7 Borderline Miraculous Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
BY BRITT BRANDON, CFNS, CPT
delicious and highly nutritious coconuts are a virtual panacea with a variety of borderline miraculous health benefits and uses. photo: alexandra gorn
Despite their name, coconuts aren’t nuts. They’re actually the fruit (scientifically termed drupes) that drops from the lovely palm fronds atop the beautiful palms inhabiting tropical areas of the world. Named by sixteenth-century Spanish settlers, coconut derives from the Spanish word coco, used to refer to the skull. They coined the term because they thought the three indentations on the fibrous outer coating resembled a skull’s two eyes and nose.
Originating in the tropical landscapes of Florida and the numerous tropical islands around the world, coconut palms provide us with a plentiful crop—55 million tons per year. they actually account for up to 60 percent of some Pacific cultures’ diets. In economic trade, medicinal treatments, and nutrition, the coconut has established itself as one of the most important natural resources known to humankind.
The History and Uses of Coconut Oil
Coconut fossils dating back 55 million years have been discovered in parts of Australia and India, yet earlier fossils found in parts of the Americas lead some researchers to theorize that South America and southern North America may have been the coconut palm’s birthplace. Its ability to germinate even after the fruit has traveled the earth’s oceans for 100 days or over 3,000 miles has made it difficult to determine where the plant originated. Regardless of it’s birthplace, its importance in myriad cultures throughout time is evident in multiple written works dating back 1,500 years.
Although Pacific cultures had utilized coconut oil’s medicinal powers for centuries, the Americas only learned of its healing properties in the mid-eighteenth century. The oil’s use for skin and hair and its ability to combat bacteria, fungi, viruses, parasites, and microbes quickly made it a commodity of high demand in the Americas. In only a few decades after its introduction in the early 1900s, the oil’s popularity skyrocketed. Finding the best method for extracting and processing the oil quickly became a focus for manufacturers worldwide.
Two methods were identified for developing coconut oil: “dry” and “wet.” The dry process involved drying the “meat” of the coconut using heat, sunlight, or chemical solvents, followed by pressing the oil directly from the meat. The wet process compressed the coconut meat to expel the liquid and then separated the oil from the water via fermentation, boiling, or various chemical processes. Because the wet process required the use of heavy machinery, was more expensive, and often resulted in a lower yield, the dry process became the more common procedure used to produce coconut oil. Once the chemical solvents in the manufacturing process were replaced with natural treatment alternatives that were not exorbitantly expensive, the dry process became even more appealing to manufacturers. To this day it remains the go-to process for extracting and developing extra virgin oil.
Lauric Acid: A Unique, Health-Boosting Fat
Because of its high saturated-fat content, coconut oil was once thought to be unhealthy. However, researchers studying its unique properties stumbled upon an important difference between coconut oil and other high-saturated-fat foods. They discovered that coconut oil benefits health because it contains a unique type of saturated fat, classified as lauric acid, to which the body responds differently than it does to any other saturated fat.
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Lauric acid is found in other natural sources, such as breastmilk. This twelve-carbon fatty acid is enzymatically digested, shuttled straight to the liver, and metabolized into a monoglyceride called monolaurin. During the digestive process, coconut oil’s beneficial lauric acid increases energy levels and stamina, and boosts “good” cholesterol (HDL) levels. In addition, lauric acid and monolaurin act as antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antimicrobial agents that potentially safeguard against common illnesses and ailments of the viral, bacterial, fungal, and microbial sort.
Different Types of Fatty Acids in Coconut Oil
Fatty acid chains of different lengths affect the body differently. Fats are classified in two ways:
1. By the type of saturation
2. By the length or size of the fatty-acid chain
“Saturation” is further broken down into different categories: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, etc. The classification is used to describe the type and number of bonds that make up the fat molecule. The length of the fatty acid’s “carbon chain” of carbon and hydrogen atoms is what determines a fat’s classification as a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA), medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA), or long-chain fatty acid (LCFA). Long-chain fatty acids are found in animal and dairy products—they’re the ones that can contribute to the buildup of plaque in arteries, increased LDL cholesterol, etc. Coconut oil is composed of medium-chain fatty acids or medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which help the body rather than harming it.
