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The health benefits of coconut oil include hair care, skin care, stress relief, maintaining cholesterol levels, weight loss, increased immunity, proper digestion and metabolism, relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV and cancer, dental care, and bone strength. These benefits of oil can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its properties such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-fungal, antibacterial and soothing properties.
Coconut oil is used extensively in tropical countries especially India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Philippines etc., which have a good production of coconut oil. The oil was also once popular in western countries such as United States and Canada; however, there was a strong propaganda in 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 till the last decade (2000s) when people started questioning this propaganda. Let us get into some details of how coconut oil works for our body.
How is lauric acid used by our body?
The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin which is claimed to help in dealing with viruses and bacteria causing diseases such as herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV. It helps in fighting harmful bacteria such as listeria monocytogenes and helicobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia. As a result of these various health benefits of coconut oil, though 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 various benefits in both traditional and modern medicine.
Before we move on to the benefits of coconut oil in detail, let us understand its composition.
Composition of Coconut Oil:
Coconut oil consists of more than ninety percent of saturated fats (Don’t panic! First read to the last word. Your opinion may change), with traces of few unsaturated fatty acids, such as monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Virgin coconut oil is no different from this. Let us have a bit detailed study of this..
Saturated fatty acids: Most of them are medium chain triglycerides, which are supposed to assimilate well. Lauric acid is the chief contributor, with more than forty percent of the share, followed by capric acid, caprylic acid, myristic acid and palmitic.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids: Linoleic acid.
Monounsaturated fatty acids: Oleic acid.
Poly-phenols: Coconut contains Gallic acid, which is phenolic acid. These poly-phenols are supposed to be responsible for the fragrance and the taste of coconut oil and Virgin Coconut Oil is rich in these poly-phenols.
Certain derivatives of fatty acid like betaines, ethanolamide, ethoxylates, fatty esters, fatty polysorbates, monoglycerides and polyol esters.
Fatty chlorides, fatty alcohol sulphate and fatty alcohol ether sulphate, all of which are derivatives of fatty alcohols.
Vitamin-E and vitamin K and minerals such as Iron.
Health benefits of coconut oil
Let us now explore the benefits of coconut oil in detail:
Coconut oil is one of the best natural nutrition for hair. It helps in healthy growth of hair providing them a shiny complexion. It is effective in reducing the protein loss for damaged and undamaged hair.
Coconut oil is extensively used in the Indian sub-continent for hair care. Most of the people in these countries apply coconut oil on their hair daily after bath. It is an excellent conditioner and helps in the re-growth of damaged hair. It also provides the essential proteins required for nourishing damaged hair. Research study indicates that coconut oil provides better protection to hair from damage caused by hygral fatigue.
Regular head massage with coconut oil ensures that your scalp is free of dandruff, even if your scalp is dry. It also helps in keeping hair and scalp free from lice and lice eggs.
It is therefore used as hair care oil and used in manufacturing various conditioners, and dandruff relief creams. Coconut oil is normally applied topically for hair care.
Coconut oil is excellent massage oil for the skin as well. It acts as an effective moisturizer on all types of skins including dry skin. The benefit of coconut oil on the skin is comparable to that of mineral oil. Further, unlike mineral oil, there is no chance of having any adverse side effects on the skin with the application of coconut oil. Coconut oil therefore is a safe solution for preventing dryness and flaking of skin. It also delays wrinkles, and sagging of skin which normally become prominent with age. Coconut oil also helps in treating various skin problems including psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema and other skin infections. Therefore coconut oil forms the basic ingredient of various body care products such as soaps, lotions, creams, etc., used for skin care. Coconut oil also helps in preventing premature aging and degenerative diseases due to its antioxidant properties.
There is a misconception spread among many people that coconut oil is not good for the heart. This is because it contains a large quantity of saturated fats. However, coconut oil is beneficial for the heart. It contains about 50% lauric acid, which helps in preventing various heart problems including high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. The saturated fats present in coconut oil are not harmful as it happens in case of other vegetables oils. It does not lead to increase in LDL levels. It also reduces the incidence of injury in arteries and therefore helps in preventing atherosclerosis.
