Coconut oil is an oil extracted from coconuts from the coconut palm. The scientific name for coconut is Cocos nucifera. Early Spanish explorers called it coco, which means "monkey face" because the three indentations (eyes) on the hairy nut resembles the head and face of a monkey. Nucifera means "nut-bearing."
Throughout the tropical world, coconut oil has provided the primary source of fat in the diets of millions of people for generations. It has various applications in food, medicine, and industry. Coconut oil is very heat-stable, which makes it suited to methods of cooking at high temperatures like frying. Because of its stability, it is slow to oxidize and, thus, resistant to rancidity, lasting up to two years due to high saturated fat content.
Coconut oil contains 92% of saturated fatty acids. Those levels are extremely high once compared to other cooking oils that only contain about 13-18% of saturated fats. Now, if coconut oil is filled with so much of the bad stuff, then why do some people say that it's the healthiest oil on earth?
The answer lies in the fatty acid's chain. Most fats present in food are long chain fatty acids. These can be harder to metabolize and digest. Coconut oil is made up of medium chain fatty acids, which is rare among foods. These MCFA's are easily metabolized and converted into energy, that they don't accumulate within the artery walls causing no reason to fear the occurrence of a heart attack. Plus, coconut oil is said to lower bad cholesterol, while increasing good cholesterol.
The coconut provides a nutritious source of meat, juice, milk, and oil that has fed and nourished populations around the world for generations. On many islands coconut is a staple in the diet and provides the majority of the food eaten. Nearly one third of the world's population depends on coconut to some degree for their food and their economy. Among these cultures the coconut has a long and respected history.
Coconut is highly nutritious and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is classified as a "functional food" because it provides many health benefits beyond its nutritional content. Coconut oil is of special interest because it possesses healing properties far beyond that of any other dietary oil and is extensively used in traditional medicine among Asian and Pacific populations. Pacific Islanders consider coconut oil to be the cure for all illness. The coconut palm is so highly valued by them as both a source of food and medicine that it is called "The Tree of Life." Only recently has modern medical science unlocked the secrets to coconut's amazing healing powers.
Coconut Oil Health Benefits
Main article: Coconut Oil Benefits
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 coconut oil can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its properties such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial, soothing, etc.
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 heliobacter 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 references on scientific research done on coconut oil.
Coconut In Traditional Medicine
People from many diverse cultures, languages, religions, and races scattered around the globe have esteemed the coconut as a valuable source of both food and medicine. Wherever the coconut palm grows the people have learned of its importance as a effective medicine. For thousands of years coconut products have held a respected and valuable place in local folk medicine.
In traditional medicine around the world coconut is used to treat a wide variety of health problems including the following: abscesses, asthma, baldness, bronchitis, bruises, burns, colds, constipation, cough, dropsy, dysentery, earache, fever, flu, gingivitis, gonorrhea, irregular or painful menstruation, jaundice, kidney stones, lice, malnutrition, nausea, rash, scabies, scurvy, skin infections, sore throat, swelling, syphilis, toothache, tuberculosis, tumors, typhoid, ulcers, upset stomach, weakness, and wounds.
Coconut In Modern Medicine
Modern medical science is now confirming the use of coconut in treating many of the above conditions. Published studies in medical journals show that coconut, in one form or another, may provide a wide range of health benefits. Some of these are summarized below:
Kills viruses that cause influenza, herpes, measles, hepatitis C, SARS, AIDS, and other illnesses.
Kills bacteria that cause ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, gum disease and cavities, pneumonia, and gonorrhea, and other diseases.
Kills fungi and yeasts that cause candidiasis, ringworm, athlete's foot, thrush, diaper rash, and other infections.
Expels or kills tapeworms, lice, giardia, and other parasites.
Provides a nutritional source of quick energy.
Boosts energy and endurance, enhancing physical and athletic performance.
Improves digestion and absorption of other nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
Improves insulin secretion and utilization of blood glucose.
Relieves stress on pancreas and enzyme systems of the body.
Reduces symptoms associated with pancreatitis.
Helps relieve symptoms and reduce health risks associated with diabetes.
Reduces problems associated with malabsorption syndrome and cystic fibrosis.
