28 Science-Verified Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
Although coconut oil was not particularly common in many Western countries for many years, its profound health benefits are slowly beginning to take the world by storm.
Being a staple food in almost one third of the world, it’s amazing that Western countries are only beginning to understand coconuts and all their potential.
To begin with, coconuts are considered drupes — they have three layers, the exocarp, the endocarp, and the mesocarp, which are the thick, cream-colored insides.
Since the Earth’s inhabitance, coconuts have been utilized for their fiber, fuel, folk remedies, and even as musical instruments for some Asian and Pacific Island natives (1).
Amazingly, coconuts are probably one of the most versatile foods because they have evolved into numerous forms and functions.
Once such form that coconuts exhibit is coconut water.
Coconut water is the extracted liquid from young, green coconuts and has a distinct sweet, nutty taste to it.
Fortunately, this beverage is extremely low in calories, incredibly hydrating, and has an abundance of potassium in just one drink — more potassium than that of four bananas (2).
The combination of low calories, low sugar, and low sodium compared to commercial sports drinks makes it a first choice for many athletes who sweat by the drink because of its incredible hydrating potential.
Additionally, although sometimes confused with coconut water, coconut milk is an entirely separate creation.
To make coconut milk, the fleshy, white portion of a coconut is grated and soaked in searing water until the cream rises and can be skimmed off the top.
The liquid that remains is squeezed through a cheesecloth to separate the milk from the coconut residue.
By repeating the process over and over, the liquid becomes thinner until it has a milky consistency.
Because the milk comes straight from the “meat” of the coconut, this beverage contains all the health benefits generated from eating pure coconut, such as its significant amount of medium-chain saturated fatty acids, resulting in a boosted metabolism (3).
However, besides using coconut solely for health benefits, many countries around the world utilize various other elements of coconuts as well.
In fact, many countries do not let any part of the coconut go to waste, thereby utilizing the meat, husk, water, leaves, trunk, and even the roots.
Many cultures even consider the coconut tree to be the “tree of life” (1).
A natural, fibrous substance called coir can be extracted from the outer husk to be used for floor mats, brushes, ropes and strings because of its durable nature.
Additionally, the actual husk and shell is routinely used as pots, or to create bowls and even fuels.
Coconut Oil Can Help Brain Disorders
One of the most beneficial properties of coconut oil is the large quantity of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) that it contains, as opposed to the long-chain fatty acids that many other foods contain.
The reasoning behind the benefits of this type of acid is that medium-chain fatty acids are not only absorbed easily by the liver, but they are also metabolized quickly.
This means they can further be converted into ketones.
Ketones are utilized by the brain as an important energy source and have been shown to have possible therapeutic effects on people suffering from memory loss, such as in case of Alzheimer’s disease (8).
Additionally, unique phenolic compounds and hormones found in coconut oilmay be able to prevent the aggregation of amyloid beta peptides, which are part of a leading theory concerning the cause of Alzheimer’s.
Increases Weight Loss
In addition to helping fight against brain and memory disorders, consumption of medium-chain fatty acids, such as those in coconut oil, has been proven to result in increased energy expenditures compared to long-chain fatty acids.
In other words, the body can easily convert this fat into energy for the body to utilize.
Such a method is critical for people trying to lose weight because it, essentially, is helping increase your metabolism.
In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the effects of overweight participants consuming MCFA oils compared to long-chain fatty acids.
The study discovered that subjects ingesting MCFA oils had a lower body weight and more fat loss at the end of the research (9).
According to Iranloye and colleagues (2013), coconut oil is a highly “insulinotropic” substance, meaning it greatly stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin (10).
The purpose of insulin is to control the blood-sugar levels throughout your body and, additionally, pump nutrients into your muscles.
Therefore, an increased secretion of this hormone is especially pertinent for both bodybuilders and regular citizens trying to increase their muscle mass.
Can Help Fight Infections
The most abundant fatty acid comprising nearly 50% of the coconut’s fat content in coconut oil is called lauric acid (1).