The Special Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
Okay, I realize you may be dubious about all these supposedly great coconut oil uses and benefits. We’ve been taught to be skeptical of anything that sounds too good to be true—and for good reason. When medications promise to deliver outstanding results but also create sneaky side effects, when foods promise to be fat-free but are packed full of lots of unhealthy ingredients and calories, or when a new product assures us it can help us lose weight overnight with no effort at all, we know to be wary of the claims and skeptical about the results.
Coconut oil, however, is one of the few products where consumer skepticism is not warranted. Scientific research and peer-reviewed studies present evidence to demonstrate the amazing powers of the oil in improving virtually every area of your health…and your quality of life.
+ A study published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology in 2010 determined that the oil had a beneficial effect in treating wounds.
+ A study published in 2012 in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal discovered that coconut oil helped to prevent bone loss due to osteoporosis, and improved bone structure.
+ A study published in Neurobiology of Aging in 2004 showed that medium-chain fatty acids improved memory recall in Alzheimer’s patients.
+ A study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science’s March/April 2003 issue found that coconut oil used for hair conditioned and improved damaged hair, and protected hair from further damage.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
The main components responsible for providing all these different, effective benefits of the oil are medium-chain triglycerides (or “medium-chain fatty acids”), lauric acid, and capric acid. These multipurpose agents fight to prevent illness, improve immunity, and safeguard the health of your body externally and internally. Coconut oil’s effectiveness is not just a gimmick or a fad.
One product and one simple lifestyle change can dramatically improve your overall well-being, providing benefits to your blood, metabolism functioning, digestion and nutrient absorption, and so much more. All you have to do is consume 1 to 3 tablespoons of the oil in its liquid or solid state daily to enhance your overall health and safeguard it for years to come.
You can store your oil in your refrigerator or cabinet. When kept at a temperature higher than 75°F, the oil becomes liquid; at lower temperatures it solidifies. Either way, it provides the same benefits. The virgin, organic variety of the oil has a shelf life of fifteen months to three years, but I’m sure you’ll use up your trusty container of coconut oil well before that length of time once you discover how many ways you can use it in your everyday life.
1. Increase Nutrient Absorption
Nutritional deficiencies cause illnesses and diseases that wreak havoc on the world’s population—and not only in poor nations. With proper nutrition, the body is able to function properly and fend off illnesses; therefore, a quality diet is a lifesaver, literally. Each bite of food you consume contains nutrients that serve as the building blocks your body needs to perform everyday functions: provide energy; digest food; and maintain the health of your brain, heart, organs, and bones.
When your body is deficient in vitamins or minerals, it is forced to limit the processes in which those elements are used—it may even extract those essentials from the existing stores found in the blood, organs, and bones. Deficiencies make the body more susceptible to illnesses and diseases that it could fight off if it were healthy. By using coconut oil in your daily diet, you’ll improve the overall quality of your health and safeguard against possible illness.
2. Sharpen Mental Clarity
You probably know that caffeine acts to boost mental clarity, but you may not know that one of coconut oil’s benefits is improving mental alertness—quickly, naturally, and for longer durations than caffeine. When you consider that 60 percent of your brain is fat, it seems logical that feeding it a healthy fat would make your gray matter function better. And, indeed, it does. Whether you’re feeling sluggish in the morning, out of energy in the afternoon, or simply find yourself slipping into a “brain fog” at any time of the day, coconut oil use can help. By adding 1 to 3 tablespoons of the oil to your daily diet, you can dramatically improve your mental alertness and maintain a higher level of cognitive functioning throughout the day. You can also add a dollop of it to your coffee or tea for a quick “pick me up.”
With medium-chain fatty acids that are quickly and easily digested, coconut oil has special stimulating effects on brain functioning that no saturated fat provides. Ingesting it benefits your brain by providing immediate and long-lasting energy. This sudden stimulation “wakes up” your brain and improves your mental awareness and cognitive functioning.