Improves calcium and magnesium absorption and supports the development of strong bones and teeth.
Helps protect against osteoporosis.
Helps relieve symptoms associated with gallbladder disease.
Relieves symptoms associated with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and stomach ulcers.
Improves digestion and bowel function.
Relieves pain and irritation caused by hemorrhoids.
Supports tissue healing and repair.
Supports and aids immune system function.
Helps protect the body from breast, colon, and other cancers
Is heart healthy; improves cholesterol ratio reducing risk of heart disease.
Protects arteries from injury that causes atherosclerosis and thus protects against heart disease.
Helps prevent periodontal disease and tooth decay.
Functions as a protective antioxidant.
Helps to protect the body from harmful free radicals that promote premature aging and degenerative disease.
Does not deplete the body's antioxidant reserves like other oils do.
Improves utilization of essential fatty acids and protects them from oxidation.
Helps relieve symptoms associated with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Relieves symptoms associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (prostate enlargement).
Reduces epileptic seizures.
Helps protect against kidney disease and bladder infections.
Dissolves kidney stones.
Helps prevent liver disease.
Is lower in calories than all other fats.
Supports thyroid function.
Promotes loss of excess weight by increasing metabolic rate.
Is utilized by the body to produce energy in preference to being stored as body fat like other dietary fats.
Helps prevent obesity and overweight problems.
Applied topically helps to form a chemical barrier on the skin to ward of infection.
Reduces symptoms associated the psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis.
Supports the natural chemical balance of the skin.
Softens skin and helps relieve dryness and flaking.
Prevents wrinkles, sagging skin, and age spots.
Promotes healthy looking hair and complexion.
Provides protection from damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
Helps control dandruff.
Does not form harmful by-products when heated to normal cooking temperature like other vegetable oils do.
Has no harmful or discomforting side effects.
Is completely non-toxic to humans.
Coconut Oil Benefits: When Fat Is Good For You
You've no doubt noticed that for about the last 60 years, the majority of health care officials and the media have been telling you saturated fats are bad for your health and lead to a host of negative consequences, including high cholesterol, obesity, heart disease and Alzheimer's disease.
Meanwhile during this same 60 years, the American levels of heart disease, obesity, elevated serum cholesterol and Alzheimer's have skyrocketed.
Did you know that multiple studies on Pacific Island populations who get 30-60 percent of their total caloric intake from fully saturated coconut oil have all shown nearly non-existent rates of cardiovascular disease?
The fact is, all saturated fats are not created equal.
The operative word here is "created," because some saturated fats occur naturally, while other fats are artificially manipulated into a saturated state through the man-made process called hydrogenation.
Hydrogenation manipulates vegetable and seed oils by adding hydrogen atoms while heating the oil, producing a rancid, thickened substance that really only benefits processed food shelf life and corporate profits -- just about all experts now agree, hydrogenation does nothing good for your health.
These manipulated saturated fats are also called trans-fats -- and you should avoid them like the plague. But if one form of saturated fat is bad for you, does that mean all saturated fat is bad for you?
The Tropics' Best Kept Secret
The truth about coconut oil is obvious to anyone who has studied the health of those who live in native tropical cultures, where coconut has been a primary dietary staple for thousands of years.
Back in the 1930s, Dr. Weston Price found South Pacific Islanders whose diets were high in coconut to be healthy and trim, despite high dietary fat, and heart disease was virtually non-existent. Similarly, in 1981, researchers studying two Polynesian communities for whom coconut was the primary caloric energy source found them to have excellent cardiovascular health and fitness.
Where were all the clogged arteries and heart attacks from eating all of this "evil" saturated fat?
Obviously, coconut oil was doing nothing to harm the health of these islanders.
It may be surprising for you to learn that the naturally occurring saturated fat in coconut oil is actually good for you and provides a number of profound health benefits, such as:
Improving your heart health.
Boosting your thyroid.
Increasing your metabolism.
Promoting a lean body and weight loss if needed.
Supporting your immune system.
Coconut oil even benefits your skin when applied topically and has been found to have anti-aging, regenerative effects.
So, what are coconut oil's secrets to success?
