Coconut oil has a multitude of health benefits, which include but are not limited to skin care, hair care, improving digestion and immunity against a host of infections and diseases. Let us see which of these benefits you are aware of.
Coconut oil is used extensively in tropical countries especially India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Philippines etc., which have a good production of coconut oil. At one time, the oil was also popular in western countries like the United States and Canada, but there was a strong propaganda campaign in the 1970s spread by the corn oil and soy oil industry against coconut oil. Coconut oil was considered harmful for the human body due to its high saturated fat content until the last decade (2000s) when people began to question the claims of the propaganda. Let’s look into some more details of how coconut oil works in our body.
Composition of Coconut Oil
More than 90% of coconut oil consists of saturated fats (Don’t panic! It’s not as bad as it sounds, read to the end of this review and your opinion may change), along with traces of a few unsaturated fatty acids, such as monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Virgin coconut oil is no different from this.
Saturated fatty acids: Most of them are medium chain triglycerides, which are supposed to assimilate well in the body’s systems.
- Lauric acid is the chief contributor, representing more than 40% of the total, followed by capric acid, caprylic acid, myristic acid and palmitic. The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin. Lauric acid is helpful in dealing with viruses and diseases.
- Capric acid reacts with certain enzymes secreted by other bacteria, which subsequently convert it into a powerful antimicrobial agent, monocaprin.
- Caprylic acid, caproic acid and myristic acid are rich in antimicrobial and antifungal properties
Unsaturated fatty acids: Polyunsaturated fatty acids- linoleic acid, monounsaturated fatty acids- Oleic acid
Poly-phenols: Coconut contains Gallic acid, which is also known as phenolic acid. These polyphenols are responsible for the fragrance and the taste of coconut oil and Virgin Coconut Oil is rich in these polyphenols.
Derivatives of fatty acid: Betaines, ethanolamide, ethoxylates, fatty esters, fatty polysorbates, monoglycerides and polyol esters.
Derivatives of fatty alcohols: Fatty chlorides, fatty alcohol sulphate and fatty alcohol ether sulphate
Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamin E, vitamin K and minerals such as iron.
There are various health benefits of coconut oil. Although its exact mechanism of action was unknown, it has been extensively used in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicinal system. The Coconut Research Center has compiled a list of potential benefits of coconut oil in both traditional and modern medicine.
Skin care: Coconut oil is excellent massage oil that acts as an effective moisturizer on all types of skin, including dry skin. Unlike mineral oil, there is no chance of having any adverse side effects on the skin from the application of coconut oil. Therefore, it is a safe solution for preventing dryness and flaking of skin. It also delays the appearance of wrinkles and sagging of skin, which normally accompany aging.
Coconut oil helps in preventing degenerative diseases premature aging due to its well-known antioxidant properties. It also helps in treating various skin problems including psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema and other skin infections. For that exact reason, coconut oil forms the base ingredient of various body care products like soaps, lotions, and creams that are used for skin care.
Hair care: Coconut oil helps in healthy growth of hair and gives your hair a shiny quality. It is also highly effective in reducing protein loss, which can lead to various unattractive or unhealthy qualities in your hair. Coconut is used as hair care oil and is used in manufacturing various conditioners and dandruff relief creams. It is normally applied topically for hair care.
Coconut oil is extensively used in the Indian sub-continent for hair care. It is an excellent conditioner and helps the re-growth process of damaged hair. It also provides the essential proteins required for nourishing and healing damaged hair. Research studies indicate that coconut oil provides better protection to hair from damage caused by hygral fatigue.
By regularly massaging your head with coconut oil, you can ensure that your scalp is free of dandruff, even if your scalp is chronically dry. It also helps in keeping your hair and scalp free from lice and lice eggs.
Heart diseases: There is a misconception spread among many people that coconut oil is not good for heart health. This is because it contains a large quantity of saturated fats. In reality, it is beneficial for the heart. It contains about 50% lauric acid, which helps in actively preventing various heart problems like high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. Coconut oil does not lead to increase in LDL levels, and it reduces the incidence of injury and damage to arteries and therefore helps in preventing atherosclerosis. Study suggests that intake of coconut oil may help to maintain healthy lipid profiles in pre-menopausal women.
