No evidence coconut water causes infant abnormalities: experts

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Misleading Thai-language Facebook posts have sought to dissuade pregnant women from drinking coconut water, baselessly claiming it contains high amounts of "female hormones" that will cause the infant's genitalia to develop abnormally. Medical experts told AFP the claim has no scientific basis, explaining that an estrogen-like compound found in coconut water has not been found to cause genital abnormalities.

The misleading claim was shared on Facebook on November 16 by a user who describes herself on her page as a nurse.

The Thai-language post translates to English as: "Doctors' warning! Pregnant women should not drink too much coconut water.

"It will reduce the size of a boy's genitals but increase that of a girl's. This is due to a high intake of female hormones."

Screenshot of the false claim, captured on November 20, 2022

The same claim was also shared on Facebook here, here and here.

Comments on these posts suggested some people believed the claim, while others appeared confused by it.

One wrote: "This is true. I gave birth at the same time as another mother. Her daughter has bigger genitalia than my daughter because the mother drank coconut water regularly."

"This is so true! I see it in my three children: with the first, I drank little, with the second and third a lot. I could feel that this is true," said another.

Multiple health experts, however, said the claim is misleading.

No scientific basis

"There is no scientific evidence showing a negative impact of consuming coconut water during pregnancy," Annette Creedon from the British Nutrition Foundation told AFP on November 24.

Food scientist Kantha Shelke, a senior lecturer at Johns Hopkins University, told AFP coconut water contains phytoestrogen, a compound found in plants that is similar to the female hormone estrogen.

But phytoestrogens in coconut water have not been found to cause abnormalities in the genitalia, Creedon and Shelke separately said.

"There is no documented science-based evidence of phytoestrogens in coconut water reducing or enhancing the size of genitalia," Shelke told AFP on November 22.

Creedon separately said: "A woman's hormone levels of estrogen are naturally high during pregnancy. Therefore, the small amount of phytoestrogens in coconut water is insignificant in comparison."

Chantarat Suratanakavikul, a medical doctor at Thailand's Samitivej hospital, told AFP on November 24 it is safe for pregnant women to drink coconut water in moderation.

AFP has previously debunked other misleading health claims circulating in Thailand here, here and here.