Coconut Oil - Healthy for Skin, Hair, and Teeth
Coconut oil is the extracted oil from the meat of the coconut (the coconut water is used differently). Coconut oil provides numerous health benefits by strengthening the body from both the inside and outside. The oil, also known as coconut fat, contains no cholesterol, like all plant-based foods.
Coconut oil is rich in saturated fats for quick energy
It contains a high percentage of saturated fats (approximately 90%). As a result, unlike foods with unsaturated fats, it tends to be solid at room temperature.
A large portion of the saturated fatty acids in coconut oil are medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Triglycerides generally consist of one glycerol molecule and three fatty acid molecules. When examining the fatty acid molecules more closely, they differ chemically in their length, which is determined by the number of carbon atoms they contain. If the fatty acid molecules have 6 to 12 carbon atoms, they are classified as medium-chain fatty acids. Coconut oil contains caprylic acid (7.5 g per 100 g), capric acid (6 g), and lauric acid (44.6 g) as medium-chain fatty acids in very high proportions.
Saturated fatty acids are commonly associated with arterial deposits that can lead to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) 1. Atherosclerosis is the cause of various cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke. However, recent summaries of studies indicate little correlation between saturated fatty acids and cardiovascular diseases 2 3 4. A 2-year use of coconut oil did not show any fat-related changes in cardiovascular risk factors and occurrences in patients with stable coronary heart disease 5.
Compared to other oils, coconut oil is quickly absorbed and used as an energy source 6. So, coconut oil is easily digestible.
Fighting Viruses and Bacteria with Coconut Oil
The medium-chain triglycerides in the body are broken down into individual medium-chain fatty acids and monoglycerides (such as monolaurin), which eliminate or deactivate pathogenic microorganisms in the body 7 8.
Other scientists recommend using coconut oil in the treatment of medication-resistant Candida species in fungal infections 11. According to another study (in vitro), coconut oil has shown significant antifungal activity against Candida albicans (a yeast fungus that can cause infectious diseases) comparable to ketoconazole 12. Ketoconazole is an active ingredient that helps prevent and treat fungal infections.
In Indonesian traditional medicine, coconut oil is even used for external wound healing 13.
Coconut oil contains plant compounds with antioxidant benefits
Cold-pressed and unrefined coconut oil demonstrated the highest antioxidant benefits compared to refined, bleached, and deodorized (odor removed) coconut oil 14. Scientists believe that these benefits are caused by plant phenolic compounds such as ferulic acid and p-coumaric acid. Other secondary plant compounds with antioxidant potential in coconut oil include caffeic acid and catechins 15.
Coconut oil for weight loss
Scientists conducting a small study with 20 obese subjects observed a positive effect on waist circumference reduction (average of 2.86 cm) after four weeks of consuming 30 ml of coconut oil per day 16. The fat profiles (LDL and HDL cholesterol) remained unchanged. Other study findings from 2009 confirm the unchanged fat profiles and also indicate a reduction in abdominal adiposity associated with coconut oil 17.
A diet rich in virgin coconut oil increased healthy HDL cholesterol and reduced waist circumference and body mass in patients during a 2015 study. These patients had coronary artery disease (accumulation of fat hardens and narrows the arteries) 18.
Aside from the positive effect on HDL cholesterol, coconut oil increases total and LDL cholesterol to a greater extent compared to other unsaturated plant oils (although to a lesser extent than butter) 19.
In a study involving 60 participants, where the benefits of coconut milk on lipid profile were measured over 8 weeks, no adverse effects were found. In fact, benefits were observed in reducing bad LDL and improving good HDL cholesterol. 20. Further study results with premenopausal women also suggest the same 21.
Improving quality of life through coconut fat
Malaysian scientists wanted to investigate the benefits of untreated and cold-pressed coconut oil on the quality of life of women with breast cancer 22. Coconut oil improved the quality of life (fatigue, shortness of breath, sleep disturbances, and appetite loss) and reduced symptoms resulting from chemotherapy side effects.
Coconut oil (40 ml per day) improved cognitive status in Alzheimer's patients 23. Improvement in cognitive performance was particularly observed in women.
Coconut oil is excellent for cooking, frying, roasting, and deep-frying plant-based foods due to its high smoke point. It is also great for baking. Additionally, coconut oil can be used as an ingredient in smoothies. It transitions to a liquid state at around 25 degrees Celsius, making it easier to work with during the summer months. It pairs perfectly with healthy fruit salads in the summer, adding a tropical touch.
Away from nutrition, coconut oil is used as an ingredient in products such as perfume, hair conditioner, and skin care 24.
Coconut Oil for Healthy Teeth
Coconut oil is also associated with improved oral health. However, as of spring 2015, there were no direct studies on coconut oil and oral health. The focus is on the method of oil pulling, which generally reduces dental plaque and significantly reduces microorganisms in the oral cavity 25. Oil pulling involves swishing oil between the teeth – an oil mouth rinse.
In the aforementioned 2015 study, the benefit of coconut oil on plaque-related gingivitis (gum inflammation) was examined in 60 boys and girls aged 16 to 18 years 26. Daily oil pulling with coconut oil as a supplement to morning oral hygiene showed a significant decrease in plaque and gingivitis starting from the seventh day. According to scientists, this could be an effective method to reduce plaque formation and plaque-induced gingivitis.
According to a more recent study from 2016, oil pulling with coconut oil also leads to a significant reduction in Streptococcus mutans (cavity-causing bacteria) 27. The scientists recommend further research on coconut oil as a safe and effective alternative to chlorhexidine.
For those who want to try oil pulling with coconut oil, put a teaspoon of coconut oil in your mouth before brushing your teeth. Then swish the oil around the mouth and pull it through the teeth for about 15 minutes. Spit out the oil afterwards and brush your teeth as usual.
Skincare with Coconut Oil
People in tropical regions have been using coconut oil for centuries as an effective and traditional moisturizer. Coconut oil has shown a significant improvement in skin moisture and an increase in the lipid content of the skin surface in patients with xerosis 28.
To determine the benefit of untreated coconut oil on atopic dermatitis (eczema), 26 subjects applied coconut oil twice daily to non-infected areas of the skin 29. Coconut oil demonstrated novel antibacterial (against Staphylococcus, viruses, and fungi) and emollient benefits, and could be beneficial, similar to olive oil, in the treatment of the spread of eczema.
In children with mild to moderate atopic dermatitis, topical application (where the active ingredient is meant to act) of coconut oil over eight weeks showed better results on the skin compared to products containing mineral oil 30.
Light Sun Protection with Coconut Oil
Coconut Oil for Hair
Coconut oil makes the hair softer 33. It also prevents hair from swelling. The process of swelling and shrinking of the hair is considered one of the main causes of hair damage, leading to moisture-induced fatigue of the hair. Coconut oil could protect against such hair damage 34.
Buy Coconut Oil
If you want to buy coconut oil, you should opt for cold-pressed and unrefined oil (also known as virgin or extra virgin coconut oil) due to its numerous health benefits from phenolic compounds. Traditionally pressed coconut oil contains almost seven times higher levels of these substances, with 618 mg per kg, compared to commercial coconut oil (91 mg) 35.
Refined coconut oil is produced from dried coconut meat (copra) and undergoes a bleaching and deodorizing process, resulting in the loss of its odor and flavor.