This acid is especially effective in eliminating a large variety of bacteria by disintegrating their lipid membrane and destroying the organism.
Specifically, coconut oil and it’s potent lauric acid can help destroy the bacteria leading to stomach ulcers, dental cavities, and food poisoning (1).
Lauric acid is naturally found in breast milk, which is understandable because newborns need to be highly protected from dangerous infections and pathogens.
Helps Lose Abdominal Fat
It is unanimously accepted that obesity is a growing problem in the Western world because of all the health concerns associated with it.
However, what is lesser known is that certain types of obesity are actually more dangerous than others — abdominal obesity being an especially harmful type.
In fact, abdominal obesity, compared to overall obesity, is a more important factor when determining the risks and likelihood for coronary heart events (11).
Fortunately, researchers have investigated the effects of coconut oil specifically on women with abdominal obesity.
Randomized control trials presented that treatment groups receiving daily supplements of coconut oil exhibited a significant decrease in waist circumference, while groups receiving soy bean oil or a placebo did not show such a correlation (12).
An amazing feat that coconut oil also performs is that it has been shown to increase satiety, meaning that it allows you to feel fuller for longer, thereby likely decreasing your daily caloric intake.
In animal studies, researchers have found that diets with long-chain fatty acids are associated with greater food intake, while similar diets with medium-chain fatty acids correlated with lower food intake (13).
Such a result has been attributed to several hormones that are linked to both satiating effects and MCFA.
Therefore, when MCFAs are consumed, a hormone would be released that makes us feel full (13).
However, no such hormone has been specifically linked just yet.
Nevertheless, it is still apparent that there is some mechanism, although yet to be identified, that associates the ingestion of MCFAs with a satisfying and full feeling.
Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
According to numerous clinical studies and epidemiological data, increased levels of plasma cholesterol due to high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) are correlated to coronary heart disease.
By contrast, high-density lipoproteins (HDL) have been proven to have an inverse relationship with heart disease (14).
In a controlled study, virgin coconut oil (VCO) was compared to copra oil (CO) on its ability to affect lipid parameters.
Investigators discovered that the “concentration of cholesterol in serum, liver, and heart of the VCO-treated group was significantly lower compared to CO-treated groups (14).
Furthermore, HDL cholesterol was significantly increased in VCO-fed animals, whereas similar results were not seen in any of the other treatment groups.
This led researchers to believe that there is a positive correlation between coconut oil and HDL cholesterol, thereby allowing coconut oil to help prevent coronary heart events.
It is definitely apparent that not all fatty acids are made the same.
But the extent of their difference actually has some serious effects on the way our body metabolizes them.
Instead of lingering in our organs like long-chain fatty acids (LCFA) once they are eaten, medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) are sent directly from our digestive tract to the liver, where they are then either immediately utilized for energy or transformed into ketone bodies (15).
That being said, research has extensively explored MCFAs’ effects on metabolism.
One such study went about investigating this concept by overfeeding rats with either LCFAs or MCFAs for six weeks each (16).
The results determined that the rats fed MCFAs gained 20% less weight and 23% less body fat (16).
It appears that MCFAs speed up an individual’s metabolism in order to burn more fat and/or calories.
Protects Hair Against Damage
Oddly enough, coconut oil has been found to have beneficial impacts not only on your internal body, but on your external body as well.
The Journal of Cosmetic Science published a study examining the effects of various oils on protecting hair damage.
The study discovered that coconut oil was able to prevent combing damage to all different hair types (17).
When compared to various other oils such as sunflower oil and mineral oil, coconut oil had a substantially greater impact on reducing protein loss in hair (17).
The reasoning behind this certain preventative property lies in the oil’s structure.
Being a linear triglyceride, coconut oil has a strong affinity for hair proteins and is able to penetrate into the hair shaft because of its small size (17).
Therefore, coconut oil’s perfect combination of linear arrangement, low weight, small size, and high protein affinity makes it an efficient hair protectant.
It may be surprising to find out, but coconut oil is actually widely used as a natural anti-dandruff hair remedy.
