If you enjoy a soft and nutty taste of coconut in your dishes, you are probably keen on purchasing everything that has coconut oil labeled on it. However, people hoping to experience the health benefits of coconut oil could end up disheartening their expectations.
Over the last decade, the use of coconut oil has sprung a global controversy. It has been praised for its many healing properties, with 72% of New York Times survey respondents considering it “healthy.” However, only some of these claims concur with relevant scientific evidence, and that’s why only 37% of the nutritionists agree.
In truth, to accurately assess the coconut oil benefits and side effects, we need to look behind labeling and media advertisements. That’s why we dug deep into its composition and scooped for evidence that explains its positive effects on health.
Read on, and see what we’ve found.
Coconut Oil – Breaking Down the Fat
At room temperature, coconut oil is solid, which tends to confuse novice consumers expecting to purchase a thick, greasy liquid. In truth, both the consistency and benefits of coconut oil are exceptional because of its unique composition.
Basically, coconut oil is 99% fat. However, the ratio of particular fatty acids is the trait that accounts for its effectiveness. That is, coconut oil contains:
- 90% saturated fat
- 9% unsaturated fat
- 1% plant sterols and other fat-dissolving plant chemicals.
Saturated fats are chemically more prone to alterations. They have an excellent energetic profile, and, when ingested, they are more quickly absorbed and metabolized. Furthermore, they tend to build up in your system and increase the levels of harmful cholesterol (LDL), while at the same time decreasing the levels of good cholesterol (HDL).
In other words, using saturated fats increases the risks of atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and coronary diseases.
Moreover, the American Heart Association diminishes the long-hailed benefits of eating coconut oil by recommending a limited intake of saturated fats in general.
The controversy of coconut oil is that it contains saturated fats that are not that bad as those found in butter or beef fat.
Over 50% of the total fat in coconut oil composition comes from medium-chain-fatty acids, such as lauric and myristic acid. Although saturated, they do not burden the metabolic pathways that much. In other words, the organism utilizes them on the spot to produce energy, while not metabolizing them into storage or incorporating them in triglyceride form.
Monounsaturated fats, on the other hand, are more metabolically potent. In other words, they tend to lower the levels of bad cholesterol, while at the same time not altering the levels of good cholesterol.
The bottom line is that a moderate intake (12-25g daily) of fatty acids from coconut oil reduces the health risks by fueling energy and increasing overall cholesterol metabolism.
Processing Coconut Oil
The benefits of taking coconut oil will depend on the type of oil that is used. The market is overwhelmed with various kinds of coconut oil-based products that differ significantly.
In general, coconut oil is made by pressing fresh or dried coconut meat. The quality of the final products depends on the complexity of the process and the number of additional chemicals used.
Virgin coconut oil (extra virgin coconut oil) is made from fresh coconut meat, which is sorted, dried, and pressed. Depending on the heath used in the process, we distinguish two types: expeller pressed (with heath), and cold-pressed (without heath).
It is considered that cold-pressed, virgin coconut oil retains its health benefits in the highest amounts. Heating processes tend to chemically alter or denaturize some of the most beneficial ingredients.
Refined coconut oil is made from dried coconut meat by pressing, often with health and other chemicals. The most popular refined coconut oil uses include cooking and cosmetic applications.
Fractionated coconut oil is made from refined oil. The long-chain fatty acids are removed, so the oil becomes liquid at room temperatures. Some of the fractionated coconut oil uses include homemade cosmetic preparations.
Partially hydrogenated coconut oil is made with the process of hydrogenation, which increases the oil’s longevity. Although with a longer expiration date, partially hydrogenated coconut oil contains trans-fats, which are metabolically inactive and are a less desirable fat type.
MCT (Medium Chain Triglyceride) Oil is often referred to as coconut oil. However, there is a difference. More than 50% of saturated fats in coconut oil are naturally in the form of triglycerides formed from medium-chain fatty acids, which quickly transcend to the liver and bloodstream. The market, however, has other synthetic or other plant-based MCT oils that do not express the nutritional benefits of coconut oil.
The Use of Coconut Oil: Health Benefits
While the mainstream media howls about the uses of coconut oil, the scientific evidence for its health benefits is scarce. However, there is enough data that supports its nutritional and cosmetic use, while the effects on treating diseases are mainly depicted in epidemiological studies.
In further reading, we reveal the most impactful and science-based effects of coconut oil. These are evident in:
- Topical uses
- Oral coconut oil uses, including nutritional aspects and disease prevention.
Coconut Oil: Skin Benefits
A comprehensive study on the anti-infective properties of coconut oil revealed that it could be useful in treating Staphylococcus Aureus, the bacteria that causes staph infections. Furthermore, it could be used for the treatment of mild mycosis caused by Candida species.