How Coconut Oil Works Wonders in Your Body
Nearly 50 percent of the fat in coconut oil is of a type rarely found in nature called lauric acid, a "miracle" compound because of its unique health promoting properties. Your body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, which has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-protozoa properties.
Coconut oil is also nature's richest source of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), also called medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs. By contrast, most common vegetable or seed oils are comprised of long chain fatty acids (LCFAs), also known as long-chain triglycerides or LCTs.
LCTs are large molecules, so they are difficult for your body to break down and are predominantly stored as fat.
But MCTs, being smaller, are easily digested and immediately burned by your liver for energy -- like carbohydrates, but without the insulin spike. MCTs actually boost your metabolism and help your body use fat for energy, as opposed to storing it, so it can actually help you become leaner.
Back in the 1940s, farmers discovered this effect accidentally when they tried using inexpensive coconut oil to fatten their livestock.
It didn't work!
Instead, coconut oil made the animals lean, active and hungry.
Coconut oil has actually been shown to help optimize body weight, which can dramatically reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Besides weight loss, boosting your metabolic rate will improve your energy, accelerate healing and improve your overall immune function.
And several studies have now shown that MCTs can enhance physical or athletic performance.
And finally, as we have already discussed, coconut oil is incredible good for your heart. The truth is this: it is unsaturated fats that are primarily involved in heart disease and too much sugar and processed foods, not the naturally occurring saturated fats, as you have been led to believe.
Coconut Oil in Your Kitchen
Personally, I use only two oils in my food preparation.
The first, extra-virgin olive oil is the best monounsaturated fat and works great as a salad dressing. However, olive oil should not be used for cooking. Due to its chemical structure, heat makes olive oil susceptible to oxidative damage. So for cooking, I use coconut oil exclusively.
And polyunsaturated fats, which include common vegetable oils such as corn, soy, safflower, sunflower and canola, are absolutely the worst oils to cook with.
Three primary reasons:
1) Cooking your food in omega-6 vegetable oils produces a variety of very toxic chemicals, as well as forming trans-fats. Frying destroys the antioxidants in oil, actually oxidizing the oil, which causes even worse problems for your body than trans-fats.
2) Most vegetable oils are GM (genetically modified), including more than 90 percent of soy, corn and canola oils.
3) Vegetable oils contribute to the overabundance of damaged omega-6 fats in your diet, throwing off your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Nearly everyone in Western society consumes far too many omega-6 fats -- about 100 times more than a century ago -- and insufficient omega 3 fats, which contributes to numerous chronic degenerative diseases.
There is only one oil that is stable enough to withstand the heat of cooking, and that's coconut oil. So, do yourself a favor and ditch all those "healthy oil wannabes," and replace them with a large jar of fresh, organic, heart-supporting coconut oil.
Coconut Oil Side Effects
Saturated fatty acids are typically bad for our health. The fats can accumulate in our bodies, causing blockages within the arteries. These fats can stick to our arterial walls, causing the blood passageway to be smaller, leading to high blood pressure. Plus, since the blood flow is now sluggish, this can result in blood clots that can potentially clog up arteries in the heart, causing the dreaded heart attack.
Although rare, coconut oil can possibly cause an allergic reaction and serious anaphylaxis. This is a sudden, sever, and whole-body allergic reaction which can be potentially life threatening. Patients who have allergies to hazelnuts may develop a cross reactivity to coconuts. This type of side effect only attacks those who are hypersensitive to the fruit, and it is quite a rare phenomenon.
Another side effect that coconut oil potentially has is what Dr. Bruce Fife, Ph.D., would call as the "die-off" effect. When coconut oil is used to treat fungal infections, a "die-off" phenomenon may occur. This is when the anti-fungal compounds of the coconut oil kill of large numbers of fungal organisms, releasing toxins to the blood stream. These toxins can cause flu-like symptoms which will disappear after a few days.
According to Dr. Fife, the "die-off" effect actually shows the effectiveness of coconut oil in killing fungus, and these symptoms are said to disappear in a matter of a few days.