Studies have also shown that ingesting coconut oil significantly increases the production (and resulting number) of ketone bodies in the blood. Your brain requires “food” for energy and utilizes ketones for optimum nourishment. A 2013 study published in Biomedical Journal found the medium-chain triglycerides in a ketone-boosting diet to be “one of the most effective therapies for drug-resistant epilepsy.” The oil use may even reduce the incidence of serious degenerative mental conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
3. Fight Fungal Infections
For fighting fungal infections, the benefits of the oil’s natural healing capabilities exceed those of products provided at your local drugstore—in fact, a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in June 2007 advised that “Coconut oil should be used in the treatment of fungal infections.” When the body succumbs to a fungal infection, a number of possible afflictions may arise, ranging from mild discomfort and fever to severe bouts of infection that spread to other parts of the body (even the brain, lungs, and internal organs), requiring hospitalization—some of these afflictions may even result in death. According to a 2013 article in Science Daily, fungal infections cause more than 1.3 million deaths worldwide annually. You can greatly reduce your chances of having a bout of life-altering or life-threatening illness related to a fungal infection, however, and the oil can play a role.
To help prevent against fungal infections, use:
+ 1 to 3 tablespoons of coconut oil
+ Consume each day (neat or added to food).
To topically aid fungal infections, use:
+ 1 teaspoon of coconut oil
With a cotton ball, apply the oil to the affected area of the skin as often as 5 to 10 times per day.
More than half the composition of coconut oil is a saturated fat that belongs to the classification of medium-chain fatty acids. This part of the the oil is processed by the liver and broken down to create lauric acid, which in turn becomes an antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal combatant against infection. These powerful properties of coconut oil can effectively relieve fungal infections.
4. Soothe Dry Skin
So many conditions can contribute to dry skin that it’s difficult to find someone who doesn’t suffer from this condition. Do you wash your hands repeatedly throughout the day to prevent potential infection? Are you exposed to extremely cool or dry conditions because of your climate? Do you suffer from a skin condition that is exacerbated by lifestyle or environmental factors? Do hormonal issues upset your skin’s pH balance? Thankfully, there are many uses of coconut oil for skin can help relieve dry skin and repair the effects of dryness while also delivering the germ-fighting properties of lauric acid and capric acid that safeguard your skin’s health.
Uncomfortable dry skin can affect any part of your body. Not only do you want to get rid of dry patches on your skin, you want a dry-skin soother that also provides protection from infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and microbes that can attack the vulnerable areas of the skin that have become cracked and irritated by dryness. Using the oil on your skin delivers intensive moisturizing benefits, while simultaneously providing antibacterial, antiviral support for damaged skin.
1. Apply a thin layer of the oil to dry patches of skin.
2. Allow the oil to be absorbed into the skin for 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Reapply the oil as often as needed.
Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and you can give it support by consuming just 1 to 3 daily tablespoons of the oil. This benefits your body by helping it better absorb and deliver essential nutrients needed for optimal skin health. By maintaining a daily dietary regimen that includes the consumption of coconut oil for skin health, you can quickly, easily, and safely improve internal conditions that prevent dry skin and keep your skin moisturized regardless of the external conditions it has to endure.
5. Nix Acne
Acne is a reaction to bacteria that has been absorbed into the skin’s cells or that is causing an encapsulated blockage of one of the skin’s sebaceous glands or pores. The clogging of the pores, which are responsible for purging bacteria, dirt, grime, and germs that cause irritation, can lead to redness, irritation, blackheads, whiteheads, or acne. Products that contain salicylic acid, a powerful synthetic acid intended to kill bacteria that cause acne, can actually cause more irritation and can lead to other conditions including dryness, overproduction of oils (in response to the dryness), inflammation, and possibly contribute to wrinkles. By opting for a more natural treatment method—coconut oil—for your skin, you can achieve results that will leave your face acne-free and moisturized, without unpleasant side effects.
