Coconut oil has been a main staple in the cooking world for centuries, but it gained a bad reputation as causing high cholesterol and heart disease due to its high content of saturated fat. More recently, pure coconut oil is emerging as a heart-healthy oil with various therapeutic qualities and multiple health benefits.
Pure coconut oil has a distinctive smell and flavor and can be used cosmetics, massage oil, hair products and topically applied medications in addition to being a healthy addition to our kitchen cabinets. Coconut oil is comprised of over 90 percent saturated fats with a trace amount of unsaturated fats (mostly traces of fatty acids). The saturated fat in coconut oil is mostly medium chain fatty acids which are easily converted to energy by our bodies (specifically lauric acid, capric acid, caprylic acid, myristic acid and palmitic acid). Coconut oil is also rich in antioxidants, polyphenols and vitamins (mostly vitamin E).
Benefits of Topical Use
The health benefits associated with pure coconut oil are bountiful. Used externally, coconut oil aids in the growth of healthy hair (used topically to massage the scalp), repair and nourishment of damaged hair and maintaining a healthy scalp. It also has soothing properties which can provide stress relief, making it ideal as part of massage. An excellent moisturizer for all skin types, coconut oil can help to stave off wrinkles and skin sagging along with alleviating symptoms from dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions. Topically, it can aid in preventing or treating infection since it forms a protective layer that keeps out dust, virus, bacteria and fungi.
Effect on Cholesterol and Obesity
Researchers (like Blackburn et al in 1988) found that coconut oil can aid in lowering harmful cholesterol levels since it stimulates the thyroid. Proper levels of thyroid hormones help to stimulate an enzymatic process in which LDL cholesterol into pregnenolone, DHEA, anti-aging steroids and progesterone—all of which are necessary in fighting heart disease, cancer, obesity and senility. This same thyroid stimulation is linked to coconut oil’s ability to assist in healthy weight loss. Coconut oil’s medium and short-chain fatty acids help to increase metabolism and enable you to burn more calories and reduce unhealthy weight levels.
Immune System Benefits
Pure coconut oil has immune-strengthening power with its antimicrobial properties. The antimicrobial lipids can also improve digestion and aid in absorption of vitamins and minerals. Lauric acid, caprylic acid and capric acid all have antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties. Lauric acid is converted by your body into monolaurin, which is widely touted to have a beneficial antiviral effect on influenza and herpes. The antibacterial qualities aid your body in fighting off bacteria like heliobacter pylori (which can lead to ulcer) as well as listeria and giardia.
The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil can help to protect your liver from disease since they are easily converted by your body into energy—reducing how hard your liver needs to work and preventing fatty build-up. It also aids your body in more effectively using blood glucose, helping to control blood sugar and improving the ability of the pancreas to secrete insulin. This makes coconut oil a promising supplement to a healthy diabetic diet. Since it also helps your body to more readily absorb vitamins and minerals (including magnesium and calcium), it is helpful in maintaining healthy bones and strong teeth.