How To Avoid Coconut Oil Side Effects
For those who are allergic to other foods, especially nuts, take a small portion of coconut oil to test whether sensitive to it or not. Also, it is advised to only take the amount that is recommended. Finally, steer clear from taking in coconut oil that is unrefined and are processed with hydrogenation. The hydrogenation method can cause the appearance of trans fats, which are definitely bad for the health.
Go for coconut oils with the certified seal of approval from the United States Department of agriculture for organic production, and purchase only either organic or virgin coconut oil to minimize, if not eliminate, coconut oil side effects.
Coconut Oil Reviews
The following reviews have been selected:
Reviewer: 35-44 Female, 12/13/2011 11:39:15 PM
Coconut oil is healthy and extremely easy to include in a regular diet. I have replaced ALL refined vegetable oils with coconut oil and only cook with this or sometimes butter because they are stable at high heats. Olive oil is the only other fat I intentionally eat, but I do not cook with it. It is helping my digestion, skin and is helping me slim down with my regular exercise routine which was not happening before I started using it. You don't have to take it straight!! Cook with it, make smoothies with it, etc and you will reap the health benefits.
Reviewer: 2BeBliss, 35-44 Female, 5/15/2011 9:11:03 AM
I started out taking virgin organic UNREFINED coconut oil for a boost to my weight loss program. (I was working out several days a week and I had cut back on calories but was only loosing a pound a week, which I thought wasn't enough for all the effort I was making.) After rigorous research, I added approximately two (2) teaspoons of VCO (unrefined) to my diet, taking one spoon in the morning and one in evening. I began to lose approximately five (5) pounds a week. Amazing. I also noticed I had more energy (metabolism boost?), my appetite (and craving for sweets) decreased, and I felt healthier in general (combination of the oil, working out, diet change I'm sure). When I fell off the coconut wagon, the difference was very noticeable. My cravings for sugar returned, my weight ballooned upward again, less energy etc. Not good. I'm slowly getting back to the routine, minus the gym work outs. This time I will be walking and adding free weights (at home). (Side note: I keep my jars of coconut oil in the fridge and scoop it out in chunks, which I chew. So the 2-teaspoon measurement IS approximate.)
Reviewer: Michele, 35-44 Female, 2/11/2011 11:18:04 AM
I used extra virgin coconut oil on two patches of psoriasis I have had for years applying it after my shower, I noticed they were less itchy right away & had completely faded in just over a month. I also used it to treat a mild case of althetes foot by applying 1x a day, it cleared up in a weeks time. I now have my boyfriend using it twice a week to treat his dandruff, just massage it in to the scalp leave on for 20 mins then wash your hair as normal...no more stinky dandruff shampoo is needed :) I love this stuff!
Reviewer: awright, 45-54 Female, 2/4/2011 12:44:09 PM
I agree with another reviewer on her research of coconut oil being a med. strain fatty acid & being good for your overall health and lowering of cholesterol and having a positive effect on weight loss. I guess natural products will never be embraced by the mainstream pharmaceutical bigshots since they can't make a profit from it. Docs aren't interested in natural medicine or products, they don't have the time for research and they not only rely on the drug companies, they receive monetary kickbacks, vacations, sports tickets, etc., to peddle their poison. Compare the recall of "tested" drugs to the bad side affects from natural products......
Reviewer: Concerned Nurse, 35-44 Female, 4/1/2010 6:29:57 PM
I want ot say that the treatment is wonderful, but the data given at the end [on a medical website] is false information and is misleading to the consumer. Coco nut oil is a saturated fat yes, but it is a medium chain fatty acid that goes straight to the liver to be metabolized and is used as a form of energy. It does not increase cholesterol and reduces the progression of heart disease. It is actually good for your viens and ateries. Please review the research before you mislead the american public by publishing false information.
Reviewer: cglide, 45-54 Female, 8/22/2009 12:01:11 AM
Coconut oil is great! I took it for cholesterol and it really got mine down but you have to make sure you keep taking just like with pills, it also made my hair a LOT healthier, I felt a lot better in general. There were several things it did for me, but I used the oil not the capsules and it was easy to forget sometimes, but it does really work and it is natural is the best part.I think the Extra Virgin Coconut Oil is really healthy for one in a lot of ways.