Monday, December 1, 2014

Health Benefits of Coconut Oil

What Is Coconut Oil?

Coconut oil is an edible oil that has been extracted from the flesh of mature fruits of the coconut palm or the Cocos nucifera.


Coconut oil has been used for thousands of years by cultures living in the tropics. People of these cultures traditionally demonstrated incredible levels of good health and fitness, particularly if they followed their traditional diet that was normally rich in tropical fruits and coconut oil. Their health often deteriorated when they started adding unhealthy Western foods to their diet.

Understanding Fats

There is a widely spread misconception about fat. The idea that fat, especially the saturated fat, was bad for you originated in the 1960s-70s. There was a faulty research that pointed out that fat was the main culprit in the heart disease. This idea gave birth to low-fat diet and a marketing craze of low-fat, no-fat "food" products. In 1977 low-fat diet was recommended to the American society by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee. This recommendation caused more harm than good. There was not only no decrease in heart disease, Americans were getting sicker and fatter than ever before. Only recently, after evaluation of the empirical data "powers-to-be" came to realization that we need fat in our diet and that saturated fat is not necessarily evil.

We need fats in our diet! Fats helps us absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fats are necessary for the proper neurological function and other processes within the body. They provide insulation to our body and the internal organs and are stored as a valuable energy reserve. So, instead of vilifying fat, we should eat the right fats.

Fats are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. (Some phospholipids may also contain nitrogen and phosphorus atoms.) The number of hydrogen molecules is what determines saturation of fats. When each carbon atom has its maximum number of hydrogen atoms attached to it, we call that fat a saturated fat. In other words, a saturated fat is a fat that is filled to its capacity with hydrogen atoms. Saturated fats are usually of animal origin - like lard and butter. They are solid and rather unstable at room temperature.

Plant-derived fats are unsaturated fats. They are either monounsaturated - like the oleic fatty acid in olive oil; or polyunsaturated - like linoleic fatty acid found in corn, soybean, peanut, cottonseed or safflower oil.

Although plant-derived, coconut oil belongs to the group of saturated fats. It is a source of medium- and short-chain fatty acids. It does not oxidize when exposed to oxygen; it liquefies in room temperature; it has a high burning point.

Natural coconut oil consists of more than 90% saturated fat, but it also contains some unsaturated fat that includes mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids:
  • Most saturated fatty acids in coconut oil are medium chain triglycerides: lauric acid, capric acid, myristic acid and palmitic acid.
  • Linoleic acid (a polyunsaturated fatty acid)
  • Oleic acid (a monounsaturated fatty acid)
  • Plyphenols such as phenolic acid which is responsible for the aroma and taste of the coconut oil.
Coconut oil also contains vitamins E and K, choline and iron. 

The biochemistry of fats is rather complicated, but not very difficult to understand. If you are interested in biochemistry and want to learn more about fats, please click here.

Health Benefits of Coconut Oil

The most recent research confirms what was known for ages: Coconut oil is good for you! The many health benefits include:
  • Mental health and cognition - Research shows that medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) found in coconut oil can significantly improve cognitive function in humans and animals. Studies demonstrated that both, people and aging dogs consuming MCTs performed better on cognitive tests that those who did not. Moreover, MCTs produce ketones which are used by the body as an insulin-independent energy source. The most recent research suggests that Alzheimer's patients may not be unable to properly utilize insulin in their brains. The brain needs insulin in order to use glucose, but when brain cells lack glucose, they die. This may lead to brain damage and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's. Since ketones deliver energy necessary to support healthy function and structure of brain cells they may play important role in treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's disease. More research needs to be conducted, but there is hope for those who suffer from this incurable disease.
  • Digestion - Coconut oil may help improve digestion and digestive disorders. The medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) in coconut oil are easier to digest that the long chain fatty acids in other oils. This means that the digestion of coconut oil puts less strain on liver and pancreas since the digestion of MCFAs does not require bile or pancreatic enzymes. Coconut oil can help alleviate symptoms of Crohn's disease, pancreatitis, ulcerative colitis and stomach ulcers. It speeds digestion and can prevent constipation. Coconut oil also has the unique ability to kill or expel parasites of the digestive tract including worms such as tapeworms and protozoa such as girardia. Coconut oil also helps keep H. pylori bacteria in check.
  • Weight loss - Coconut oil can help you lose weight. It works on many levels: it helps improve digestion and heal the digestive tract, prevent constipation, increase metabolic rate, prevent food cravings, and improve the thyroid function. 
  • Heart health - For many researchers coconut oil is quite puzzling as far as heart health is concerned. Coconut oil contains both, heart-friendly myristic fatty acid and the lauric fatty acid that is generally considered to be detrimental to cardiovascular health. However, the combination of these fatty acids in coconut oil tends to improve the cholesterol profile since it increases the HDL (good cholesterol) thus improving the HDL/LDL (good versus bad cholesterol) ratio in blood. The HDL/LDL ratio is regarded as an accurate indicator of the heart disease.
  • Immune system - Anti-microbial properties of coconut oil have been well known for centuries to people living in tropical cultures. Research confirms that coconut oil has the ability to improve immune function. Among others, coconut oil contains lauric acid which is converted by the body to monolaurin. Monolaurin is a natural component in breast milk. research shows that monolaurin has the capacity to kill yeast, viruses and gram positive bacteria such as Streptococcus, Staphylococcus or Listeria.
  • Candida - Capric acid, caprilic acid, caproic acid, lauric acid and myristic acid - fatty acids present in coconut oil are very useful in healing and preventing candida. They are well known for their antimicrobial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties. Regular use of coconut oil helps not only heal systemic candidiasis, but also to prevent recurrent infection.
  • Dental care - Coconut oil is often used to prevent tooth decay. Applied topically, coconut oil heals swollen and inflamed gums. Many people use coconut oil instead of toothpaste, others perform a simple daily ritual known as oil pulling wherein a spoonful of coconut oil is swished between the teeth for 15 minutes or so. Coconut oil with its anti-microbial properties acts as a unique mouth cleanser. It not only removes bacteria and plaque, it brightens the teeth, heals oral infections and prevents bad breath.
  • Vision - A study conducted by Vallikannan Baskaran, from the Central Food Technological Research Institute in India, demonstrated that consumption of coconut oil promotes the bio-availability of lutein which is necessary for maintaining eye health in aging adults. 
  • Skin health - Coconut oil helps to heal skin infections, allergic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, sunburn and wounds. Its antibacterial properties make it a perfect ointment for infected wounds. It stops infections of the wound and the putrefaction of adjacent skin tissues.
  • Skincare - Coconut oil is a wonderful moisturizer and emollient. It may help to reduce wrinkles and rejuvenate the skin. Since the virgin coconut oil is free from any additives, it is a perfect solution for delicate or sensitive skin.
  • Haircare - Coconut oil is a wonderful conditioner for hair and scalp. Traditionally it has been used to ensure a healthy hair growth and to prevent scalp infections and dandruff. 

Buying Coconut Oil

Buying coconut oil might not be as easy as it seems. The recent coconut oil "craze" brought tons of coconut oil on the market. There is not a single supermarket or a health food store that would not carry coconut oil today. But like with everything, not all products are created equal and there is a difference not only in price, but also in the quality. Remember to always buy certified organic, cold pressed, hexane-free product.


By Dominique Allmon

      

*This information is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Creative Commons License
Health Benefits of Coconut Oil by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments are greatly appreciated

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...