Coconut oil is one of the most effective natural oils found in the world, especially because it has antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant and weight loss potential effects. Note 1. Coconut oil comes from the nut (fruit) of the coconut palm. The oil of the nut is used to make medicine. Some coconut oil products are referred to as “virgin” coconut oil. Unlike olive oil, there is no industry standard for the meaning of “virgin” coconut oil. The term has come to mean that the oil is generally unprocessed. For example, virgin coconut oil usually has not been bleached, deodorized, or refined.
Although coconut oil is criticized for containing a high amount of saturated fatty acid, it does not determine the quality of the oil in saturation, but the composition of the fatty acids.
For example, coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, which has a special antibacterial effect and has been developed into a commercial product: monolauric glycerides (Lauricidin), which can fight some bacteria, which are very rare in other oils. Note 2
What are the properties of coconut oil?
Coconut oil is extracted from the endosperm (i.e. the pulp part) of the coconut fruit. Due to its high oil content (about 33%), coconut is the main source of vegetable oil in the tropics.
Due to the short length of the molecule, the absorption pathway is different from that of long-bond fatty acids (most meat and plant fats), which can be quickly decomposed in the human body, increasing the thermogenic effect, and is not easily converted into neutral fat.
Coconut oil is not a medium-chain fatty acid, why?
Medium-chain fatty acids have a carbon atom number between 6 and 12, have the characteristics of high water solubility, weak electrolyte, and high ionization, so they are easily absorbed (without enzyme degradation and esterification) than common long-chain fatty acids, and can be quickly converted into energy.
Coconut oil mainly contains 4 different medium-chain fatty acids, namely:
- 47% lauric acid (12 carbon atoms)
- 7% Capric acid (carbon atom number 10)
- 9% Caprylic acid (8 carbon atom number)
- 1% caproic acid (6 carbon atoms)
Some studies have shown that lauric acid, the most abundant in coconut oil, is classified as medium-chain fatty acids, but it is similar to long-chain fatty acids in terms of structure, absorption and metabolism.
Only 20%-30% of lauric acid is directly absorbed by the portal vein in the intestine, and the rest is absorbed and metabolized in the form of chylomicrons (70%–75%)Note 1
However, medium-chain fatty acids are absorbed directly by the portal vein (95%), which shows the difference. Note 2
Therefore, some of the benefits attributed to medium-chain fatty acids (such as rapid absorption) cannot be used in coconut oil, which is also a common misconception these days.
What are the recommended proven benefits of coconut oil?
1. Prevent cardiovascular disease
Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of increased mortality and disability and one of the greatest burdens on healthcare systems, with approximately 31% of deaths and 10% of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) globally linked each year.
The main risk factors for cardiovascular disease are related to hypertension, dyslipidemia, smoking, diabetes, abdominal obesity, excessive alcohol, sedentary lifestyle, increasing age, male sex, and early family history.
At present, most of the discussions about coconut oil and cardiovascular disease are related to blood lipids.
In a literature discussion (including 8 clinical studies and 13 observational studies), it is pointed out that the effect of coconut oil intake on raising “total cholesterol” and “low-density cholesterol” is lower than that of cream (saturated fat), but it is still slightly greater than that of cis-unsaturated vegetable oil. Note 1
Although the traditional tropical island group’s diet rich in coconut-related products is considered to be beneficial to cardiovascular health, its dietary differences and living background are very different from modern times, so it is impossible to infer that coconut oil alone can benefit cardiovascular health.
*Conclusion: There is no clear evidence that coconut oil intake reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease (not significantly different from other saturated fats), and limited by small sample sizes and possible bias, more large randomized trials are needed
2. Helps with weight loss
Rising obesity rates are currently one of the most worrying health problems in the world, affecting almost 35% of the population.