This specific oil has been proven to improve skin conditions like xerosis, which is characterized by rough, itchy, and dry skin — much like what a dry scalp may be characterized for someone suffering from dandruff (18).
That being said, coconut oil has a unique ability to improve skin hydration and increase lipid levels on the surface of the skin (18).
In doing so, this oil is able to basically “moisturize” your head in order to eliminate the scratchy, dry scalp that causes dandruff.
As mentioned above, coconut oil is highly useful as a topical moisturizer due to its hydrating abilities.
Because of this characteristic, one study decided to investigate the use of coconut oil as a moisturizer treatment for patients with atopic dermatitis — a condition marked by extremely dry skin and is highly prone to Staphylococcus aureus (SA) colonies (19).
What researchers found was that for 20 AD patients with SA, treatment using virgin coconut oil resulted in only one person remaining positive for SA colonies following the treatment (19).
Therefore, in addition to fighting the dryness of the skin, coconut oil can also be used as an aid in treating skin infection like atopic dermatitis.
Acts as Sunscreen
Recently, researchers have begun to discover that many plants and oils contain natural substances that are able to act as natural “sunscreens.”
One such plant is coconut and the oil that is created from it.
A study published by the Pharmacognosy Review determined that coconut oil, along with peanut, cottonseed, and olive oil, block out about 20% of ultraviolet rays from the sun (20).
To expand on this idea even further, one study actually calculated the SPF values of a variety of different oils using spectrophotometry.
The researchers concluded that coconut oil had the second highest SPF value (7.119) out of the 16 oils tested, ranking right below olive oil.
Because of how powerfully dangerous the sun’s UV rays can be, it is imperative that people protect their skin in order to avoid skin cancer, diseases, and early wrinkles.
Prevents Gum Disease and Tooth Decay
As used in many traditional countries, “oil pulling” has been used extensively as a method to prevent tooth decay, bleeding gums, and generally for strengthening teeth, gums, and the jaw (21).
Studies which tested various types of oil pulling have concluded that the practice is an effective preventative procedure to maintain oral health (21).
Specifically, research was conducted to analyze how effective coconut oil was at reducing plaque formation and plaque-induced gingivitis.
Over a 30-day matched-pairs control trial, researchers found that there was a statistically significant decrease in the plaque formation for the treatment groups after the seventh day (22).
That being said, it has become apparent that coconut oil can be an alternative means for a mouthwash due to its antibacterial properties.
Helps Candida/Yeast Infections
Multiple studies have investigated the characteristics of coconut oil which make it an efficient antibacterial agent.
It has been determined that this specific oil is a potent “non-drug” and natural yeast fighter, thereby playing a key role in fighting off yeast infections because all of its MCFAs have anti-fungal effects (23).
The most abundant and potent MCFA in coconut oil is lauric acid, which is eventually converted into a monoglyceride called monolaurin (1).
The antibacterial activity of coconut oil has been partially attributed to this compound because monolaurin actually destroys the lipid coating of most bacteria, thus rendering them susceptible for destruction by monolaurin (1).
Coconut oil was tested with strains of Candida species to determine the bacteria’s susceptibility to the oil.
Researchers discovered that most of the different species were fairly susceptible to the oil, with some strains even being 100% vulnerable.
This depicted this substance’s beneficial properties of protecting against harmful pathogens (23).
Protects Your Kidney and Liver
As many doctors are well aware, severe damage to the kidneys has a good possibility of leading to organ failure and, in some cases, death.
While it is vital to make sure all your organs are healthy, the kidney and the liver are two organs that should be especially protected from damage.
Fortunately, coconut oil has been found to be a surprisingly effective preventative treatment for these two organs in particular.
When testing for the oil’s ability to protect against intentional toxic drugs on the liver, scientists concluded that the active components in coconut oil were able to adequately protect the liver from incurring severe damage from the toxins (24).
Additionally, when inducing renal necrosis in rats, coconut oil was fed to the subjects in differing concentrations.
Results showed that, mostly, the higher concentrations of the oil were able to reduce incidence of renal lesions and/or mortality (25).
