What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil is a popular cooking and nutritional oil that you can use in many different ways. It one of the best oils for cooking and baking, is soothing on the skin, and it has healing properties.
Coconut oil is made from the flesh of mature coconuts. I visited a small village in the jungle in Indonesia, where an old woman was making coconut oil the traditional way. She scooped the white flesh out of coconuts after cracking them, using a chisel on the end of a large metal rod stuck in the ground. She broke up the flesh in a wok, mixed it with water, and warmed it over a fire. The coconut oil floated to the top, where she scooped it off and bottled it.
Try to buy pure, extra-virgin, unrefined coconut oil, just like that which I described above. It should be clear to having just a faint hint of colour, and should have a delicious "coconut cookie" smell. If it has a brown colour, or smells unpleasant or slightly rancid, avoid it.
Coconut milk or creamed coconut is also a delicious and good way to consume coconut oil. Coconut milk is rich, creamy and delicious, and widely used in Asian cooking, particularly Thai cooking. Add it to a wide variety of dishes, shakes, soups and sauces. I love it so much that I even drink it on its own sometimes. Creamed coconut comes in hard blocks, available at Asian stores. It keeps for ages. Try to buy the best quality full-fat coconut milk that has not been tampered with, and is free from added sugars or any other preservatives or additives. Coconut milk yields about 1 part oil per 4-6 parts milk.
Coconut oil has been the primary cooking oil in the tropics for millennia. Unfortunately cheap vegetable oils (polyunsaturated oils) are now widely available in supermarkets in tropical countries, and the health of the people who use these new manufactured oils is suffering.
Aside from its traditional uses, coconut oil has many industrial and cosmetic applications, which make it a valuable commodity.
Composition of coconut oil
Coconut oil has a reputation as the healthiest oil despite the fact that its high saturated fat content was once falsely claimed to be unhealthy.
Almost all the fats in a standard Western diet are long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), from which we derive long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). In fact about 98% of the fats in the average person's diet are LCTs, including those from meat, eggs, vegetables and various "vegetable" oils. There are only a few dietary sources of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) or medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) and by far the best is coconut oil. Butter and whole milk also contain small amounts. The other rich source of MCFA is human breast milk.
Coconut oil is unique because it is mostly MCTs. For this reason, coconut oil can have a significant effect on our health just as mother's milk does on newborn infants. This is what gives coconut oil its unique healing characteristics and makes it different from all other oils.
A number of health writers maintain that MCFAs, which are created from the breakdown of MCTs in coconut oil, possess powerful antimicrobial and antiviral properties.
Lauric acid / monolaurin. Coconut oil has many health benefits which are attributed to the lauric acid it contains. The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, a compound that is toxic to viruses, bacteria, funguses and other microorganisms because of its ability to damage their lipid membranes. Lauric acid is non-toxic to animals, making it a better alternative than pharmaceutical drugs that are typically prescribed for viral, fungal and bacterial infections.
Coconut oil, palm kernel oil and human breast milk are the only significant sources of lauric acid. Small quantities are also found in cows and goats milk. Without lauric acid, monolaurin cannot be produced by the body. This is one of the reasons why breast-fed infants are so less prone to infections, and why regular consumption of coconut oil boosts immunity and reduces incidences of sickness.
Caprylic acid, another of the fatty acids in coconut oil, has potent antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Coconut oil health properties
- Coconut oil melts at 24C (76F), so a jar may be liquid or solid depending on the room temperature.
- Heat stable, making it suitable for cooking at high temperatures.
- Slow to oxidise and has a shelf life of several years.
- Antimicrobial. Destroys bacteria, fungi and protozoa. Works as a powerful antibiotic and anti-fungal.
- Antiviral. There are no pharmaceutical medications that can effectively kill viruses. Some viral infections can linger on in the body indefinitely. For example, an infection with herpes or hepatitis C is with you for life. MCFAs offer a natural, harmless method controlling these troublemakers and letting you live a normal life.
