Coconut oil is one of the few foods that can be classified as a “superfood.” Its unique combination of fatty acids can have positive effects on your health. This includes fat loss, better brain function, and various other impressive benefits. Coconut oil has grown in popularity in recent years, amid claims that it can do everything from supporting weight loss to slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Coconut oil contains over 80% saturated fat. Some experts have linked saturated fats with cardiovascular and other diseases.
Benefits of Coconut Oil
Coconut Oil Contains Fatty Acids With Potent Medicinal Properties
Coconut oil is high in healthy saturated fats that have different effects than most other fats in your diet. These fats can boost fat burning and provide your body and brain with quick energy. They also raise the good HDL cholesterol in your blood, which is linked to reduced heart disease risk.
Most fats in the diet are called long-chain triglycerides, but the fats in coconut oil are known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). What this means is that the fatty acids are shorter than most other fats. When you eat these types of fats, they go straight to the liver, where they are used as a quick source of energy or turned into ketones.
Ketones can have powerful benefits for the brain and are being studied as a treatment for epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and other conditions.
Populations That Eat a Lot of Coconut Oil Are Healthy
Coconut is an exotic food in the Western world, primarily consumed by health-conscious people. However, in some parts of the world, coconut (loaded with coconut oil) is a dietary staple that people have thrived on for many generations. The best example of such a population is the Tokelauans, which live in the South Pacific.
They used to eat over 60% of their calories from coconuts. When studied, they were found to be in excellent health, with very low rates of heart disease. Another example of a population that ate a lot of coconuts and remained in excellent health is the Kitavans.
Coconut Oil Can Increase Fat Burning
Obesity is one of the biggest health problems in the world. While some people think obesity is only a matter of calories, others (myself included) believe that the sources of those calories are important too. It is a fact that different foods affect our bodies and hormones in different ways. In this regard, a calorie is not a calorie.
The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in coconut oil can increase how many calories you burn compared to the same amount of calories from longer chain fats. One study found that 15-30 grams of MCTs per day increased 24-hour energy expenditure by 5%, totaling about 120 calories per day.
Coconut Oil Can Kill Harmful Microorganisms
The 12-carbon lauric acid makes up about 50% of the fatty acids in coconut oil. When lauric acid is digested, it also forms a substance called monolaurin. Both lauric acid and monolaurin can kill harmful pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and fungi (6Trusted Source).
For example, these substances have been shown to help kill the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus (a very dangerous pathogen) and the yeast Candida albicans, a common source of yeast infections in humans (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
Coconut Oil Can Reduce Your Hunger, Helping You Eat Less
One interesting feature of the fatty acids in coconut oil is that they can reduce your hunger. This may be related to the way the fats are metabolized because ketones can have an appetite reducing effect. In one study, varying amounts of medium and long-chain triglycerides were fed to 6 healthy men.
The men eating the most MCTs ate 256 fewer calories per day, on average. Another study in 14 healthy men discovered that those who ate the most MCTs at breakfast ate fewer calories at lunch. These studies were small and only done for short periods of time. If this effect were to persist over the long term, it could help lead to reduced body weight over a period of several years.
The Fatty Acids in Coconuts May Reduce Seizures
A so-called ketogenic (very low carb, very high fat) diet is currently being studied to treat various disorders. The best known therapeutic application of this diet is treating drug-resistant epilepsy in children.
This diet involves eating very few carbohydrates and large amounts of fat, leading to greatly increased concentrations of ketones in the blood. For some reason, the diet dramatically reduces the rate of seizures in epileptic children, even those who haven’t had success with multiple different types of drugs.
Because the fatty acids in coconut oil get shipped to the liver and turned into ketones, they are often used in epileptic patients to induce ketosis while allowing for a bit more carbs in the diet.
Coconut Oil Can Raise The Good HDL Cholesterol
Coconut oil contains natural saturated fats that increase the good HDL cholesterol in your body. They may also help turn the bad LDL cholesterol into a less harmful form. By increasing HDL, many experts believe that coconut oil could be good for heart health compared to many other fats.
In one study in 40 women, coconut oil reduced total and LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL compared to soybean oil. Another study in 116 patients showed that a dietary program that included coconut oil raised levels of good HDL cholesterol.
Coconut Oil Can Protect Your Skin, Hair and Dental Health
Coconut oil has many uses that have nothing to do with eating it. Many people are using it for cosmetic purposes and to improve the health and appearance of their skin and hair. Studies on individuals with dry skin show that coconut oil can improve the moisture content of the skin. It can also reduce symptoms of eczema.
Coconut oil can also be protective against hair damage and one study shows effectiveness as a weak sunscreen, blocking about 20% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Another application is using it like mouthwash in a process called oil pulling, which can kill some of the harmful bacteria in the mouth, improve dental health and reduce bad breath.
The Fatty Acids in Coconut Oil Can Boost Brain Function in Alzheimer’s Patients
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia worldwide and occurs primarily in elderly individuals. In Alzheimer’s patients, there appears to be a reduced ability to use glucose for energy in certain parts of the brain. Researchers have speculated that ketones can provide an alternative energy source for these malfunctioning brain cells and reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
In one 2006 study, the consumption of medium-chain triglycerides led to an improvement in brain function in patients with milder forms of Alzheimer’s. However, keep in mind that research is still early and there is no evidence to suggest that coconut oil itself helps with Alzheimer’s disease.
Coconut Oil Can Help You Lose Fat, Especially The Harmful Abdominal Fat
Given that coconut oil can reduce appetite and increase fat burning, it makes sense that it can also help you lose weight. Coconut oil appears to be especially effective at reducing belly fat, which lodges in the abdominal cavity and around organs.
This is the most dangerous fat of all and is highly associated with many chronic Western diseases. Waist circumference is easily measured and is a great marker for the amount of fat in the abdominal cavity. In a study of 40 women with abdominal obesity, supplementing with 30 mL (2 tablespoons) of coconut oil per day led to a significant reduction in both BMI and waist circumference over a period of 12 weeks. Coconut oil is still high in calories so you shouldn’t add a ton of it to your diet. But replacing some of your other cooking fats with coconut oil could have a small weight loss benefit.