Having spent time living in the tropics, I was privileged to observe countless creative uses of coconuts, where it has long been a primary ingredient in food, drink and cosmetics. Recently, the coconut, and more specifically, coconut oil has made a resurgence in the West as a health food.
Coconut oil is derived from the meat (white part) of matured coconuts, which is the same source as coconut milk. The growing popularity of its many industrial and cosmetic uses have made it a valuable commodity in recent times. It is solid at room temperature like butter. It is heat stable, making it suitable for cooking at high temperatures, and in my opinion has a wonderful tropical smell. It is slow to oxidise, and thus has a shelf life of approximately two years.
Whether unsaturated or saturated, the majority of fats and oils in our diet are composed of long chain fatty acids (LCFA). Coconut oil is composed predominantly of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) and the effects of the MCFAs in coconut oil are distinctly different from the LCFAs found in other foods. This is important because our bodies respond to, and metabolise each fatty acid differently. It is the MCFAs found in coconut oil that makes it special because these fatty acids do not have a negative effect on cholesterol. In fact, they are known to lower the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis (accumulation of fat in the arteries). There are only few dietary sources of MCFAs in this world, and one of the best sources by far is coconut oil.
The liver and gall bladder do not need to digest MCFAs, so as a result, anyone with an impaired ability to digest fat, IBS symptoms or a removed gallbladder will benefit from coconut oil as this oil is easily digested. This digestion process provides instant energy. It increases metabolic rate as well as improving circulation. A study carried out in 2009, found that women who consumed 30 millilitres (about 2 tablespoons) of coconut oil daily for 12 weeks not only lost weight, but actually lost abdominal fat. Knowing that abdominal fat is probably the hardest to shift, and is one of the biggest contributing factors to metabolic syndrome, surely it would be worth a try!
A number of the health benefits from coconut oil are attributed to the presence of lauric acid. In the human body, lauric acid is converted into monolaurin, a compound that is highly toxic to viruses, bacteria, funguses and other microorganisms. It has an ability to disrupt their lipid membranes and virtually destroy them.
Monolaurin has many valuable uses and is effective for treating candida, and fungal infections such as athlete’s foot. It also targets bacterial infections and viruses including measles, influenza, hepatitis C and even HIV. In the Philippines researchers are continuing to study the effectiveness of lauric acid against HIV/AIDS due to its strong anti-viral properties! In addition to this, being non-toxic, lauric acid is a great alternative to modern drugs that are typically prescribed for viruses as well as fungal and bacterial infections.
It has been widely observed that the consumption of coconut oil has the effect of boosting immunity and reducing the incidences of many diseases. Without lauric acid, the body cannot produce monolaurin. Breastmilk is one of the few other sources of lauric acid, helping to protect babies while their immune system develops.
Some of the incredible uses and benefits of coconut oil
1. Hair conditioning and dandruff remedy
Due to their small molecular structure, the fatty acids that make up coconut oil pass freely into the hair’s cell membrane. The oil is thus able to penetrate the hair’s shaft and bring about a deep conditioning effect from within whilst most other conditioners work from the outside, in.
Dandruff is a fungus on the scalp that causes the flaking of the skin. Regular massaging, of a teaspoon or two of coconut oil into the scalp can kill the fungus and eliminate dandruff, bringing relief. Because it can make the hair oily, try massaging into the scalp before bed, and leaving it in overnight. This can also give a really deep hair conditioning treatment, leaving hair ultra-shiny, after being washed out the next day!
Coconut oil can be used as an excellent skin treatment. It can penetrate deeply, moisturising and acting as a protective barrier against free radical and environmental damage. It absorbs quickly and doesn’t leave an oily feeling, but makes the skin incredibly silky. Bonus! Coconut oil is busting with natural antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Its ability to smooth the skin while infusing with anti-oxidants makes it a perfect anti-aging moisturizer. It also contains vitamin E, another antioxidant popular for hastening the recovery of skin abrasions, burns and other skin traumas. It can even be used as added sun protection, screening 20 per cent of the exposure to ultraviolet light.
Regularly rubbing it into your hands will stop them from getting dry, even in the winter. Adding a couple of drops of your favourite essential oil for scent is a great natural way of making your own, natural hand lotion.
3. Weight loss
As mentioned above, the medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil can speed up metabolism faster than long-chain fatty acids because they are easily digested and converted into energy. In fact, a study reported medium-chain fatty acids to be three times more effective in raising metabolism than long-chain fatty acids. This has led researchers to conclude that effective weight loss can be achieved by replacing long-chain fatty acids with medium-chain fatty acids.
4. Other cosmetic uses
- Using coconut oil in the shower as a shaving soap gives a smooth shave with no irritation. It’s best to rub on before getting in the shower and then shave in the shower. It also moisturises, leaving legs feeling silky soft!
- Coconut oil makes a great tropical smelling massage oil giving many of the above benefits to the skin!
- Believe it or not, coconut oil is an excellent eye-make up remover and has been reported to help lessen the appearance of wrinkles and help restore elasticity to the skin.
Other than the benefits of cooking with coconut oil, it can also be added to other foods such as smoothies, homemade mayo, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, porridge, and homemade snacks to create a wonderfully creamy texture and great taste. Due to its nutrient density, healthy fat content, and rich flavour it’s a great addition to lots of foods.
Here are a few more medical benefits:
- Can help restore thyroid function
- Lowers cholesterol
- Stabilises insulin
- Enables absorption of fat soluble vitamins
- Boosts immunity
- Reduces joint and muscle inflammation
- Believed to protect against cancer and HIV and other infectious diseases
- Kills bacteria and parasites
- Eases acid reflux, aids in proper bowel function
- Lowers incidence of haemorrhoids
- Heals and relieves intestinal problems
- Soothes earaches
- Deals with symptoms connected with prostate enlargement
- Strengthens the liver and protects against degeneration
- Reduces incidence of epileptic seizures
- Eases neuropathies and itching from diabetes
It is fascinating to note that in countries such as Thailand, local people eat high amounts of saturated fats, particularly, coconut oil, and on average have very low levels of disease. Research by the World Health Organization showed that the people consuming a traditional diet in Thailand have less instance of heart disease and the lowest rates of cancer of all 50 countries involved in the study. Interestingly, diabetes is 10 times more frequent in the United States than in Thailand, despite (or perhaps because of) their high saturated fat consumption. Sadly in more developed areas of Thailand where there is a greater exposure to Western foods, containing higher amounts of refined sugar, metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease have dramatically risen.
According to the experts, an adult can consume 3 ½ tablespoons of coconut oil daily. This amount equates to the amount of MCFAs that a breastfeeding child would receive daily. There are no known side effects of coconut oil, however, if you are used to a low-fat diet, a common adverse reaction would be diarrhoea.
If you are not used to having coconut oil in your diet, it is best to start out with less, spreading out the consumption over the day and see how the body reacts before increasing to the recommended amount.
In coconut-producing countries, it is considered beneficial for pregnant and lactating women to consume coconut oil. Consuming coconut oil has been shown to increase lauric acid content in breast milk – great for baby’s health and immunity! Reassuringly, for those who don’t breastfeed, one of the ingredients in baby formula is coconut oil!
I hope this has given you information and inspiration about the use of this amazing, rejuvenating and healing oil!