With antibacterial properties from lauric acid, coconut oil can be applied directly to the skin of the face and/or body—wherever acne is prevalent. Soak a cotton ball in liquefied oil and apply a light coating of oil to your skin as often as desired. It can also assist in maintaining a healthy balance of oils on the skin and keep your skin free of acne-causing bacteria to further minimize the development of acne. An acne study published in the Journal of Dermatological Science in 2013 found that lauric acid inhibited bacterial growth and reduced inflammation. This anti-inflammatory property can reduce redness and irritation on the skin where blotches and discoloration occur. Try blending in tea tree, oregano, or rosemary essential oils for added benefits. In just a matter of days you’ll start developing evenly toned, radiant, acne-free skin.
6. Stimulate Hair Growth
Whether you’re trying to grow your hair longer or stimulate growth in areas of thinning hair, commercial products often fail to deliver the promised results. Additionally, these potions and lotions may be packed with harsh chemicals that can damage your hair or seep through your scalp and infiltrate your blood stream through the numerous veins that lie just below the skin of your scalp.
If you’re seeking a safe, natural way to stimulate hair growth, look no further than coconut oil for hair health. Its moisturizing properties help to maximum moisture retention at the base of the hair shaft. The oil also benefits and stimulates collagen production, due to its lauric acid and capric acid that combine to promote the regeneration of skin cells and hair follicle production, which can help improve hair quality and encourage new hair growth.
Use this simple procedure to optimize hair growth by protecting the new hair’s structure and delivering powerful phytochemicals and vitamin E to the scalp:
+ ½ cup of coconut oil
+ Massage oil into your scalp and hair. Allow the oil to be absorbed for 1 to 3 hours, or up to a day if you have the time. Rinse, then shampoo and condition as usual. Repeat the process every 1 to 3 days to maximize results.
+ To support this topical application, consume 1 to 3 tablespoons of the oil per day for hair that looks extra smooth and healthy. This enhances hair growth by enabling your body to better absorb the vitamins and minerals needed to maintain hair health.
Can Your Ponytail Damage Your Hair?
Yes! Surprisingly enough, studies have shown that when the hair is repeatedly pulled into a ponytail, the strands of the hair are exposed to more stretching and breaking. Wet hair, which is weaker than dry, is more prone to damage. One benefit of using coconut oil for your hair is that you’ll strengthen your locks to prevent breakage.
7. Whiten Teeth
In addition to using coconut oil for your hair and skin, did you know that most of the stains and discoloration that occur on teeth can be easily removed and prevented with simple, inexpensive at-home treatments? One of the little-known benefits of the oil’s uses is that it can help naturally whiten your teeth. You can enjoy coffee, tea, and red wine without developing the yellowish or grayish discoloration that often results—and without the chemicals contained in popular, commercial teeth-whitening products.
Combine three simple ingredients to brush away stains, whiten teeth, and prevent future stains. It works quickly—and you don’t have to refrain from eating and drinking for hours before and after the procedure.
+ 1 teaspoon coconut oil
+ 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (the unfiltered, unpasteurized, organic version)
+ 1 teaspoon hydrogen peroxide
+ 1 tablespoon water
Combine all the ingredients. Sip the concoction; swish throughout your mouth and over your teeth for a minimum of 1 minute and up to 5 minutes. Spit out the mixture and brush teeth as usual. You can repeat the process as often as necessary throughout the day to brighten your teeth and safeguard your pearly whites.
This article is excerpted with permission from Coconut Oil for Health: 100 Amazing and Unexpected Uses for Coconut Oil by Britt Brandon, CFNS, CPT. Copyright © 2016 Adams Media, a division of Simon and Schuster. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
About The Author
Britt Brandon is a certified personal trainer; a certified fitness nutrition specialist; and the author of many books, including Apple Cider Vinegar for Health, Coconut Oil for Health, The I Love My NutriBullet Recipe Book, Activated Charcoal for Health, and The “I Love My Instant Pot” Vegan Recipe Book. As a competitive athlete, trainer, mom of three small children, and fitness and nutrition blogger on her own website UltimateFitMom.com, she is well versed in the holistic approaches to keeping your body in top-performing condition.