The definition of VCO was finally set.  However, VCO awaits the results of basic research before inclusion in the standards of chemical markers to distinguish VCO from CO, and to distinguish between cold process and heat-process.

The agribusiness subcommittee chaired by PCA’s Carlos Carpio has coordinated with the standards subcommittee in its task.  PCA provided the cold process VCO to be used in all clinical and nutrition studies to insure uniformity.

The clinical research subcommittee chaired by Dr. J. Galvez-Tan of NIH-UPM endorsed the studies of Drs. Jody Dalmacion, Jojo Mantaring, and Issa Alejandria on VCO in preventing infection and augmenting weight gain among infants weighing less than 1.5 kg and comparing early microbiological and clinical cure of patients with pulmonary tuberculosis given supplemental VCO or plain water in the DOH’s Directly Observed Treatment short course clinic.

Dr. Dalmacion said that even with their group’s initiative, they would like to encourage research proposals from others because the objective is toward an “integrated, comprehensive, and collaborative clinical trials on VCO”.  In December 2004, Dr. Aligui planned for a meeting of clinical researchers to plan and undertake validation of therapeutic clinical claims on VCO for which DOST and DOH may allocate P10M.

The epidemiological/public health research subcommittee chaired by Dr. Florentino will prepare a state-of-the-art paper on public health and epidemiological research needs and issues regarding CO and cardiovascular diseases.

The nutritional research subcommittee chaired by FNRI’s Celeste Tanchoco was to undertake randomized controlled trial on the use of VCO-supplemented diet in the nutritional management of some Filipinos with TB, and on the effect of VCO on endurance performance of young Filipino college/university athletes. A policy development study by Dr. Fely Marilyn Lorenzo of NIH plans to document the VCO case.

The advocacy subcommittee chaired by DOH’s Angelina Sebial was to initially focus on the properties of CO since claims on VCO effects still need verification.

A meeting with VCO producers coordinated with PCA and the clinical subcommittee was proposed so that producers may temper, in the meantime, their health claims on VCO.

With these developments, VCO may soon be instrumental in lubricating the struggling coconut industry.  The national committee carefully stressed that vigilance must be observed so that the growing VCO industry would not suffer the sour fate of nata de coco.•

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