It is estimated that by 2030, 3.8 out of every 10 people worldwide will be overweight and another 2 will be obese. The situation is even more serious in the United States, where 85% of the adult population is overweight and the associated medical costs are worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Note 3
As we mentioned earlier, coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids, which increase calorie burning and may promote weight loss. Research has suggested that consumption of coconut oil can help decrease waist size, and more specifically, may reduce abdominal obesity in women. Note 4
A longitudinal study (116 patients with a history of cardiovascular disease over a period of 6 months) showed that the addition of coconut oil (13 mL per day) had a superior effect on reducing waist circumference and increasing height compared with a control group of diet alone. Density good cholesterol (HDL-C) effect . Note 1
Another double-blind controlled study (for a period of 12 weeks, the subjects were 40 women with a medium to wide body) found that both consumption of coconut oil and soybean oil had a weight loss effect when the calorie intake was improved and combined with exercise, but the coconut oil group The effect of improving abdominal obesity is more significant, and it will not cause dyslipidemia. Note 2
*Conclusion: Based on the currently available research, the weight loss effect brought by coconut oil is not significant, but it may help improve abdominal obesity, which needs to be confirmed by more large-scale studies in the future
3. Beneficial for blood sugar control
Globally, Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common disease, with a steadily increasing incidence and is associated with serious complications that affect health, productivity and quality of life.
Not only does diabetes raise the risk of cardiovascular disease (mainly heart disease and stroke), it is also the leading cause of blindness from retinal damage (called diabetic retinopathy), patients may have a 25-fold higher risk of lower limb amputation than people with non-type 2 diabetes, and is one of the causes of end-stage kidney disease.
Research has shown that diets high in medium-chain triglycerides (the majority of coconut oil’s makeup) aid in improving glucose (blood sugar) tolerance and decrease body-fat accumulation when compared to diets high in long-chain triglycerides. Coconut oil may also improve insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetics.
A systematic literature review and meta-analysis (meta-analysis, including 18 intervention studies) showed that the addition of a coconut fat meal significantly increased the area under the curve and decreased Incremental area under the insulin curve . Note 1
Additionally, long-term coconut fat intake increased insulin resistance values (HOMA-IR) but had no significant effect on fasting glucose, insulin, or β-cell function (HOMA-β) compared with controls
*Conclusion: Based on the evidence to date, coconut oil does not improve glycemic control and appears to have a negative effect on long-term glycemic control
4. Antibacterial, antiviral and antiparasitic
The most amazing thing about coconut oil is its antibacterial, antiviral and antiparasitic effects, which come from the rich medium-chain fatty acids (including lauric acid, caprylic acid, capric acid and myristic acid), which can be converted into antibacterial substances after ingestion to help the body resist harmful microorganisms that invade foreign invasion. Note 2
Coconut oil contains antimicrobial lipids, lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, which all have anti-fungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. Our bodies convert lauric acid into something called monolaurin. Research has supported that monolaurin helps fight viruses and bacteria that cause conditions like influenza. Note 2
The best-selling book The Coconut Oil Miracle also mentions the prevention and treatment potential of coconut oil that is fatal from the general flow, and the prevention and treatment potential of coconut oil is indeed amazing, and medium-chain fatty acids have also been developed into the anti-disease drug rolincidine, making the treatment of diseases more natural and harmless options
5. Maintain the skin condition of premature infants
The skin is a dynamic, complex organ with a variety of important functions that form a physical barrier between the organism and the environment.
It provides UV protection against the invasion of pathogens and regulates body temperature, gas exchange, and sensory perception.
Preterm Infants, in the first few weeks of life, the skin barrier has not yet developed, and impaired skin function is vulnerable to chemical damage, microbial infections, skin diseases, and even damage to overall health, so the maintenance of the skin barrier is critical to survival.
One unblinded randomized controlled trial (21 days, 72 preterm infants younger than 30 weeks’ gestation) with one group receiving usual care and one receiving topical coconut oil application (5 mL/kg). Note 1
The results showed that subjects treated with coconut oil had better skin condition (measured by the Neonatal Skin Condition Score, which included dryness, erythema, and chapped skin) and no significant side effects.
