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Dr. Conrado S. Dayrit and tree of life

By Queena Lee-Chua
First Posted 22:58:00 07/21/2006

Filed Under: Health

Published on page B3 of the July 22, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

I HAD HEARD about Dr. Conrado Dayrit before we met. My father William, UP Medicine Class of 1960, spoke fondly of his former professor, the tireless scientist, researcher and doctor. So when I invited him and his genteel wife Mila to dinner a few years back, mainly to renew ties with my father, I was not surprised when the discussion started with students and classmates. But I did not realize that one of my health myths would be shattered: contrary to what my diet books said, coconut oil was not only not harmful, but it was actually beneficial to us.

With passion the gentle doctor related a sad tale. Up till the end of the Second World War, coconut oil was widely used throughout the world, and the tree of life was a major export crop for our country. But in the mid-1980s, the emerging soybean industry in the US lobbied against tropical oils, warning against the alleged dangers of coconut?s highly saturated -- compared to soybean?s unsaturated -- fat content. The campaign became so effective that coconut oil was soon shunned -- even in the Philippines.

Health benefits of coconut

Our coconut industry deteriorated, with land increasingly converted into industrial and commercial areas. To make matters worse, the accusations levied against coconut oil were simply not true. In 1960 Dr. Dayrit had already penned an editorial for the Journal of the Philippine Medical Association on the health benefits of coconut. In the next decades, here and abroad Dr. Dayrit reiterated that far from causing heart disease, coconut oil may even prevent it, and many other illnesses, besides.

How? The fat in coconut is lauric acid, not cholesterol, and it can kill viruses, bacteria and fungi, such as those causing herpes, ulcers and ringworm. Similar to the substance found in mother?s milk that protects infants from illness, lauric acid can strengthen our immune system, and even combat AIDS. In 2000, Dr. Dayrit led a Department of Health study to establish the anti-HIV effects of coconut oil in 15 AIDS patients in San Lazaro Hospital, Manila. Within six months, most of the patients showed a reduced viral count, with no serious side effects. Perhaps coconut oil may also fight SARS and bird flu.

After grade school, high school and college at the Ateneo de Manila, Dr. Dayrit graduated from the University of the Philippines in 1943 and went for further training in clinical pharmacology in the United States. Upon his return here, Dr. Dayrit became one of the founders of the Philippine Heart Association (PHA), in fact, he is now the only one alive (a tribute, shall we say, to coconut oil). In 1953, he was part of the team who performed the first open heart surgery at the Philippine General Hospital. In 1955, for his work on digitalis for heart patients, the Sunday Times Magazine deemed him ?Most Outstanding Young Man in Science,? the forerunner of today?s The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM). Dr. Dayrit joined an all-Filipino drug company, United Laboratories, where he established a research arm. Throughout his career, he has tried his best to produce low-cost medicines for the poor.

A light in this world

Like the best scientific minds, Dr. Dayrit made contributions to several disciplines: nutrition, tuberculosis control, hormones, analgesics, antiinflammatories, anticancer drugs. He wrote popular science books and journal articles, and received many awards for research, teaching and lifetime achievement. Today Dr. Dayrit is an Academician of the National Academy of Science and Technology, professor emeritus at the UP College of Medicine, medical director of the Victor R. Potenciano Medical Center, president of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Colleges, emeritus editor in chief of the Philippine Journal of Internal Medicine, board member of the Philippine Institute for Pure and Applied Chemistry in the Ateneo.

Dr. Dayrit is justly proud of his eight children and more than 20 grandchildren -- all achievers in their own right. His children, all professionals, include a former health secretary, a pulmonologist, an exporter, bankers, educators and the current Ateneo Dean of the School of Science and Engineering.

I have seen Dr. Dayrit work his magic on children firsthand. After dinner, he and his wife invited us to their home, where he serenaded us with the violin. My son, then three years old, sat enraptured, a beatific smile on his face.

On Tuesday, the Ateneo de Manila University will bestow the Lux in Domino Award to Dr. Dayrit, who through his words and actions, embodies wisdom, courage and integrity. Truly, he is a light in our world.

E-mail the author at blessbook@yahoo.com.

Previous columns:
Our new academicians ? 7/15/06
?In love with Science? ? 7/08/06
Of cloaking and laptops ? 7/01/06
Now read, not just watch, Discovery Channel ? 6/24/06
Solving a math problem ? 6/17/06
Straight talk on calories ? 6/10/06
Eating well despite bird flu ? 6/03/06

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