- Nutrient absorption. Because MCTs are so easily digested, they help with the absorption of other nutrients as well. Studies show that MCTs enhance the absorption of minerals (particularly calcium and magnesium), B vitamins, the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K, and beta-carotene), and other nutrients.
- Sunscreen. Coconut oil provides a small reduction of about 20% of ultraviolet exposure.
- It provides a precursor for creation of vitamin D, which is made from the action of sunlight on cholesterol in the skin. Another reason why it may be a good sunscreen.
Good news for those with digestive problems. MCTs are much easier to digest than other fats. Coconut oil digests without needing bile, so people who have had gallbladder surgery can use it without fear. People who tell me they could only handle a very small amount of fat without it causing them discomfort say they can consume a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil per day without any problems, once they get used to it.
Anyone who has difficulty digesting fats can benefit from using coconut oil. This includes those who suffer from cystic fibrosis, infants, and especially those who have had gallbladder surgery. The loss of the gallbladder makes it difficult to digest fat. The gallbladder collects and holds bile secreted by the liver. If you eat a meal containing LCT fat, the gallbladder empties into the intestinal tract. The bile emulsifies the LCT fat so digestive enzymes can effectively break it down. Without a gallbladder, there no longer is a reservoir of bile. The liver continues to make bile but instead of collecting in the gallbladder it constantly drains into the intestinal tract. So a small amount of bile is present most of the time, which can help digest a small amount of fat. Any more fat causes intestinal distress and cramping.
MCTs digest quickly and easily because they do not need bile or pancreatic enzymes for digestion.
When you eat some MCT fat, by the time it leaves the stomach and enters the small intestinal it is already broken down into MCFAs. They are immediately absorbed into the bloodstream through the portal vein and sent straight to the liver. In the liver they are converted to ketones and preferentially used as a source of fuel. MCFAs are used to produce energy, not body fat or fat that collects in artery walls as plaque.
The instant energy fuel increases the metabolic rate, heat production and circulation. MCTs digest so rapidly that they can provide a quick source of nutrition without taxing the enzyme systems of the body.
Coconut oil health benefits and remedies
- Viral infections. Coconut oil can clear up flu symptoms almost overnight. It destroys or combats a variety of viruses including those that cause herpes, measles, mononucleosis, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. Several published studies in the Philippines and South Africa have shown that the strong anti-viral properties of MCFAs and lauric acid have an effect against HIV/AIDS, and many HIV-infected people have added it to their treatment programs.
- Bacterial infections. Studies show that MCFAs from coconut oil are effective in killing bacteria that cause ulcers, sinus infections, bladder infections, gum disease and cavities, pneumonia, gonorrhoea, and many other illnesses.
- Fungal and yeast infections including jock itch, ringworm, athlete's foot and candidiasis (candida albicans).
- Digestive disorders.
- Crohn's disease.
- Brain function and protection. Coconut oil can supply the brain with a clean source of energy that prevents and treats many
neurodegenerative diseases. In some of these degenerative states parts of the brain may become insulin resistant, somewhat like
with diabetes. The effects of high blood sugar are particularly damaging to brain tissue.
Research has shown that the ketones
produced in the liver by MCT's provide a stable source of energy for the brain. They quickly provide this energy if the blood
sugar is low, and avoid the neurological risks associated with high blood sugar.
MCT researcher Mary Newport says that ketones appear to be the preferred source of brain food in patients affected by diabetes and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS and multiple sclerosis. She has shown that ketone bodies can help the brain recover from a lack of oxygen, help patients recover from a heart attack and shrink cancerous tumours.
- Alzheimer's disease. One tablespoon twice a day can result in measurable recovery after a month or two.
- Heart disease, stroke and hardening / narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis). It improves blood cholesterol profile.
