Coconut oil has recently gained popularity in several popular diets such as the Keto diet and the Paleo diet.
This trend has been fueled by celebrity endorsements which claim that coconut oil helps reduce belly fat, strengthen the immune system, curb appetite, avert dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, prevent heart disease, and work as an antimicrobial agent.
Coconut oil has now become a sought after choice of healthy fat because of its rich flavor, mild coconut aroma and the highest percentage of Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) in natural oil.
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What Is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is an oil that is extracted from the mature coconut’s kernel which is harvested from the coconut palm. There are two main types of coconut oil which are the copra oil and the virgin coconut oil. They both have a similar fatty acid profile, but the virgin coconut oil has a higher amount of certain nutrients like Vitamin E and polyphenols.
Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) which are mainly Caprylic acid, Lauric acid, and Capric acid. It has 42 percent lauric acid, 7 percent caprylic acid and 5 percent capric acid. Approximately 60 percent of coconut oil contains these three fatty acids and about 90 percent of coconut oil fat consists of saturated fats which are heart-healthy.
History asserts that coconut was cultivated in India along the coast of Malabar even before the birth of Christ. Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua Guinea were very much into coconut cultivation. People living in these areas started using coconut oil as a natural sunscreen, moisturizer, and oil to combat skin diseases like eczema.
Gradually, studies started showing the health benefits of this oil to suppress hunger, to aid in digestion and help to cure fatty liver. Researchers started working more and found the vast opportunities that coconut oil had on health.
The 12 Proven Benefits Of Coconut Oil
The partially hydrogenated coconut oil or the processed coconut oil that contains too much trans fat is not beneficial health-wise. The ‘virgin coconut oil’ that comes from the fruit component of coconut and is extracted without the use of the chemical is the one that is recommended.
Coconut Oil May Increase Good Cholesterol
Cholesterol in our body is of two types. The good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is the good cholesterol because it helps remove other types of cholesterol from the bloodstream, which are not good for our body. HDL is associated with a lower level of heart disease. It takes up the bad cholesterol from the bloodstream and carries it to the liver where it is broken down and removed from the body.
In a study in 2017, which was done on 35 healthy Thai volunteers, 15 ml of Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) was given twice daily for 8 weeks. It was seen that the daily VCO intake significantly increased HDL cholesterol compared to the control group. However, there was no change in total cholesterol or bad cholesterol reported.
But one small study in 2016 observed that regular intake of coconut oil did increase the total cholesterol as well as the bad cholesterol to a greater extent in comparison to the vegetable oils.
So far, the results remain inconclusive and more studies are needed to be done.
Summary: Consumption of coconut oil is linked to an increase in HDL level, which is the good cholesterol in the body. It enhances the metabolic rate of the body. But more studies need to be done to show its impact on the total cholesterol which may increase with its consumption.
Coconut Oil Helps Control Blood Sugar
Extra virgin coconut oil can reduce hypoglycaemic attacks as per studies. It can also reduce hunger pangs and cravings for snacking between meals. This contributes to stabilizing the glycaemic index.
Diabetic people have problems with fats, as their pancreas does not produce enough fat-digesting enzymes. Their liver and gall bladder also supplies less amount of bile salts. This results in difficulty in digesting fats, resulting in hard stool and constipation.
The addition of virgin coconut oil in the diabetic diet solves this issue as coconut oil contains 60 percent of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) that hardly burdens the pancreas, liver and the gallbladder. Coconut oil contributes to a better insulin function and reduces protein in the urine of the diabetic.
Takeuchi et al. demonstrated that rats that feed on MCT had less body fat accumulation and a much better glucose tolerance than the rats who were fed LCT (Long Chain Triglycerides).
Turner et al. demonstrated that medium-chain fatty acids reduce adiposity and preserve insulin action in muscle and adipose. Since virgin coconut oil contains MCT, all these positive effects on the body by MCT are true to coconut oil consumption too.
Summary: Virgin coconut oil has the highest amount of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) that impart a better glucose tolerance and improved insulin function. This results in better control of blood glucose.
