When it comes to coconut oil uses, this fragrant oil is one exceptionally versatile natural product. What else can you eat, rub on your body, use to clean your house, and employ as a medical therapy? Let’s take a look at the many health benefits of coconut oil—and sort out the facts from the fiction.
Coconut Oil: Saturated—and Healthy
Unlike most plant oils, which are primarily monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, more than 90 percent of the fatty acids in coconut oil are saturated. That’s why it’s solid at room temperature, stable when heated, slow to become rancid—and often lumped together with animal and dairy fats. But coconut oil is markedly different.
Two-thirds of coconut oil’s saturated fats are medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are easier for your body to digest and break down than the long-chain triglycerides in most other fats. They’re also metabolized differently. Rather than being stored as fat, MCTs are rapidly converted in the liver to ketones and burned for energy, so they rev up metabolism and discourage fat deposition.
Another unique feature of coconut oil is its high content of lauric acid. This fatty acid is converted in the body into monolaurin, a compound that has been shown in lab studies to be effective against herpes, influenza, hepatitis C, HIV, MRSA, candida, and other viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
Health Benefits of Coconut Oil: Fact or Fiction?
Although there are several health benefits of coconut oil, it is not a miracle cure. Lauric acid may be antimicrobial, but it’s premature to propose, as some do, that taking coconut oil provides significant protection against infectious diseases. MCTs do enhance metabolism and energy and may improve body composition, especially when taken in conjunction with exercise and a low-carbohydrate diet.
However, there’s no compelling evidence that coconut oil will help you lose weight. As for its ability to improve thyroid function, protect against osteoporosis and cancer, dissolve kidney stones, relieve symptoms of peptic ulcers, colitis, gallbladder disease, and more, all I can say is that I can find no scientific data to justify a lot of the claims made about these health benefits of coconut oil.
Heart Healthy Despite the Hype
There is one myth I want to dispel, and that is coconut oil’s “adverse effects” on cardiovascular health. This falsehood dates back to the 1980s, when coconut oil was virulently attacked for raising cholesterol and causing heart disease. Although this smear campaign was based on now-discredited science and propagated by oil industry insiders, coconut oil, which had long been a staple in commercially baked and fried foods, virtually disappeared from the American market—replaced by soybean and other partially hydrogenated oils. This debacle ushered in the trans fat era and intensified the low-fat/high-carb craze that has been a significant driver of our epidemics of obesity and diabetes.
Coconut oil does raise cholesterol—but it increases HDL cholesterol, which is a good thing because a high HDL level reduces risk of heart attack and stroke. Granted, no large clinical trials have been conducted to see if this translates into protection against heart disease, but its effect on cardiovascular disease is, at worst, neutral.
MCTs, Ketones, and Dementia
Intriguing evidence suggests that coconut oil may play a role in the treatment of dementia. A few years ago, I wrote about Mary Newport, MD, a neonatologist from Florida whose 59-year-old husband Steve was suffering with early Alzheimer’s disease. He was declining rapidly—until Dr. Newport came across research on an experimental drug containing MCTs.
The drug wasn’t available, but she learned that coconut oil is a good source of MCTs and began giving it to Steve. His improvements were dramatic. He became more alert, attentive, and talkative, his gait improved, and he could recall names and carry out volunteer work.
How in the world could coconut oil help? An underlying issue in Alzheimer’s is inefficient glucose metabolism in the brain. Neurons that are unable to properly utilize glucose are starved for energy. As I mentioned earlier, MCTs in coconut oil are converted in the liver to ketones, which are your body’s backup energy source. Coconut oil simply revs up the production of ketones, thus providing depleted brain cells with an alternative fuel.
Researchers are currently looking into ketones, MCTs, and coconut oil as a therapy for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders.
Other Coconut Oil Uses
There are several other coconut oil uses. In fact, this oil has a plethora of practical applications. It’s a great moisturizer, not only for dry skin but also for rashes, cold sores, hemorrhoids, diaper rash, psoriasis, fungal infections, and eczema. I’m not saying it will cure these skin problems, but organic extra-virgin coconut oil is a gentle, safe, inexpensive natural emollient—and it smells like an Almond Joy!
My stepdaughter tells me it’s the best hair conditioner around. She suggests working a handful of coconut oil into the hair, especially the dry ends, pin up or cover with a shower cap, leave on for at least an hour or even overnight, and wash thoroughly. It’s also a popular lip balm, makeup remover, underarm deodorant, and vaginal lubricant.
A rather unusual use, which is quite trendy these days, is an old Ayurvedic medicine practice called “oil pulling.” You put a tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth and swish it around, much like you would mouthwash, for 15 minutes or longer before spitting it out. In addition to promoting oral health by “pulling out” bacteria and plaque, oil pulling is supposed to clear the sinuses, detoxify the body, and protect against all kinds of maladies. I can’t vouch for all this, but I can say it leaves your mouth feeling spic and span (and that 15 minutes of swishing oil around in your mouth is a long time).
One of the best coconut oil uses is cooking. Because it’s so stable, it can handle higher temperatures than polyunsaturated and monounsaturated cooking oils without breaking down. My friend Diana, who is a terrific cook, says, “I use it in any recipe that calls for butter or shortening. It’s healthier than Crisco and butter, soft and easy to mix, and has a nice, subtle flavor. I also use it in place of olive oil to sauté vegetables, chicken, etc. And because it doesn’t go rancid, it’s better than other oils for seasoning cast iron skillets and wooden cutting boards.” Additional household coconut oil uses include polishing furniture, leather, and plant leaves and lubricating hinges.
How to Reap the Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is available online and in health food stores. Look for organic extra-virgin oil, especially for oral and topical use.
The therapeutic dose for dementia is 20 g of MCTs, the amount in 7 teaspoons of coconut oil, two or three times a day. To avoid stomach upset, start slowly, build up gradually, and take with meals. Coconut oil may also be mixed with pure MCT oil. To learn more, visit Dr. Newport’s website coconutketones.com.