*Conclusion: For premature infants, topical coconut care helps maintain skin integrity
6. Good for oral hygiene (oil gargling method)
The oral cavity is a mirror of human health, there are billions of microorganisms in the mouth, some of which are believed to be related to the occurrence or development of systemic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, so oral health and general health are interrelated.
Calcium is key to dental health. Coconut oil helps our bodies absorb calcium, which can further strengthen our teeth. It is also beneficial in reducing plaque formation and plaque-induced gingivitis. A process known as “oil pulling” involves swishing coconut oil around the mouth and has been used for thousands of years as an Indian folk remedy. To oil pull, put a tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth, then swish it around for 15 to 20 minutes. Oil pulling is said to reduce the amount of harmful bacteria in your mouth.
A systematic review (4 randomized controlled trials, 182 participants) noted that coconut oil rinsing helped reduce salivary bacterial colony count and plaque index score. Note 1
*Conclusion: Coconut oil rinse may be used as an adjunct preventive mechanism to improve oral hygiene, but limited by small sample sizes, more large studies are needed to further validate
7. Reduces skin aging and provides sun protection
Coconut oil can be a wonderful massage oil that acts as an ideal moisturizer for all types of skin, including dry skin. It is a safe solution for preventing dryness and flaking of skin. Coconut oil also helps battle the signs of premature aging, including delaying the appearance of wrinkles and sagging of the skin. It can be effective in treating various skin problems, too, from psoriasis and eczema to other skin infections. Note 3
Since ancient times, coconut oil in addition to eating, is also the best skin care products, because coconut oil is rich in antioxidants, in addition to providing skin moisturizing effect, but also can prevent free radical damage, reduce the occurrence of chapped skin and wrinkles.
A small double-blind controlled study found that the application of coconut oil and mineral oil to xeroderma improved skin moisture content and skin surface lipid levels, and importantly, no adverse effects occurred.Note 3
Other studies have also found that the antibacterial medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil can also treat many dermatitis and skin infections (Note 4) and protects the skin from ultraviolet rays in the sun, which is a natural sunscreen. Note 5
8. Beneficial for Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for about 70% of the total cases, with progressive memory loss and cognitive degeneration as the main symptoms, in addition to aging-related, family inheritance, head trauma, females, cardiovascular disease, etc. are the main risk factors.
Most studies believe that certain brain regions of Alzheimer’s patients are unable to efficiently convert glucose into energy due to insulin resistance, which can lead to neurological dysfunction and apoptosis. Note 1
The ketones converted from the mid-link fatty acids can be used as an alternative to supply the brain’s needs.
A controlled experiment (in 20 patients with Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment) pointed out that oral intake of middle-key fatty acids can not only increase the level of ketones in the blood, but also help improve cognitive status (especially in subjects with negative APOE4 gene). Note 2
Another controlled study (21 days, 44 Alzheimer’s patients) showed that oral administration of extra virgin coconut oil (40 ml daily) helped improve Lobo cognitive test scores and cognitive status, and the improvement was more significant in women, non-type 2 diabetes patients and severe cases. Note 3
*Conclusion: Although medium-linked fatty acids may help improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease, the use of coconut oil for the improvement of Alzheimer’s disease is still insufficient evidence and needs to be confirmed
9. Improve the quality of life during breast cancer treatment
Breast cancer is the most commonly identified cancer in women worldwide, with an estimated 230,000 new cases each year, of which about 5% are under the age of 40.
Chemical and radiotherapy is the main treatment of breast cancer, which is used to inhibit cancer cell metastasis and improve survival rate, but it causes many side effects, such as vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, pain, anxiety, etc., which greatly affects the quality of life of patients.
A prospective study of 60 breast cancer patients found that virgin coconut oil helped improve function and quality of life scores during chemotherapy.Note 5
In addition, other symptoms such as fatigue, dyspnea, difficulty sleeping, and loss of appetite (breast-related scores such as body image, sexual function, and future outlook) improved in the coconut oil intervention group.