Weight loss: Coconut oil is very useful for weight loss. It contains short and medium-chain fatty acids that help in taking off excessive weight. Research suggests that coconut oil helps to reduce abdominal obesity in women. It is also easy to digest and it helps in healthy functioning of the thyroid and endocrine system. Further, it increases the body’s metabolic rate by removing stress on the pancreas, thereby burning more energy and helping obese and overweight people lose the weight. Hence, people living in tropical coastal areas, who use coconut oil every day as their primary cooking oil, are normally not fat, obese or overweight.
Immunity: Coconut oil strengthens the immune system because it contains antimicrobial lipids, lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, which have antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin which research has supported as an effective way to deal with viruses and bacteria that cause diseases like herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV. Coconut oil helps in fighting harmful bacteria like listeria monocytogenes and helicobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia.
Digestion: Internal functions of coconut oil occur primarily due to it being used as cooking oil. It helps to improve the digestive system and thus prevents various stomach and digestion-related problems including irritable bowel syndrome. The saturated fats present in coconut oil have antimicrobial properties and help in dealing with various bacteria, fungi, and parasites that can cause indigestion. It also helps in the absorption of other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
Candida: Candida, also known as Systemic Candidiasis, is a tragic disease caused from excessive and uncontrolled growth of yeast called Candida Albicans in the stomach. Coconut provides relief from the inflammation caused by candida, both externally and internally. Its high moisture retaining capacity keeps the skin from cracking or peeling off. Capric acid, Caprylic acid, caproic acid, myristic acid and lauric acid found in coconut oil help in eliminating Candida albicans.
Further, unlike other pharmaceutical treatments for candida, the effects of coconut oil is gradual and not drastic or sudden, which gives the patient an appropriate amount of time to get used to the withdrawal symptoms or Herxheimer Reactions (the name given to the symptoms accompanying body’s rejection of toxins generated during elimination of these fungi). But, in the treatment of this condition, people should systematically and gradually increase their dosages of coconut oil and shouldn’t initially start with a large quantity.
Healing and Infections: When applied to infected areas, coconut oil forms a chemical layer that protects the infected body part from external dust, air, fungi, bacteria and viruses. Coconut oil is highly effective on bruises because it speeds up the healing process of damaged tissues.
According to the Coconut Research Center, coconut oil kills the viruses that cause influenza, measles, hepatitis, herpes, SARS, and other serious health risks. It also kills bacteria that cause ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and gonorrhoea. Finally, coconut oil is also effective in the elimination of fungi and yeast that cause ringworm, athlete’s foot, thrush, and diaper rash.
Coconut oil is strongly recommended for a number of other benefits that are explained below. Using coconut oils has been shown to mildly help the following:
Liver: The presence of medium chain triglycerides and fatty acids helps in preventing liver diseases because those substances are easily converted into energy when they reach the liver, thus reducing the work load of the liver and also preventing accumulation of fat.
Kidney: It helps in preventing kidney and gall bladder diseases. It also helps to dissolve kidney stones.
Pancreatitis: Coconut oil is also believed to be useful in treating pancreatitis.
Stress relief: Coconut oil is very soothing and hence it helps in removing stress. Applying it to the head, followed by a gentle massage, helps to eliminate mental fatigue. According to research virgin coconut oil gives relief from stress and has antioxidant properties.
Diabetes: Coconut oil helps in controlling blood sugar, and improves the secretion of insulin. It also promotes the effective utilization of blood glucose, thereby preventing and treating diabetes.
Bones: As mentioned earlier, coconut oil improves the ability of our body to absorb important minerals. These include calcium and magnesium, which are necessary for the development of bones. Thus, it is very useful to women who are prone to osteoporosis after middle age.
Dental care: Calcium is an important component of our teeth. Since coconut oil facilitates absorption of calcium by the body, it helps in developing strong teeth. It also stops tooth decay. Recent research suggests that coconut oil is beneficial in reducing plaque formation and plaque induced gingivitis.
