Health Approach
Superfood : Coconut Oil

Superfood : Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is widely marketed as a “Superfood”. The unique combination of fatty acids in coconut oil can have positive health effects, which can include encouraging fat loss, improving heart health, and boosting brain function. This article will discuss the evidence behind 8 possible health benefits of coconut oil.

1. Coconut Oil Does Contains Healthy Fatty Acids

Coconut oil is high in some saturated fats. These fats have different effects in the body than most other fats in the diet. The fatty acids in coconut oil can encourage the body to burn fat and provide fast energy to the body and brain. They also increase HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Most dietary fats are classified as long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), while coconut oil contains some medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are shorter fatty acid chains. When MCTs are eaten, it will go straight to the liver. Then the body uses them as a quick source of energy or turns them into ketones. Ketones may have powerful benefits for the brain, and researchers are studying ketones as a treatment for epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and other conditions.

In Brief, Coconut oil is high in fats called medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs that the body metabolizes differently than most other fats. MCTs, can be said to be responsible for many of the health benefits of coconut oil.

2. Eating Coconut Benefits Our Heart Health

Coconut is an unusual food in the Western world, where health-conscious people are the biggest consumers. However, in some parts of the world, coconut which is filled with coconut oil is a staple that people have thrived on for generations.

A good example is the Tokelauans, a population living in the South Pacific. According to a 1981 study, this population got over 60% of their calories from coconuts and researchers reported that they were in good health with very low heart diseases. Another example of a population that ate a lot of coconut along with tubers, fruit, and fish and suffered few strokes or heart disease are the Kitavan population in Papua, New Guinea.

In Brief, different populations around the world have thrived for generations and have eaten significant amounts of coconut, and studies have shown that they have good heart health.

3. MCTs Encourages Fat Burning

Obesity has become one of the biggest health conditions affecting the Western world today. While some people think obesity is just a matter of how many calories someone eats, the source of those calories is also important. Eating different foods affect the body and hormones in different ways.

MCTs in coconut oil can increase the number of calories the body burns compared to long-chain fatty acids. One study showed that consuming 15-30 grams of MCT per day increases 24-hour energy consumption by 5%. However, these studies did not specifically look at the effects of coconut oil. The studies was based on the health effects of MCTs – with the exception of lauric acid – which only amount to approx. 14% coconut oil.

There is currently no good evidence that consuming coconut oil itself increases the amount of energy a person consumes. People need to keep in mind that coconut oil is very high in calories and can easily lead to weight gain when consumed in large quantities.

In Brief, researches has proven that MCTs can increase the number of calories burned in 24 hours by up to 5%. However, research has not shown that coconut oil by itself has the same effect.

4. Coconut Oil Does Have Antimicrobial Effects

The twelve-carbon lauric acid constitutes approx. about 50% of fatty acids in coconut oil. When the body digests lauric acid, it will form a substance called monolaurin. It is known that both lauric acid and monolaurin are able to kill harmful pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

For example, test-tube studies show that these substances can help kill Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which causes staph infections, and the yeast Candida albicans, a common source of yeast infections in humans. There is also some evidence that using coconut oil as a mouthwash, a process called oil extraction, could benefit oral hygiene, although researchers consider the evidence to be weak. However, there is no evidence that coconut oil reduces the risk of colds or other internal infections.

In Brief, using coconut oil as a mouthwash can help prevent mouth infections, but researchers need more evidence before strong claims can be made.

5. MCTs May Be Able To Reduce Seizures

Researchers are currently studying the ketogenic diet (very low in carbohydrates, very high in fat) to treat various ailments. The most known therapeutic use of this diet is the treatment of drug resistant epilepsy in children. The diet dramatically reduces the number of seizures in children with epilepsy, even those who have not been successful with different types of medications. Researchers aren’t sure why. Reduced carbohydrate intake and increased fat intake lead to a noticeable increase in ketone concentrations in the blood. Since the MCTs in coconut oil are transported to the liver and converted into ketones, health care professionals can use a modified ketogenic diet that includes MCTs and an appropriate amount of carb  to help induce ketosis and help treat epilepsy.

In Brief, MCTs in coconut oil can increase the blood concentration of ketone bodies, which can help reduce seizures in children with epilepsy.

6. Coconut Oil Definitely Can Protect the Skin, Hair, and Teeth

Even without consumption, coconut oil does have many uses. It is known that many people have been using it for cosmetic purposes in order to improve the health and appearance of their skin and hair. Studies have shown too that coconut oil can improve the moisture content of dry skin and also reduce the symptoms of eczema. Coconut oil can also prevent hair damage. One study shows that it can act as a weak sunscreen and block approx. 20% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Oil extraction which involves swishing coconut oil around your mouth like a mouth wash, can kill some of the harmful bacteria in your mouth. This can improve dental hygiene and reduce bad breath, although more research is still needed.

In Brief, coconut oil can be applied to our skin, hair, and teeth. Studies suggest it acts as a skin moisturizer, protects against skin damage, and improves oral health.

7. MCTs Are Able To Boost Brain Function in Alzheimer’s Diseases

Alzheimer’s disease that usually affects the elderly is the most common cause of dementia. Normally, the brain’s ability to use glucose for energy is reduced in people suffering from Alzheimer. Researchers have suggested that ketones may be an alternative energy source for these ailing brain cells to reduce Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. Authors of a 2006 study reported that taking MCTs improved brain function in people with milder forms of Alzheimer’s disease. However, the research is still in its infancy and there is no evidence that coconut oil per se helps with Alzheimer’s.

In Brief, early studies suggest that MCTs can increase blood ketone levels, provide energy to the brain cells of people with Alzheimer’s disease, and relieve symptoms.

8. Coconut Oil Can Help Reduce Harmful Abdominal Fat

Since some of the fatty acids in coconut oil can reduce appetite and increase fat burning, evidence suggested that it can also help you lose weight. Abdominal fat, or visceral fat, is found in the abdominal cavity and around organs. MCTs has been proven to be particularly effective in reducing belly fat compared to LCTs. Belly fat is the most harmful type and is associated with many chronic diseases. Waist circumference is a light and accurate indicator of the amount of fat in the abdominal cavity.

In a case study of 40 women with abdominal obesity, it was confirmed that those who took 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of coconut oil per day had a significant reduction in their BMI and waist circumference over 12 weeks. Another study of 20 obese men found a reduction in waist circumference of 1.1 inches (2.86 cm) after 4 weeks of taking 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of coconut oil per day.

In Brief, coconut oil is still high in calories, so people need to use it sparingly. Replacing some of your other cooking fats with coconut oil may have a slight weight loss benefit, but the evidence is generally inconsistent. The bottom line, if you want to buy coconut oil, there is an excellent selection online with thousands of customer reviews. It is also available in most health food stores. To get the potential health benefits outlined in this article, be sure to opt for organic and virgin coconut oil instead of the refined versions.

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