Coconut oil is very useful in reducing weight. It contains short and medium-chain fatty acids that help in taking off excessive weight. It is also easy to digest and it helps in healthy functioning of the thyroid and enzymes systems. Further, it increases the body metabolism by removing stress on pancreases, thereby burning out more energy and helping obese and overweight people reduce their weight. Hence, people living in tropical coastal areas, who eat coconut oil daily as their primary cooking oil, are normally not fat, obese or overweight.
Internal use of coconut oil occurs primarily as cooking oil. Coconut oil helps in improving 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, parasites, etc., that cause indigestion. Coconut oil also helps in absorption of other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
Coconut oil is also good for the immune system. It strengthens the immune system as 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 is claimed to help in dealing with viruses and bacteria causing diseases such as herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV. It helps in fighting harmful bacteria such as listeria monocytogenes and helicobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia.
Coconut is beneficial in preventing and curing candida. It provides relief from the inflammation caused by candida, externally and internally. Its high moisture retaining capacity does not let the skin crack or peel off. Further, unlike other drugs for candida, the effects of coconut oil is gradual and not drastic or sudden, which gives the patient ample time to cope up with the die-off symptoms or Herxheimer Reactions (the name given to the symptoms accompanying body’s rejection of toxins generated during elimination of these fungi). But, this is one condition that you systematically and gradually increase your dosages of coconut oil and do not start with a large quantity all of a sudden.
Candida, also known as Systemic Candidiasis, is a dreaded disease caused due to excessive and uncontrolled growth of yeast called Candida Albicans in stomach. This yeast is more or less present in everybody’s stomach, but it does not show any adverse effects since its growth is controlled by some beneficial bacteria which reside in our stomach. When, due to any reason such as growth of other bacteria who destroy these beneficial bacteria or use of antibiotics which ultimately end up in eliminating these bacteria in addition to disease causing ones or due to bleaching or washing of stomach with medicines or excessive use of chemical laxatives or ingestion of poisonous stuff etc.; this yeast or fungi starts growing very fast and cause candida.
Symptoms of candida: The symptoms of candida include infection in genitals, urinary tract and bladder, stomach & intestines, ear, nose and throat, itchy and dry skin, inflammations in internal organs and skin, patching & peeling off of skin (particularly in scalp), digestive and excretory disorders and problems with hair, nail etc.
This disease is very common in Europe and America, may be due to cold and moist climate and food habits. In these places, a large portion of their food is comprised of food stuffs which, in some way or the other, are processed with yeast or fermented; such as breads, other baked items, cheese and above all, wine and other alcoholic drinks. These things also assist growth of Candida Albicans in the body. The various fatty acids found in the coconut oil are beneficial in treating candida.
Capric acid, a medium chain fatty acid (a Saturated Fat) present in coconut oil has antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal properties. This is the same fatty acid which is present in mother’s milk and protects the baby from bacterial, viral and fungal infections. In the body, it reacts with certain enzymes secreted by other bacteria or otherwise, which covert it to a powerful antimicrobial agent, monocaprin. On systematically using coconut oil for candida, capric acid has been found very effective in killing this yeast.
Caprylic acid, caproic acid, myristic acid and lauric acid found in coconut oil and have antimicrobial and antifungal properties which also aid in the elimination of candida albicans. Lauric acid a saturated fat and a medium chain fatty acid form a compound called monolaurin, upon reaction with enzymes. This monolaurin is an expert germ and fungus killer.
Healing and infections
When applied on infections, it forms a chemical layer which protects the infected body part from external dust, air, fungi, bacteria and virus. Coconut oil is most effective on bruises as it speeds up the healing process by repairing damaged tissues.
Infections: Coconut oil is very effective against a variety of infections due to its antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. According to the Coconut Research Center, coconut oil kills viruses that cause influenza, measles, hepatitis, herpes, SARS, etc. It also kills bacteria that cause ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and gonorrhoea, etc. Coconut oil is also effective on fungi and yeast that cause ringworm, athlete’s foot, thrush, diaper rash, etc.
Coconut oil is strongly recommended for other benefits which are given below. Usage of coconut oils mildly helps for the following:
Liver: The presence of medium chain triglycerides and fatty acids helps in preventing liver diseases as they substances are easily converted into energy when they reach the liver, thus reducing work load on the liver and also preventing accumulation of fat.
Kidney: Coconut oil helps in preventing kidney and gall bladder diseases. It also helps in dissolving 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 coconut oil to the head followed with a gentle massage helps in removing mental fatigue.