HIV and cancer: It is believed that coconut oil plays an instrumental role in reducing a person’s viral susceptibility for HIV and cancer patients. Preliminary research has shown an indication of this effect of coconut oil on reducing the viral load of HIV patients.
Coconut oil is often used by athletes, body builders and by those who are dieting. The reason behind this being that it contains less calories than other oils, its fat content is easily converted into energy, and it does not lead to accumulation of fat in the heart and arteries. Coconut oil helps boost energy and endurance, and generally enhances the performance of athletes.
Coconut oil and Alzheimer’s disease: The research conducted by Dr. Newport states that coconut oil is useful in treating Alzheimer’s disease. Apart from this there is no scientific evidence or traditional knowledge of coconut oil being used for treating Alzheimer’s. In fact, it is not traditionally thought that coconut oil helps in boosting the function of the brain in any form.
Coconut oil as Carrier Oil
Carrier oils are those oils, which easily penetrate or absorb into the skin and thus facilitate seepage or absorption of other oils (such as essential oils) and herbal extracts through the skin when mixed into it. Coconut oil is easily absorbed through the skin’s pores and thus is used as carrier oil. Furthermore, being one of the most stable oils, it doesn’t go rancid, nor does it let the other oils, herbal extracts, or medicines spoil inside of it. Coconut oil does not alter the properties of the oils and herbs mixed within it. It also protects the herbs and oils from microbial or fungal interactions. Coconut oil is expensive in several countries; however, in tropical countries its cost is low enough to make it affordable as carrier oil.
Varieties of Coconut Oil
There are primarily 6 varieties of coconut oil that you will find on the market.
Pure Coconut Oil: It is extracted from dried coconut kernels, which are also called copra. It is crude, unrefined and without any additives. It is mainly extracted by compression of copra in a mill, either driven by bullocks or by power. However, the variety extracted by bullock driven oil mills is preferred. Pure coconut oil has multiple uses such as edible oil, massaging oil, hair oil, cosmetic usage, as well as medicinal and industrial use.
Refined Coconut Oil: This is sometimes also called the RBD coconut oil, which is an abbreviated form for refined, bleached & deodorized coconut oil. As the name suggests, this type is obtained by mechanically and chemically refining, bleaching and deodorizing the crude oil, to make it thin, colorless, odorless and without any type of particle (such as proteins) suspended in it. What we then get is only pure saturated fats.
Virgin Coconut Oil: It is derived from the milk obtained from fresh coconut meat, and not from copra, by processes like fermentation, centrifugal separation and enzyme action. Care is taken to use no or as little heat as possible in the extraction of this oil. Produced in this way, the oil tastes and smells the best and is laden with antioxidants and medium chain fatty acids. It also has remarkable anti-microbial properties. This is one of the most respected and trusted varieties of coconut oil.
Organic Coconut Oil: This oil is extracted from coconuts obtained from coconut palms raised only on organic manure and no synthetic fertilizers or insecticides. The production of organic coconut oil is also completed without involving any chemical in its extraction or processing. Organic coconut oil forms an integral part of a number of organic cosmetic products such as organic soaps, organic skin creams and lotions. Some of the organic programs and authorities that certify organic coconut oil include Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS), USDA National Organic Program (NOP), European Organic Regulations (EU 2092/91), Export Certificates for Japan (JAS Equivalent) and Indian National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP).
Organic Virgin Coconut Oil: This type of oil is basically the virgin oil produced from the organic coconuts, in an organic way. This is perhaps the best and purest form of coconut oil one can imagine, but it is rare.
Extra Virgin Coconut Oil: Among all the varieties of coconut oil, this is the most challenged and controversial variety, as its very existence is doubtful and the name hardly makes any sense. Furthermore, there are no set standards for virginity of coconut oil. Moreover, reputed firms and governmental bodies are hesitant to say anything on the matter, and are not selling it. Basically, further research is definitely required.