10. Beneficial for Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a common disease in the elderly, especially women, when bone loss is often without signs, and when there are symptoms (usually fractures), bone mass is often half left, especially within 3 to 5 years after menopause, is the peak period of bone loss, an average annual decline of 2% to 3%.
Current studies have found that the increase of oxidative stress in the body will cause an increase in bone erosion, which is also an important cause of decreased bone density and osteoporosis, so supplementation of antioxidants is regarded as an effective way to delay osteoporosis. Note 3
Virgin coconut oil, because it is rich in a variety of plant polyphenols, can effectively inhibit lipid oxidation after ingestion, and increase the concentration of antioxidants (such as glutathione glutathione, superoxide dismutase SOD) in the body, which can effectively slow down bone loss and increase bone degree in animal experiments (Note 4)； Other studies have found that the medium-chain fatty acids of coconut oil are effective in increasing calcium and magnesium absorption. Note 5
Therefore, Virgin coconut oil is regarded as a beacon for the prevention of osteoporosis, but the effect and dosage still need to be verified by more human studies.
11. Good for epilepsy
Epilepsy refers to a series of symptoms caused by abnormal discharge of nerve cells in the brain (caused by infection, metabolic disorders, brain lesions, drugs or trauma), and various disorders may occur depending on the location of the abnormal discharge (including involuntary convulsions, falls, loss of consciousness, respiratory arrest, etc.)
Clinical findings have found that through fasting, epilepsy symptoms can be effectively improved (the principle behind the fasting is that the liver can be prompted to convert fat into ketone bodies during fasting, which can not only provide brain energy, but also have the effect of repairing and promoting the growth of brain cells), but fasting is not achieved by everyone, so I began to design a diet that simulates fasting, called ketogenic diet) Note 6
For decades, the ketogenic diet has been used to improve drug-resistant epilepsy in children Note 7, and the effect is remarkable. Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain fatty acids (MCTs), which can be directly converted into ketone bodies in the human body, allowing you to achieve ketone production goals without dietary control. Note 8
Side Effects of Coconut oil:
1. May Elevate Cholesterol Levels
Some research states that saturated fat can elevate total cholesterol levels and the levels of LDL (the bad cholesterol) Note 9. This can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Coconut oil is among the foods with high saturated fat content.
Though coconut oil can boost good cholesterol levels, it may not be preferred to other healthy vegetable oils.
The saturated fat content in coconut oil is higher than other fats or oils (butter or olive oil) Note 10. According to an advisory published by the American Heart Association, the saturated fat in coconut oil raised LDL cholesterol in ways similar to that in butter, beef, and palm oil.
2. May Cause Allergies
Though not as prevalent as other forms of allergies, coconut oil does cause allergies if one is sensitive to it. Some of the allergic reactions include hives and anaphylaxis (a lethal emergency that involves troubled breathing). The information on coconut allergies is limited, as only a small number of individuals have been affected Note 11.
According to a Boston study, children having peanut allergies (or allergic to tree nuts) are less likely to be allergic to coconut oil (as coconut is not basically a nut, but a fruit) (Note 12. However, if your child has any of these allergies, it is better to consult your doctor before letting them try coconut oil.
Here’s what you may need to avoid if you are allergic to coconut oil (or any form of coconut) – chocolates, cakes, and the popcorn that they sell at movie theaters.
If you suspect allergic reactions to coconut oil, it is better to keep track of your symptoms in a food diary and visit your health care specialist. This can help you get an insight into the allergy.
Some anecdotal evidence also suggests that coconut oil may lead to a rapid heart rate, facial swelling, and light headedness. If you are experiencing any of these, visit your doctor immediately.
A substance called coconut diethanolamide is manufactured from coconut oil, and it is used as an agent in hand washing liquids. As per a Finnish study, certain individuals experienced allergies after using products containing this agent Note 13.