Diabetes: Coconut oil helps in controlling blood sugar, and improves the secretion of insulin. It also helps in 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 development of bones. Thus coconut oil is very useful to women who are prone to osteoporosis after middle age.
Canker Sore Remedy
If your diet consists primarily of fresh pineapple and sour soothers, one of the (likely many) health issues you’ve endured is the dreaded canker sore. Coconut oil has been said to speed up the healing process.
Dental care: Calcium is an important element present in teeth. Since coconut oil facilitates absorption of calcium by the body, it helps in getting strong teeth. Coconut oil also stops tooth decay. Combine coconut oil with baking soda to make your pearly whites gleam. Antibacterial Action of Coconut Oil Combats Tooth Decay When Consumed.
HIV and cancer: It is believed that coconut oil plays an instrumental role in reducing viral susceptibility of HIV and cancer patients. Preliminary research has shown indications of the effect of coconut oil on reducing the viral load of HIV patients (Reference).
Finally, coconut oil is often preferred by athletes and body builders and by those who are dieting. The reason behind this being that coconut oil contains lesser 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 in boosting energy and endurance, and enhances the performance of athletes.
Coconut oil and Alzheimer’s disease: There are reports of research conducted by Dr. Newport stating that coconut oil is useful for treating Alzheimer’s disease. Apart from this there is no scientific evidence or traditional knowledge of coconut oil being used for treating Alzheimer’s. It was also not known traditionally that coconut oil helps in boosting the function of the brain in any form.
Why is coconut oil solid?: Unlike most other oils, coconut oil has a high melting point -- about 24 to 25 degress Celsius or 76-78 Fahrenheit. Therefore it is solid at room temperature and melts only when the temperatures go high. Hence, if you buy a bottle of coconut oil and find it solid, don’t think that there is some problem with it. Coconut oil is like this only. And of course, don’t keep it in your refrigerator.
How to use coconut oil?: 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 warm water. You can also take some coconut oil out and put it in a small bowl and heat the bowl over a flame (do not use 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 need not switch to coconut oil completely, as you will miss the benefits of other oils and dairy products.
Can I use coconut oil for cooking?: Yes, in most of the tropical coastal regions, people use coconut oil for cooking.
I don’t like the taste of coconut oil. What should I do?: Try using coconut oil in some different recipe. That may help. If you get nauseated after eating coconut oil, don’t force yourself. As it happens with any other food item, your body may be allergic to coconut oil and it is best not to consume it.
Varieties of Coconut Oil
There are primarily 6 varieties of coconut oil that you will find in the market. These are pure coconut oil, refined coconut oil, organic coconut oil, virgin coconut oil, organic virgin coconut oil and extra virgin coconut oil.
Pure Coconut Oil: This oil is our good old friend. Extracted from dried coconut kernels, 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 one extracted by bullock driven oil mills is preferred. Pure coconut oil has multiple uses such as edible oil, massaging oil, hair oil, cosmetics, medicinal and industrial usage.
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 is obtained by mechanically and chemically refining, bleaching and deodorizing the crude coconut oil, to make it thin, colorless, odorless and without any type of particle (such as those of proteins) suspended in it. What we get is only pure saturated fats and nothing else.
Virgin Coconut Oil: Virgin coconut oil 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 less heat as possible in the extraction of this oil. Produced this way, this 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 varieties of coconut oil.
Organic Coconut Oil: The coconut oil that has been extracted from coconuts obtained from coconut palms raised only on organic manure and no synthetic fertilizers, insecticides etc., and without the involvement of any chemical in its extraction or processing, is called the organic coconut oil. This again, is a very much respected variety of coconut oil. Organic coconut oil forms an integral part of a number of organic cosmetic products such as organic soaps, organic skin creams and lotions, organic snacks etc. and thousands of such products. Some of the organic programmes and authorities who 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), Indian National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP), Quebec Organic Reference Standard (CAAQ), Bio Suisse Standards, IOFAM Basic Standards, ECOCERT.
Organic Virgin Coconut Oil: You can very well understand what does that mean. It means virgin coconut oil produced from the organic coconuts, the organic way. This is perhaps the best and purest form of coconut oil one can imagine of (of course, if it is that real).
Extra Virgin Coconut Oil: Among all the varieties of coconut oil, this is the most challenged and doubted one, as its very existence is doubted and the name hardly makes any sense. Further, there are no set standards for virginity of coconut oil. Moreover, reputed firms and government bodies are still neither saying anything on it, nor are they selling it. So, speaking something on this will be too early.