Coconut Oil May Reduce Stress
Living in modern society often is fraught with its stressful social conditions. Stress is a feedback survival response. Extreme stress may lead to depression, hypertension, immunosuppression, and endocrine disorders.
Virgin coconut oil is rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) and lauric acid. In 2015 a study was conducted on the effects of virgin coconut oil on exercise-induced and chronic cold restraint stress.
Virgin coconut oil appeared to reduce stress giving the researchers a reason to believe that it could be effective in the treatment of depression.
Summary: Coconut oil appears to reduce exercise-induced and chronic cold restraint stress.
Coconut Oil May Have An Antimicrobial Effect
The medium-chain triglycerides that are present in coconut oil have antimicrobial properties and may help protect against harmful microorganisms.
This has been particularly observed on the skin, where the application of coconut oil has helped to prevent the growth of microorganisms.
The lauric acid content in coconut oil which is about 50 percent, is the main reason for this. Capric acid in coconut oil also has antimicrobial properties. Studies have confirmed that both lauric and capric acid can effectively kill different strains of bacteria.
Summary: The MCT that is found in coconut oil has antimicrobial properties and protects the body against microorganisms that are harmful.
Coconut Oil May Encourage Fat Burning
MCT oil like coconut oil helps in burning more calories in a day resulting in weight loss. A study that was published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders deduced that MCT oil may help you burn more calories than a diet with more long-chain fatty acids.
MCT can directly produce ketones that work as a fuel for energy for the cells rather than only glucose. This fact boosts up the body’s energy-burning capacity upto 24 hours. Coconut oil also acts as an appetite suppressant thereby making you feel fuller. This results in lesser calorie intake ultimately leading to weight loss.
Some researchers have found that coconut oil consumption can lead to fat burning in the body. A study that was published in Lipids, gave women 40 gms of two oils to be consumed. One was the coconut oil (MCT) and the other was soybean oil, which contained long-chain fatty acids. This was done for 28 days. It was seen that both groups lost weight but the group consuming coconut oil lost more belly fat than the other group.
But, it must be kept in mind that 40 grams of coconut oil are also 35 grams of saturated fat. Hence, people with heart ailments should be careful in using it.
Summary: Coconut oil has shown to reduce belly fat from the body and help the body to burn more calories.
Coconut Oil May Act An Appetite Suppressor
Coconut Oil is a good appetite suppressant. The fatty acids in coconut oil cause one to feel full and therefore reduces your hunger. The scientist believes that the effect is due to the way the fats are metabolized. The fats in coconut oil metabolize into ketones that can have an appetite reducing effect.
The MCT not only decreases the accumulation of body fat but also works as an appetite suppressant by increasing the feeling of fullness.
Summary: Coconut oil acts as an appetite suppressant and reduces the pangs of hunger ensuring reduced calorie intake.
Coconut Oil May Reduce Seizures
The medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) that are present in coconut oil, unlike the long-chain triglycerides do not depend upon bile salts for its metabolism. It can bypass them and can directly go to the liver and get metabolized. It gets broken down into ketones.
These ketones serve as fuel to the brain. These ketone bodies have an anticonvulsant effect. The diet which is high in fat and severely low in carbohydrates triggers the body’s starvation mode and starts breaking down fat to produce ketone bodies. This type of diet is called the ketogenic diet and it triggers a metabolism called ketosis in the body.
The best known therapeutic use of this particular diet is in the treatment of drug-resistant epilepsy in children. The inclusion of coconut oil leads your body into ketosis faster.
The diet significantly increases the rate of seizures in children with epilepsy. Even children who haven’t been successful after using multiple drug therapy have seen a positive effect.
Summary: The MCT present in coconut oil can directly go to the liver and metabolize to ketone bodies that can serve as a fuel to the brain and reduce seizures because of their anticonvulsant property.
Coconut Oil May Protect Your Skin, Teeth, And Hair
Recently, coconut oil has become the wonder oil in the beauty industry. Due to the myriad benefits that coconut oil has on skin, hair, and teeth, several beauty products are being made. Coconut oil is being used as a deep conditioner, scalp conditioner, and products to fight frizzy hair.