- Weight loss. MCTs speed up metabolism because they are easily digested and converted into energy. Studies show that replacing LCTs with MCTs in the diet helps with weight loss for this reason. Coconut oil can also help with controlling chronic hunger leading to obesity.
- Ailments related to insulin and other hormonal upsets. Coconut oil helps to balance hormones and stabilise blood sugar levels. It stimulates the thyroid. It eases neuropathies and itching from diabetes. It has been used to treat hypoglycaemia, diabetes and hypothyroidism, among other diseases.
- Energy level. Improved energy and relief from fatigue, headaches, brain fog, and tiredness.
- Chronic fatigue.
- Osteopenia / osteoporosis. Research has shown that coconut oil helps prevent bone loss because it improves the absorption of minerals such as calcium and magnesium.
- BPH / prostate enlargement.
- Skin diseases. Treatment of chronic psoriasis, and various fungal and bacterial skin infections.
- Skin care. Coconut oil is an excellent skin conditioner which deeply penetrates and moisturises. It is fantastic for keeping the skin and connective tissue strong and supple, and it naturally reduces the appearance of lines and wrinkles. It contains vitamin E and other antioxidants which act as a protective barrier against environmental and free radical damage, slowing skin ageing and helping to speed recovery from skin abrasions, burns and other trauma.
- Hair care. Coconut oil has a good ability to penetrate the hair's shaft. For deep hair conditioning, a teaspoon or two on damp hair left for as long as possible can give a good shine. Leave it on overnight for great results.
- Dandruff. Massage coconut oil into the scalp to treat dandruff. Dandruff is caused by dry skin or an internal fungal condition in the scalp. With regular use coconut oil can kill the fungus and eliminate dandruff.
- Cancers: breast and colon cancer. Treatment of precancerous skin lesions.
- Liver and kidney diseases. Strengthens the liver and protects against degeneration.
- Epilepsy. Reduces incidence of epileptic seizures.
- Pneumonia. A study (1) showed that coconut oil provided fast and complete relief from symptoms of pneumonia.
- Parasites like tape worm and liver flukes.
- Infant failure to thrive. Studies have shown that when premature infants are given formula containing MCTs they grow faster and have a higher survival rate.
- Inflammation. Reduces joint and muscle inflammation.
- Haemorrhoids / piles. Relief both when taken internally, and applied externally.
- Earache. A drop in the ear to soothe earache.
How much coconut oil to use?
You can eat coconut oil by the spoonful, put it on salads, muesli, or virtually any other food. Use coconut oil in almost any recipe to replace butter, shortening, margarine and other oils (especially vegetable oil).
How much to take is fairly flexible. If you are benefiting from taking coconut oil and feeling good using it, you can easily consume double the amounts below. Many tropical populations have consumed twice this recommended dose throughout their lives, with great health and no side-effects. However, if you have previously been on a low fat diet, or are new to coconut oil, it pays to start slowly and gradually increase the dosage over a period of weeks or months, especially if it gives you diarrhoea.
In some cases, you can give a tablespoon of coconut oil every 2-3 hours to a very sick patient. If a patient gags when anything is put into their mouth, then apply the oil to their skin. Massage it in all over their body, but especially over the area covering their ailment.
Here is a recommended daily therapeutic consumption:
Body Weight (kg / lb)
79+ / 175+
68 / 150
57 / 125
45 / 100
34 / 75
23 / 50
11 / 25
Tablespoons per day
Coconut oil warnings
Coconut oil has no known side effects. However, if you are used to a low-fat diet, a common adverse reaction is diarrhoea.
If you are not used to having coconut oil in your diet, it is best to start with a little and see how your body reacts before following the recommended amount.
Pregnancy. In coconut-producing countries it is considered beneficial for pregnant and lactating women to enjoy coconut oil. However, if you have been on a low fat diet or are new to coconut oil, you are cautioned not to experiment with coconut oil while pregnant if your body is not used to it.
1. Gilda Sapphire Erguiza.
American College of Chest Physicians, 29 October 2008.