Published on August 25, 2020
Reading time: 7 minutes.
Coconut oil is an edible oil that has been consumed for thousands of years. Studies of native diets high in coconut oil consumption show that these populations are generally in good health, and don’t suffer from many modern diseases to the extent that Western nations, where coconut oil is seldom consumed, do.
Here are 5 amazing properties of coconut oil that will help you to understand why coconut oil deserves to be part of your daily diet.
1. It has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties
Of particular note during the Covid pandemic, is coconut oil’s antiviral properties. Approximately 50% of the fatty acids in coconut fat are lauric acid. Lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid, which is formed into monolaurin in the human body. Monolaurin is an antiviral and antibacterial fatty acid used by the body to destroy viruses such as Covid-19, HIV, herpes, influenza and various harmful bacteria.
As well as lauric acid, coconut oil contains myristic acid which also fights virus infections and butyric acid, which is used in the treatment of cancer.
One way coconut oil is used to treat bacterial infections is through oil pulling – an age-old practice that has gained modern popularity in promoting oral and whole body health. Essentially it involves using coconut oil like a mouthwash – you put a tablespoon of oil in your mouth, then swish it around for 15–20 minutes, sucking it through your teeth.
Tooth decay and gum disease, caused in many cases by bad bacteria, can lead to heart disease and inflammation in the body. Oil pulling can effectively reduce bacterial counts in the mouth with the same efficacy as antiseptic mouthwashes but is natural, safe and has no side effects.
You can also use coconut oil to treat fungal infections like athletes foot and other skin conditions.
2. Coconut oil improves the metabolism and keeps you fuller for longer
Most animal fats contain predominantly long chain fatty acids. Long chain fatty acids are defined as having at least 14 carbon atoms in their chain.
Coconut oil is rich in particularly medium chain fatty acids (or medium chain triglycerides, MCTs for short) meaning between 6 and 12 carbon atoms in their chain. This is a unique characteristic and makes for some interesting health benefits:
- MCTs are metabolized by the body differently. Shorter chain length allows fatty acids to be metabolized without the need for bile (unlike long chain fatty acids) so are beneficial for people with digestive problems like gallbladder or liver disease. The MCTs in coconut oil are transported directly to the liver where they are turned into a fuel source called ketones.
- Energy is used, not stored. MCTs discourage the liver from creating fat while at the same time increasing the function of the thyroid which is responsible for regulating metabolism. These benefits mean that energy is spent rather than stored (as fat).
- Satiating effect. When consuming coconut oil consistently, you will be able to go for several hours without feeling hungry and when you do, it should be without feeling the effects of low blood sugar.
3. Coconut oil is anti-aging and anti-cancer
Let’s first consider the unhealthy unsaturated oils like the vegetable oils (commercial seed oils is a popular and more appropriate name) like sunflower and soybean oil.
Sunflower oil, commonly used in refined foods like crisps (chips) becomes rancid (or ‘oxidises’) quickly in the body when it is heated and mixed with oxygen. This leads to an increase in free radicals in the body which can cause damage and lead to inflammation.
Unsurprisingly therefore, science increasingly shows that the rate of ageing is accelerated where the diet contains more commercial seed oils as this means a higher level of oxidants in the body.
When consumed, commercial seed oils make their way into the tissues of the body. Studies have shown that ultraviolet light (sunlight) causes the oxidative breakdown of fats (called peroxidation) in the skin and it is these commercial seed oils (sunflower, soybean etc.) in particular that are the target for the ageing and carcinogenic effects of sunlight. Therefore the amount of commercial seed oils in the diet directly impacts the rate of ageing.
Commercial seed oils suppress the normal functioning of the thyroid and the metabolism, meaning that you can get fat without eating much food. This is one of the reasons that livestock are fed soybean and corn. The commercial seed oils can also damage the mitochondria (the cells energy centre), again by way of oxidative damage, ultimately leading to the death of cells as they can no longer produce enough energy.
Coconut oil, which is chemically much more stable being a saturated fat, does not cause these toxic effects. Firstly, coconut oil that has been kept at room temperature for long periods has showed no evidence of rancidity; rather than have an oxidising effect, it actually has an antioxidant, protective effect.
