Testing local coconut oil, a timely step - Toxicologist | Sunday Observer
Medi snips

Testing local coconut oil, a timely step - Toxicologist

29 August, 2021

The Daily News ran a story recently that the Coconut Development Authority (CDA) has started testing local samples of coconut oil in the market to ensure quality standards and that officials have been collecting oil samples from wholesale coconut traders in Grandpass in the past few days to see if they have chemical components noting that unrefined coconut oil could contain components harmful to human health.   The CDA Chairman reportedly said this is the first time that samples refined by local factories and coconut oil produced by local manufacturers are being tested though samples of imported coconut oil are tested in labs by the Sri Lanka Standards Institute, ITI and the CDA.   The Sunday Observer asked Emeritus Professor of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology of the University of Colombo, Ravindra Fernando to tell us what the difference was between refined and unrefined coconut oil.

His reply was, “An unrefined coconut oil is typically labelled “virgin” or “extra-virgin”. For example, virgin coconut oil usually has not been bleached, deodorised, or refined. Virgin oil is typically made from fresh coconuts, but processing techniques will still vary in determining the product’s quality.  

The main difference between refined and unrefined coconut oil is that unrefined oil is always pure and clean and won’t include any unsafe additives, which is the best coconut oil for skin and hair. However, with refined coconut oil, evaluating the level of purity and number of harmful chemicals is essential as it has been recently stated in Parliament that about 40 percent of the unrefined coconut oil imported to the country contains toxic chemicals. He added that crude oil import should be discontinued as well. 

“A chemical called aflatoxin is present in coconut oil before it is refined. It is removed from the oil when refined. However, the stock that was imported contained a large amount of aflatoxin. Even if it were to be refined, the percentage of the chemical was too high for it to be completely removed from the stock,” he said. 

Asked to give us a better picture of what these chemicals were and how they originated he said, “Refined coconut oil undergoes some additional processing to make it better suited for cooking. It begins with pressing crude coconut oil from copra. At this step, the process may be similar to that of the dry extraction of unrefined coconut oil. Next, one or more of the following steps may occur, depending on the manufacturing process. They are degumming, neutralising, bleaching and deodorising. Finally, the oil is heat-deodorised to remove any remaining coconut scent or taste.” 

 Since coconut oil is traditionally one of the most popular ingredients in every Lankan household, Medi snips, inquired what adverse effects they could have on human health when ingested in food using this oil.

He said, “Coconut oil might affect risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. Researchers found that low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (but also high-density lipoprotein (HDL) (“good cholesterol”) concentrations were elevated compared with non-tropical vegetable oils. They said that “Coconut oil should not be viewed as healthy oil for cardiovascular disease risk reduction and limiting coconut oil consumption because of its high saturated fat content is warranted.”  The organs likely to be most affected is the cardio-vascular system, he added.   Asked who were most at risk of being affected, his reply was, “People with coronary heart disease.” 

 CDA sources have also been quoted as warning customers not to buy coconut oil which did not carry CDA certification in future and that that only coconut oil that complies with the quality standards will be given CDA certification. Asked if he considered this to be a timely step, Prof. Fernando said, “Yes, definitely”. 

Commenting on the offer by the CDA to provide technical aid to local manufacturers who failed to comply to the standards, so that they could improve their quality, he said, “Yes, that is a good step.”

Child pornography leaves lasting scars 

 As child pornography continues to be carried out with impunity despite repeated warnings by the Police and  many readers still don’t understand what exactly it means,  The Sunday Observer asked Senior Lecturer, Department of Psychiatry, University of Sri Jayewardenpura and Consultant  Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Colombo South Teaching Hospital, D Yasodha Rohanachandra to define child pornography.

She said it involved, “ Any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor, such as photographs, digital photographs, videos, comics, cartoons or even drawings are considered as child pornography.” Reports of a  sudden surge in  on line child pornography in Sri Lanka with  over  17,000 video clips and photographs related to the subject said to have been uploaded to the internet from Sri Lanka between June, July this year according to Police reports, we asked her what  was  the root cause for this disturbing new trend.

She said, “The Internet is a popular choice to access pornography due to the low cost and anonymity of the users. In addition, wide availability of mobile phones with cameras and facilities to upload images to the web instantly, have made it easier for offenders to collect and distribute pornographic material.”

When asked if the special police unit, the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children established last month to monitor the pornographic video clips and photos related to children, and that Police also now monitor the internet constantly for pornographic content related to children, fills a long felt vacuum in protecting children, her reply was, “Yes, it is definitely a step in the right direction. This will enable early identification of perpetrators, which will minimise the harm these offenders can cause.”

Asked about the psychological impacts on young girls whose parents willingly sell their children on line for sexual exploitation, she said, “The psychological effects can range from low self-esteem, difficulty in trusting others, problems with intimate relationships and sexual dysfunctions. It can also result in a range of psychiatric disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, eating disorders and personality disorders.” Will they leave lasting scars? We asked. To which she said, “” Yes. Majority of these children need long term psychological interventions and support to overcome these psychological effects. ”

Asked if education authorities should consider introducing reproductive health in into the school curricula on how children should protect themselves from those who seek to molest them, by informing them of what to do and not to do in the presence of strangers, she said, “Integrating education in reproductive health into the school curriculum is an absolute necessity. A recent survey carried out among 14-19 years olds in Sri Lanka revealed that 31 percent of them were aware what sexual abuse meant and only 3.7 percent knew what was considered as sexual harassment. This lack of knowledge delays identification and reporting of sexual abuse.” 

In her final message to the public, she emphasised the role of the parents in protecting children from on line pornography. “Parents need to be aware of the risk of abuse by known and trusted people and should maintain open communication with their children so that children can come to them in case of such abuse,” she said.