Treats Kidney and Bladder Stones
The digestion of the medium-chain fatty acids found in coconuts and coconut oil produces a monoglyceride called Monooctanoin (1).
Additionally, this substance is also a cholesterol solvent that has been used in the dissolution of gallstones (1).
50–75% of the patients receiving this substance had complete gallstone dissolution, meaning that the monooctanoin completely rid them of the gallstones left over after cholecystectomy (1).
For patients in whom mechanical or surgical removal of kidney and bladder stones is not possible, the use of the cholesterol present in coconut is a promising approach to providing noninvasive techniques to rid them of gall stones.
Therefore, the daily ingestion of coconut oil can actually assist in preventing the formation of gallstones as well.
Reduces Inflammation and Arthritis
A study conducted in India depicted that the high levels of antioxidants in coconut oil actually have the power to reduce inflammation and arthritis (26).
When compared to leading medications, coconut oil was shown to increase antioxidant enzymes as well as decrease the expression of inflammatory genes like COX-2, iNOS, and IL-6 (26).
The research was conducted using rats that were induced with arthritis.
In general, the results clearly portrayed that virgin coconut oil has a beneficial effect on arthritis due to its abundance of antioxidants, in addition to its anti-inflammatory effects (26).
Cancer Prevention and Treatment
One of the most significant qualities that allow coconut oil to help aid in the prevention and treatment of cancer is the ketones that are present in the oil.
Tumor cells require glucose in order to proliferate and live, and cannot access the energy in ketones when they need it.
Therefore, ketones act as a barrier against tumor growth (27).
In fact, a study demonstrated that when natural oils like coconut oil were added to human colon adenocarcinoma cells, they were actually able to inhibit the growth of the cancerous cells without affecting the normal colon cells (27).
When compared to other oils like vegetable and mineral, coconut oil actually inhibited the growth of HT-29 malignant human colon cells more so than either of the two other oils (27).
With these results in mind, coconut oil is now a possibly relevant chemotherapeutic agent.
Similar to its prevention and treatment of cancer, coconut oil also helps reduce seizures because of its abundance of ketones.
One study conducted by the University College London in the United Kingdom determined the efficacy of a ketogenic diet for treatment of epilepsy in children (28).
They discovered that when compared to epileptic children not consuming a ketogenic diet, the children in the treatment group have a statistically significant lower mean percentage of seizures (28).
The biological explanation behind this phenomenon is thought to be attributed to the high fat and restricted carbohydrate content of the ketogenic diet (28).
Therefore, consuming coconut oil alone is not enough to prevent seizures.
Nevertheless, their constituents are one of the vital components needed to reduce the seizures that strike patients with epilepsy.
Better digestion means better absorption of minerals, nutrients, and vitamins.
Fortunately, coconut oil does just that.
By helping the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins like magnesium and calcium, coconut oil contributes to an increase in the body’s ability in taking up these valuable nutrients.
Several studies have shown that MCFAs in the form of coconut oil could actually promote the breakdown and complete digestion of lipids by improving the efficiency of enzymes related to metabolism (29).
Reduce Symptoms of Gall Bladder Disease and Pancreatitis
Interestingly, the fatty acids of coconut oil, unlike many other substances, do not require enzymes of the pancreas to be broken down.
By including healthy oils like coconut oil in your diet, you are actually helping to eliminate strain on your pancreas and/or gallbladder (30).
As mentioned previously, not only can coconut oil help dissolve gallbladder stones, but it can also simply relieve some of the uncomfortable symptoms of gallbladder disease and pancreatitis because of how easily it is digested.
As briefly mentioned earlier, coconut oil is extremely beneficial for helping absorb nutrients in the body.
One such nutrient that specifically promotes absorption in the stomach and intestines is calcium.
Most people are aware that consuming calcium leads to stronger bones, which makes coconut oil incredibly helpful in preventing osteoporosis (31).
Osteoporosis is notable for decreasing bone volume and increasing bone loss.
However, coconut oil allows more calcium to be taken up by the body, which helps in diminishing the effect that osteoporosis has on you bones (31).