The properties of coconut oil do not differ much with their varieties and remain more or less the same. So, think well and make a wise decision before you put your hands in your pocket.
Coconut Oil as a Carrier Oil: Coconut oil can be very efficient as carrier oil. Carrier oils hold a place of high importance in Aromatherapy, Ayurveda, Chinese Medicines and all other systems of medicine which involve massaging. 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 skin, when mixed into it. Coconut oil is very easily absorbed through the skin pores and thus used as carrier oil. Further, being one of the most stable oils, it does neither go rancid itself nor does it let the other oils or herbal extracts or medicines spoil in it for a long time. Thus, you can mix your desired thing it and keep it for future for a long-long time. Due to its anti-fungal and anti-microbial property coconut oil keeps the oils, herbal extracts and medicines that are mixed in it protected from microbial or fungal actions. It also does not alter the properties of the oils and herbs mixed in it. Coconut oil is expensive in several countries; however, in tropical countries its cost is low enough to make it affordable carrier oil.
Coconut oil extraction
Cold pressing is one of the preferred methods of extraction of coconut oil.The quality and goodness of coconut oil depends much on the method of its extraction. Basically, there are two main methods of extraction of coconut oil. First one 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 volatile components, hence coconut oil obtained this way is not considered as good as that obtained by cold pressing, as cold pressing retains much of oil’s goodness. Machine pressing and bullock/manual pressing are two methods of cold pressing.
Machine pressing: In this 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 dearer since the production is less, consumes more time and energy and wastage is more. It has higher price, lower availability and better quality.
Buying Coconut Oil
First of all, you need to decide why you need coconut oil, i.e. where you are going to use it. Your choice should be based on your need, i.e. whether you want it for edible purposes or as a carrier oil to be used in aromatherapy or for massaging or for weight loss or for medicinal purposes etc. As mentioned earlier there are different varieties for different purposes. Their properties do not differ much, unless they are mixed with some base or additives and do not contain 100% coconut oil. Given below is a list of such purposes and the type of coconut oil to buy.
Purpose---Preferable Type to Buy
Cooking---Refined Coconut Oil
Weight Loss---Virgin Coconut Oil
As a Carrier Oil---Virgin Coconut Oil, Fractionated Coconut Oil
Good Health---Virgin Coconut Oil, Organic Coconut Oil
Massaging---Pure Coconut Oil, Refined Coconut Oil
Hair---Pure Coconut Oil, Refined Coconut Oil
Medicinal uses---Virgin Coconut Oil, Virgin Organic Coconut Oil
Further, before you buy coconut oil, it should be kept in mind that for edible and therapeutic uses, refined coconut oil is the best as it is hygienic and clean. Unrefined coconut oil is good for external applications such as hair care and skin care.
Where to buy from? Except some of the special varieties, such as virgin coconut oil and organic coconut oil, other varieties like the pure coconut oil and refined coconut oil are easily available with most of the grocers, at least in tropical countries. For special ones, you need to search the big departmental stores or sometimes a drug store too. Things may be a little different in countries which do not produce coconut oil, e.g. US, Canada, most of Europe, etc. You need to visit big grocers in these countries. You will also get coconut oil easily at grocery stores in localities what have higher population of people from India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Philippines, and coastal Africa. And of course, you can find it online.
Which brand to buy?: No problem if someone in your village extracts coconut oil (quite normal in Philippines, Thailand, Burma, coastal India, Sri Lanka etc.) and you know that person well or see him/her expelling the oil. But when you are to buy coconut oil in packs, go for the reliable and reputed brands. Read the contents carefully. Watch the manufacturing date (although coconut oil has a long shelf life, still, the fresher the better).
How much to pay? Now, this is really a difficult question to answer. The price of coconut oil depends on many factors such as its availability (cheaper where it is produced and dearer otherwise, further dearer if ordered via phone, Internet etc.), demand, variety (the refined one costs least, followed by the fractionated, the virgin, the organic and the organic virgin coconut oils etc.), brand, quantity (buying in bulk costs a little less), packaging etc.
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. Better go for fresh lot each time.
Storage: After you buy coconut oil, the next question comes to your mind is that of storage. 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 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!). That’s all.
April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.