3. May Increase Heart Disease Risk
Studies suggest that replacing coconut oil with unsaturated fats can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease Note 14.
According to the American Heart Association, consuming fewer saturated fats and more unsaturated fats is the best way to prevent heart disease. Coconut oil, being higher in saturated fats, may affect the heart.
Though coconut oil also contains unsaturated fat, there is no research that shows it mitigating the ill effects of saturated fat.
Coconut oil contains more bad fat than beef or butter. As per a New Zealand study, coconut oil increases bad cholesterol to a greater extent than unsaturated plant oils Note 14.
4. May Cause Mild Diarrhea
Some individuals taking virgin coconut oil experienced mild diarrhea during the first week. Other related symptoms included stomach ache and vomiting. These symptoms resolved after the first week, and none of these impacted the daily activities of the individuals Note 15.
To minimize these symptoms, you may need to first consume the oil in smaller amounts and then gradually work your way up to the required quantity.
5. May Lead To Liver Issues
The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil are transported to the liver, where they are converted into energy. Some experts theorize that the speed at which these MCFAs are brought to the liver can cause a problem. This may put stress on the liver and even harm the organ over time. If you have any liver disease or diabetes, it is recommended to avoid coconut oil or any other food containing MCFAs.
Another study linked using repeatedly heated coconut oil to toxic effects on the liver Note 16. More studies are warranted to prove these effects.
6. May Cause Acne Breakouts
This is more likely to happen to individuals with excessively oily skin. Though lauric acid may help treat acne (more so in the case of skin not very oily), excess of it may trigger acne.
What you can instead do is use coconut oil as a carrier oil. Use other skin-friendly essential oils, along with coconut oil, to relieve acne.
7. May Lead To Intestinal Distress
Individuals with fructose malabsorption may be particularly susceptible to this condition. This is when someone has trouble absorbing fructose, which results in digestive issues, including intestinal distress. Though coconut oil does not contain fructose, all other products made from it do. If you experience intestinal distress or related issues after consuming products containing coconut oil, consult your doctor.
Numerous food products based on coconut oil also contain fructans that are made of a small chain of fructose. Fructans can also cause gastrointestinal problems.
Individuals experiencing digestive distress after the consumption of such foods also often react to broccoli, garlic, onions, wheat, and Brussels sprouts.
Certain compounds called sulfites are present in desiccated coconut (if not in coconut oil) that can also cause digestive issues. The best solution could be to eliminate all forms of coconut from your diet and see if the symptoms improve. If not, visit your doctor.
8. May Cause Allergic Reactions In Children
Though coconut oil is good for children, there are certain aspects to be kept in mind. The most important of those aspects is a malfunctioning thyroid. If your child has hypothyroidism, refrain from using coconut oil (or related products) before consulting the doctor. This is because the oil might aggravate the condition and cause allergic reactions in some children.
9. May Cause Headache
Individuals undertaking detoxification using coconut oil (for yeast infections, especially) often experience headaches. This happens when the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil break down the yeast cells (that cause the infection), thereby releasing a wave of fungal toxins into the bloodstream.
10. May Cause Problems With Oil Pulling
If you are sensitive to coconut oil, using it for oil pulling could be a bad idea. You can instead use sunflower or sesame oil for this purpose as they also can help kill the harmful bacteria.
One important point to note with respect to oil pulling alone is that it is not a replacement for brushing. Nothing can remove bacteria and plaque from your teeth better than brushing your teeth daily.
11. May Cause Issues With Use As A Lubricant
Yes, coconut oil (virgin coconut oil) could be natural. But it may contain ingredients whose safety and efficacy are not known yet. This is why using coconut oil as a personal lubricant may not be a safe option.
When using as a lubricant, can coconut oil cause UTI? No study shows that coconut oil cause UTI. But when using as a lubricant during sexual intercourse, coconut oil can impair the degree of the sperm mobility. So if you are trying for a baby, please avoid using coconut oil as a lube.