Additionally, free radicals are notorious culprits leading to osteoporosis as well.
Not surprisingly, the antioxidants in coconut oil assist in fighting free radicals so that they do not cause as much harm to your bones and body (31).
Because of coconut oil’s abundance of saturated fats like lauric acid, this liquid has been seen to help play a role in balancing hormones (7).
Studies have specifically investigated the effect of coconut oil on the hormones that are prevalent in women during pre-menopause and post-menopause.
One such study concluded that the reduction in the hormone estrogen during menopause has an adverse effect on plasma lipids and lipoproteins in women (7).
However, high levels of high-density lipoproteins have a protective effect on conserving estrogen.
It should come as no surprise that coconut oil has been shown to have a positive effect on HDLs (7).
With that being said, coconut oil helps to increase the level of beneficial proteins that conserve estrogen in women during menopause, leading to healthier lipid profiles.
Stress is a feedback tool used by our bodies to strengthen the physical and mental states of individuals.
However, extreme and/or constant stress has been known to cause detrimental effects.
Therefore, relieving stress is a vital component of maintaining a healthy mentality.
Once again, the high medium-chain fatty acid content in coconut oil allows this particular substance to be especially beneficial to stress reduction (32).
In fact, a group of researchers concluded that daily intake of MCFAs, such as those in coconut oil, assist in preventing the onset of stress-induced depression (32).
In essence, coconut oil is not only beneficial for your physicality, but your mentality as well.
You may not know this, but your skin cells actually contain fatty acids, just like most other cells in your body.
The special fatty acids in coconut oil naturally balance saturated to unsaturated fatty acids levels in the skin (33).
In doing so, the skin can heal and repair itself better to prevent wrinkles and sun damage caused by sun exposure.
Instead of attempting to mask or dry up wrinkles on the face, the collagen production stimulated by coconuts connects and strengthens tissues, leading to less baggy skin (33).
Supports Thyroid Functioning
The general purpose of thyroid is to regulate bodily functions including breathing, heart rate, and, most importantly, the production of various hormones.
Two specific hormones produced by the thyroid gland play a vital role in regulating the speed of your metabolism.
When your thyroid is functioning normally, it keeps your resting heart rate low, your body weight steady, and your hormone production balanced (34).
A study by Siddhanti showed that the components of coconut oil — specifically, capric acid — significantly improve thyroid functioning.
This allows your body to regulate thyroid cell metabolism and maintain a low resting heart rate (34).
Eliminates Free Radicals Damage
Free radicals are the natural bi-product of cellular respiration, which means that they are produced whenever you work out.
However, if they build up too much, they can easily cause oxidative stress on the body, leading to muscle fatigue and other diseases that will surely inhibit a person’s ability to exercise and stay active (10).
Nevertheless, coconut oil has been proven to inhibit this oxidative stress because of the oils’ ability to enhance your antioxidant defense system.
In doing so, the oil “mops up” these free radicals and eliminates them from the body (10).
Helps Improve Type 1 Diabetes
A study in which rats were induced with Type 1 diabetes was conducted and their fasting blood glucose levels were measured from the tip of the tails (10).
After four weeks of coconut oil treatment, rats with previous hyperglycemia showed a statistically significant decrease in their blood sugar levels (10).
These results are thought to occur because of the effect that coconut oil has on insulin secretion, which allows blood glucose levels to be better regulated and balanced by this hormone.
In general, it is obvious that coconut oil contains endless amounts of benefits.
Furthermore, because of its versatility, anyone can find a way to enjoy the benefits that coconut oil brings.
Whether that means using the oil to bake a cake, to moisturize your skin, to treat your eczema, or to help relieve the symptoms of arthritis, coconut oil can fulfill any of these functions.
Asian and Pacific Islanders have been using the coconut for various uses for hundreds of years and they seemed to have the right idea considering their native population contains some of the healthiest people in the world.
Fortunately, Western countries and its citizens are finally being introduced to this amazing substance, which means we can also begin to achieve the remarkable health advantages that coconut oil can provide.