Coconut oil extraction
Cold pressing is one of the preferred methods for the extraction of coconut oil. The quality of the oil depends a lot on the method of its extraction. Basically, there are two main methods of extraction of oil from coconuts. The first is cold pressing of copra (dried coconut kernels) and the second is boiling of fresh coconut milk. Since boiling or heating destroys many nutrients and valuable components, coconut oil obtained this way is not considered as good as that obtained by cold pressing, since cold pressing retains much of oil’s goodness. Machine pressing and bullock/manual pressing are two methods of cold pressing.
Machine pressing: Cold pressing is done with the help of an electrically or diesel engine driven oil mill. Most of cold pressed oil used in the world is obtained this way.
Bullock/manual pressing: The oil obtained this way has a better taste and fragrance and is more expensive. Since the production is smaller, it consumes more time and energy, and wastage is higher.
Buying Coconut Oil
First of all, you need to decide why you need coconut oil and where you are going to use it. Your choice should be based on your need, like whether you want it for edible purposes or as a carrier oil to be used in aromatherapy, for massaging, for weight loss, or for medicinal purposes. Below is a list of such purposes and the type of coconut oil to buy.
Purpose————–Preferable Type to Buy
As a Carrier Oil——-Virgin, Fractionated
Good Health———-Virgin, Organic
Medicinal uses——–Virgin, Virgin Organic
Furthermore, before you buy coconut oil, you should keep in mind that for edible and therapeutic uses, refined coconut oil is the best as it is hygienic and clean. Unrefined oil is good for external applications like hair care and skin care.
How to use and store coconut oil?
Unlike most other oils, coconut oil has a high melting point – about 24 to 25 degrees Celsius or 76-78 Fahrenheit. Therefore it is solid at room temperature and melts only when the temperature rises considerably. Coconut oil is often in this form, and obviously, don’t keep it in your refrigerator.
If you are using coconut oil for topical purposes, especially hair care, just melt the oil (if it is solid) by keeping the bottle in the sun or soaking it in warm water. You can also take some oil out and put it in a small bowl and heat the bowl over a flame (don’t use a microwave). Then, take the oil on your palm and apply it to your hair. If you want to use it for internal consumption, simply replace butter or vegetable oils with coconut oil in your recipes. Remember, you don’t need to completely switch to coconut oil, because then you will lose the other benefits of more traditional oils and dairy products.
In colder countries, coconut oil comes in good, broad containers. However, if you get it in a pack (tetra-pack or plastic pouch), after opening the pack, be sure to keep the oil in containers with tight lid and broad mouth so that you can scoop it out with a spoon if it solidifies. Keeping it sealed or lidded is necessary because there are other admirers of coconut oil (ants, cockroaches, other insects and rodents just love it!).
I don’t like the taste of coconut oil. What should I do?: Try using it in a variety of different recipes. However, if you get nauseated after eating coconut oil, don’t force yourself to eat it. As can happen with any food item, your body may be allergic to coconut oil and it is best not to consume it.
Where to buy from?: Pure and refined coconut oils are easily available in most grocery stores, especially in tropical countries. For other varieties, you may need to search in larger department stores or drug stores. In countries which do not produce coconut oil, like the US, Canada, and most of Europe, you will need to visit big grocers or grocery stores in localities which have higher populations of people from India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Philippines, and coastal Africa. Obviously, you can order it online as well and have it delivered wherever you live.
Which brand to buy?: When you are buying coconut oil in packs, go for the reliable and reputable brands. Read the contents carefully and check the manufacturing date (although it has a long shelf life, fresher is still better).
How much to pay?: The price of coconut oil depends on many factors such as its availability (cheaper where it is produced and more costly in other places, and it is even more expensive when ordered via phone, Internet etc.). The price is also affected by demand, variety (the refined one costs the least, followed by the fractionated, the virgin, the organic and the organic virgin coconut oils), brand, and quantity (buying in bulk costs a little less).
How much to buy? Buy only as much you can consume in few months, because despite the fact that coconut oil does not go rancid for a long time, it is not wise to store it unnecessarily. You will get better results with fresh coconut oil.