This is because coconut oil does a better job of preventing protein loss than any other oil in the market. Coconut oil is also used as a body scrub, moisturizer, and remedy for mosquito bites and sunburn.
Coconut oil’s antimicrobial property and the ability to reduce inflammation makes it one of the most used oils for making products related to skin. It is used in body cream, foot cream, and cellulite treatment. Made into a concoct with baking soda, it is used to whiten teeth and remove bacteria from the mouth.
Summary: The antimicrobial, antiinflammatory property of coconut oil makes it a natural choice to be used in different beauty products for skin and hair. It also removes the bacteria from the mouth when made as a concoction with baking soda.
Coconut Oil May Boost Brain Function In Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common reasons for dementia that usually affects the older population. It reduces the brain’s ability to use glucose for energy. These days the term ‘brain diabetes’ has been used for it. Some also refer to it as Type 3 diabetes.
As the MCT in coconut oil helps in the production of ketone bodies that also can be used as fuel for energy by the brain, it has been highly recommended by doctors as an alternative energy source. This improves the malfunctioning of the brain cells resulting in lesser symptoms in Alzheimer patients.
A study in 2006 reported that the MCT improved brain function in people who had milder forms of Alzheimer’s disease. The researches are still in the preliminary stage and more work needs to be done for a conclusive statement.
Summary: The MCT in coconut oil produces ketone bodies that act as fuel to the brain and improve the malfunctioning brain cells of an Alzheimer’s patient.
Coconut Oil May Help Reduce Harmful Abdominal Fat
Coconut oil, especially virgin coconut oil is made of medium-chain triglycerides. They are metabolized differently than the other fatty acids and go straight to the liver where they are turned into energy and not stored as abdominal fat.
This is the major reason why coconut oil boosts our metabolism as it is easier to turn into fuel than other fat sources. It takes just three steps to transform the oil into energy as compared to the 26 steps from other sources.
A study was conducted in 2008 on 49 obese men and women in the age group of 19-50 years. They were given to consume 18-24 g/d of MCT oil or olive oil for a period of 6 weeks.
The study found that people who consumed MCT oil which is in abundance in coconut oil succeeded in losing weight in comparison to olive oil. This meant coconut oil was harder to convert into stored fat.
In another study conducted in 2009, 40 women aged 20-40 years took dietary supplements consisting of 30 ml of soybean oil or coconut oil for 12 weeks. It showed that dietetic supplementation with coconut oil in the second week of an investigation did show a reduction in abdominal obesity.
Tsuji et al. confirmed that consumption of MCT at 10 g/day for 12 weeks efficiently reduced the body weight and fat in subjects with BMI equal or more than 23 kg/m2.
Nosaka et al. observed that daily intake of test margarine containing 5 g of MCT for 12 weeks causes a decrease in body fat than that evoked by LCT (Long Chain Triglycerides) in healthy men and women.
Summary: Coconut oil reduces abdominal fat accumulation in the body by boosting metabolism.
Coconut Oil May Reduce Asthma Symptoms
Asthma is a breathing disorder concerning the airways and is characterized by a specific pattern of inflammation. Asthma onset can be triggered by internal and external factors. These may include environmental allergens, cigarette smoke, stress, and change in weather.
Virgin coconut oil (VCO) has been studied extensively because of the free fatty acids present in the oil that is antibacterial, antiviral, antidiabetic, anti-HIV, and anti-inflammatory.
In a 2017 study on rabbits, it was observed that VCO inhalation was effective in alleviating the inflammatory responses in the airway. The epithelium and mucosa thickness was significantly reduced in comparison to the placebo group.
However, no studies have taken place in humans. More conclusive studies need to be done in this regard before using it in asthmatic patients.
Summary: Reduced symptoms of asthma observed in people consuming coconut oil or inhaling it is because of its anti-inflammatory effect on the epithelial lining of the airway.
Coconut Oil May Prevent Liver Disease
The liver is one of the hardest working organs present in the body. It detoxifies the body, secretes hormones, builds protein, produces biles which is necessary for digestion and performs several tasks to ensure the body’s well being.
About two-thirds of the fat present in coconut oil are the MCTs. This when consumed, breaks down into Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFA) which is utilized for their beneficial properties.