Studies have also demonstrated that ultraviolet light does not cause the oxidative breakdown of saturated fats. Consuming the healthy saturated fats (which includes animal fats like pork lard, beef dripping, goose fat, as well as coconut oil), before exposing your skin to the sunlight for extended periods, can help to protect against wrinkles but also reduce the risk of cancer.
Finally, metabolism is activated by the consumption of coconut oil and it actually serves to prevent the suppressing effects of the commercial seed oils. This is because coconut oil supports thyroid function. Coconut oil also protects the heart cells against the destructive effects of the commercial seed oils.
4. Coconut oil protects against Alzheimer’s and dementia
The combination of low fat, high carbohydrate diets and the replacement of saturated fats with the commercial seed oils has had devastating health effects on the Western world, in particular on our mental health.
There is a strong correlation between between insulin resistance in the brain and Alzheimer’s, leading some to now classify Alzheimer’s as a “type 3 diabetes.” As I mentioned earlier, the oxidative breakdown of the commercial seed oils in the body has serious consequences, like accelerated ageing, but it is also known to be a precursor to Alzheimer’s.
Coconut oil, as well as being rich in saturated fats, is rich in MCTs which are turned into ketones in the liver.
Ketones are molecules that are formed from fatty acids in the liver when there isn’t enough glucose for energy. These ketones provide an alternative fuel for the brain which is thought to be very beneficial to those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Not only does coconut oil provide an important fuel source for the brain, it has also been shown to improve the health of the brain and improve memory and learning by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.
5. Coconut oil can help prevent, and aid recovery from, diabetes
Back in the 1960s, public health advice in Western countries encouraged people to limit dietary fat, particularly animal fats, in order to reduce their risk of heart disease. This recommendation has since been shown to have been based on flawed research and subsequent research has disproved the saturated fat/heart disease link while linking processed carbs to higher rates of disease, including diabetes.
Too many carbs trigger type II diabetes. This is because a diet high in sugars and sugar-forming foods such as grains leads to too much insulin being produced by the pancreas on a persistent basis. The consequence of this is that the cells in your muscles, fat, and liver no longer respond properly to insulin and can’t use glucose from your blood for energy. To make up for it, your pancreas makes more insulin. Over time, your blood sugar levels go up. This is known as insulin resistance.
It is important to realise that the role of insulin is not just to lower blood sugar, but to store sugar as energy (fat) for the future when food may not be available. So too much insulin just makes you fatter.
Changing our diets away from carbs to a diet rich in particularly saturated fat from whole food sources like coconut oil, along with the other healthy fats like the animal fats, avocados and eggs, is a good idea and will go a long way to prevent / aid recovery from diabetes as well as prevent weight gain.
Look for unrefined coconut oil to get the full package of benefits
Refined (processed) coconut oil goes through a pretty intensive process that is harmful to the components of the oil. Such processing involves bleaching and heating the oil to high temperatures. Sometimes the oil is hydrogenated (heated in high pressure conditions and bombarded with hydrogen atoms) which results in the creation of trans-fats. These are inferior products.
A far superior product is unrefined coconut oil – the words you want to see are ‘organic’, ‘raw’, ‘virgin’ or ‘extra virgin’ and ‘cold pressed’ or ‘expeller pressed’.
This will go some way to ensure that the coconut oil you are consuming is giving you the full package of benefits as described in this article.
About Robbie Mack
Robbie is a lawyer not a doctor. Robbie took an interest in nutritional and lifestyle health research after developing depression in his early 30s. Some years later his research has helped him find the answers to his problems. He believes that everyone should have access to the correct diet and lifestyle information based on the evolution of the human species. Robbie has taken full responsibility for his own health and thinks that everyone should try to do this.
Robbie-mack.org is the result of thousands of hours of research found on the internet and platforms like YouTube, where you can access the impartial and honest views of real experts on health and wellbeing.
Robbie isn’t a doctor so please don’t rely on his articles as medical advice as they are not intended to be used in this way.