The application of virgin coconut oil and its homemade preparations might aid the treatment of sores, boils, and even skin redness.
Furthermore, some studies support the anti-inflammatory benefits of coconut oil on the skin. When applied to the skin, this oil tends to calm inflamed tissue and regenerate scars.
Its ability to fight off infections and reduce inflammation make the coconut oil a good choice for treating acne. Some of the effective coconut oil uses for acne include natural made soaps and lotions. Commercial products, on the other hand, vary among themselves, depending on the type of oil that is used.
Coconut oil also has wound-healing properties, as its fat content layers out a protective film around the wound, thus facilitating healing by relieving inflammation.
Last but not least, coconut oil benefits skin regeneration in damaged skin. Its unique content of medium-chain fatty acids fuels skin and hair metabolism by promoting moisturization and skin upper layer protection.
The use of coconut oil for skin benefits dry and damaged skin, associated with eczema and dermatitis. According to a study on atopic dermatitis, 47% of people treated with virgin coconut oil expressed mild improvement, while 46% experienced excellent results.
Health Benefits of Coconut Oil for Weight Loss
Consumption of MCT has been linked to increased energy expenditure and decreased fat storage.
Furthermore, the energetic profile of medium-chain fatty acids is beneficial in restrictive diet plans. That is, when basing your dietary fat on MCT from coconut oil, hunger cravings tend to diminish, thus optimizing total nutritional balance.
Some of the best uses of coconut oil are found in keto-based diet plans. The continuous intake of metabolically active and energetically expendable fatty acids from coconut oil is linked to greater appetite suppression than in animal fats.
Another study on overweight women showed that a coconut-oil-based diet promotes the reduction of belly fat.
Coconut Oil Uses for Brain Health
Metabolically active lipid profile found in coconut oil is considered as a good lipid-replenishing choice for brain structures. Additionally, the dietary benefits of this oil have been proven to aid in certain neurological disorders, such as epilepsy and dementia.
According to a study on patients with intractable epilepsy from Thailand, a coconut-oil-based MCT diet reduced the frequency of seizures in more than 50%, while 28% of patients remain seizure-free.
Furthermore, introducing an MCT-based ketogenic diet in patients with Alzheimer’s disease showed moderate improvement.
One study found that people who consume coconut oil tend to exhibit higher blood levels of brain antioxidants and lower levels of stress hormones. This is described as the coconut oil benefit as a relaxant.
Coconut Oil Uses for Teeth
Oil pulling is a traditional type of dental and gingival therapy that implies the use of oil for strengthening gums, teeth, and jaws.
The antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory traits of coconut oil make it a good oral antiseptic, while at the same time reducing bad breath.
A study from 2011 equalized the effects of oral pulling with coconut oil to a commonly used synthetic oral antiseptic chlorhexidine.
Cardiovascular Benefits of Coconut Oil
When taken in moderate quantities over a more extended period, coconut oil reshapes the body composition and alters cholesterol metabolism.
One study found that dietary coconut oil reduces the levels of bad cholesterol, while at the same time increasing good cholesterol.
Epidemiological studies that investigate the dietary benefits of people who consume coconut in their indigenous diet conclude that these people tend to have better overall health and lower incidence of cardiovascular diseases.
Coconut Oil for Lung Health
Benefits of ingesting coconut oil mostly fall upon preventive dietary measures. However, its fat content makes it a good substitute for synthetic inhalation substances, used in the treatment of asthma.
A study from 2017 found that inhaling coconut-oil-based MCT mixture reduced lung inflammation and increased overall breathing score in patients with asthma.
Benefits of Coconut Oil on the Liver
The liver is the laboratory of the human organism. In other words, any xenobiotic (foreign substance) must be modified inside it to proceed into the systemic circulation.
Needless to say, the liver metabolizes all of the ingested fat.
Some scientific evidence supports the use of coconut oil for the therapy of fatty liver. In short, it is presumed that the MCT profile of the oil restores the antioxidative and metabolic capacities of liver cells.
Coconut oil is used everywhere today. We find it in cereals, coffee, healthy snacks, and even pound jars. It is great for cooking, and has various health benefits.
When used in diets, coconut oil has a preferable metabolic profile, and it aids fat metabolism, weight loss, and satiety. Furthermore, its dietary use aids the heart, brain, and liver health.
It expresses benefits on the skin and could be used both for nurturing and treatment.
However, to avoid the undesirable intake of saturated fat and enjoy the actual health benefits of coconut oil, moderation is the key.