MCFAs are then immediately transported from the digestive tract into the liver without the need for bile salts. They are not stored in the body and utilized right away. This conversion of MCFAs into energy is believed to benefit the liver by reducing its workload and preventing fat accumulation.
MCFAs are also believed to have antimicrobial effects that enable them to kill harmful viruses that can attack the liver which causes infection or hepatitis. They also protect the liver from free radical damage and prevent tissue injury. Since coconut oil has anti-inflammatory properties, it may help reduce the inflammation and swelling that normally happens in fatty liver disease.
Summary: The MCT in coconut oil is metabolized much more easily than the other food nutrients and benefits the liver by preventing fat accumulation and reduction in workload.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Coconut Oil
How Much Coconut Oil Should You Have In A Day?
A number of studies that have investigated the benefits of coconut oil have confirmed that most of the health benefits of this oil are attributed to the Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT) that are present in it. But, it is also very important to keep in mind that the saturated fat level in coconut oil is also very high and may cause an increase in cholesterol levels in the blood.
Consuming 2 tablespoons of coconut oil has been found adequate to enjoy its good benefits without any repercussions. However, you should start slowly from 1 teaspoon per day and eventually switch to 2 tablespoons in a week or two.
What Diseases Do Coconut Oil Treat?
Coconut oil is packed with MCT like lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid which is responsible for the numerous health benefits of coconut oil. Coconut oil can improve bone and dental health, regulate blood sugar, cure Alzheimer’s, decrease the risk of heart disease, fight infections, fight inflammation, acts as a natural antiseptic and many more.
Does Coconut Oil Clog Arteries?
The fatty acids that are responsible for clogging the arteries are saturated fats. Even though coconut oil contains 92 percent of saturated acids, it is mostly the MCT in it, that has a completely different approach to cholesterol.
Even though it does increase the level of LDL and total cholesterols to an extent which is bad for the arteries, it also increases the amount of HDL. This is the good cholesterol that cleanses the system of the bad ones. So, if you don’t have a history of cardiac diseases, you may try virgin coconut oil in moderation and garner its health benefits without worrying about your arteries.
Is Coconut Oil Bad For Your Liver?
The liver is the largest organ in our body and works the hardest. Virgin coconut oil being anti-inflammatory in nature helps to reduce inflammation and swelling which is associated with fatty liver disease. So no, coconut oil is not bad for our liver but beneficial to it.
Does Coconut Oil Reduce Blood Pressure?
Coconut oil not alone but exercise training together has shown to lower blood pressure. This experiment was conducted in hypertensive rats for 5 weeks. It was concluded that the reduction in blood pressure which is caused by this combination can be explained by the increase in the reduced baroreflex sensitivity and by the reduction in oxidative stress in the serum, heart, and aorta. Studies have been done in healthy men and women and similar positive effects have been observed. So yes, coconut oil may reduce blood pressure levels both in mice and humans.
Does Coconut Oil Whiten Teeth?
Yes, coconut oil can indeed whiten teeth. It attacks the harmful bacteria in our mouth. It can also reduce plaque buildup, prevent tooth decay and fight gum disease. Extra virgin coconut oil is the better choice for teeth whitening when used as a concoct with baking soda.
The Final Note
In a nutshell, coconut oil is a cornucopia of MCTs that offers an enormous amount of health benefits from head to toe. From being a great conditioner to the skin and hair, with its tremendous benefit on dementia and Alzheimer’s, having antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties to a natural appetite suppressant and a precursor to HDL production, coconut oil especially virgin coconut oil has shown its varied impact.
Along with the health benefits, its delicate taste has made it possible to incorporate the oil in a variety of ways and consume it. As a cooking oil that has recently gained its footing in the Western world, it is now used in bakery foods, pastries and sautés.
You can buy virgin coconut oil to use in your cooking. Many people prefer using MCT oil supplements to use as part of their diet and fitness regime as these usually contain pure coconut oil. Keep in mind that coconut oil has a large percentage of saturated fats, so consume it in moderation to enjoy the various health benefits it has to offer.