10 Health Benefits of Coconut Oil – Hype or Science?

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coconut oil
Superfood is a term thrown around a little too often for my liking.

Sure, there are a number of foods that contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals. But does that make them super?

For me a superfood needs to have significant benefits to our health, otherwise they are just ‘food’.

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In my opinion, coconut oil is one of the few foods that truly tick that box. Coconut oil contains a unique blend of various fatty acids that can have a significant and positive impact on health. This includes weight loss, improved cognitive function, among a host of other benefits.

As such, coconut oil is one of the few genuine superfoods available today.

And this is why.

Coconut oil and weight loss

Obesity is one of the largest health issues in the modern world. While obesity can be considered a cause of calorie intake exceeding calorie expenditure, it is not always so simple. Often where those calories come from can play a role too.

Coconut oil contains a high amount of medium chain triglycerides (MCT). These MCT’s have shown to increase energy expenditure after consumption to a much greater degree that longer chain fatty acids (such as those found in butter and vegetable oils) [1].

This means that by simply substituting regularly cooking oils and butter with coconut oil (subsequently increasing our intake of MCT’s) we can significantly increase our metabolic rate. In turn, this causes a subsequent increase in our daily energy expenditure, which can lead to weight loss over time.

Coconut Oil and hunger

Interestingly, in conjunction with the effects that coconut oil can have on metabolic rate, it has also shown to cause reductions in hunger signals. It is thought that when we break down MCT’s for energy, we get an increase of ketones in the blood stream. These ketones have demonstrated to significantly reduce appetite and hunger [2].

As a bonus, individuals who eat high amounts of MCT’s have been shown to eat significantly fewer calories throughout the day than those who consume low amounts of MCT’s [3].

This further supports the suggestion that the consumption of coconut oil can reduce hunger. This effect, in combination with coconut oils influence on metabolic rate, can lead to an increase in weight loss over time.

Coconut oil and abdominal fat

It makes sense that as coconut oil can reduce appetite AND increase fat metabolism, it can also lead to weight loss. Interestingly, coconut oil seems unusually effective at reducing abdominal fat specifically.

Abdominal fat is the fatty tissue that sits around the abdominal cavity, and surrounds our organs. It is often considered the ‘worst’ type of fat due to its association with many diseases that negatively affect western countries.

Daily coconut oil supplementation has led to significant reductions in waist circumference, which is considered a good measure of abdominal fat, irrespective of changes in exercise or diet [5].

This is quite impressive if we take into consideration these people lost abdominal by merely adding coconut oil into their diet. These effects would have been considerably greater if diet change and exercise was thrown into the mix.

Coconut oil and blood cholesterol

In addition to MCT’s, coconut oil is also full of saturated fats (about 90% of the fats within coconut oil are saturated). While saturated fats have been demonised in the past, new research has demonstrated that they are in fact harmless, and have no negative effects on the blood lipid profile at all.

In fact, saturated fats have shown to increase levels of blood HDL (good cholesterol), while reducing levels of blood LDL (bad cholesterol) [4]. These two factors are considered key cardiac risk factors, and by improving them considerably, we can see genuine improvements in heart and cardiovascular health.

Coconut oil and blood pressure

In addition to creating significant improvements in our blood cholesterol profile, replacing vegetable and other cooking oils with coconut oil has been suggested to cause reductions in blood pressure.

You see, coconut oil contains various antioxidants that are extremely beneficial for health [5]. These antioxidants specifically decrease the oxidative stress placed on the cardiovascular system, reducing vascular stiffness, which results in a reduction in blood pressure.

This reduction in blood pressure is likely to reduce our likelihood of developing hypertension and heart disease, while improving the function of our cardiovascular system.

Coconut Oil and seizures

Eating high amounts of fats, with specific emphasis on MCT’s (such as those found in coconut oil), has shown to lead to an increase in ketones in the blood. Ketones are a by-product of fat metabolism, which can also be used for energy within the neural tissue of the brain.

Interestingly, the brain appears to function quite efficiently when using these ketones for energy. An extremely positive side effect of this, is a dramatic reduction in the rate at which individuals with epilepsy have seizures.

So much so, that diets high in fat have been trialled as a treatment for seizures in drug-resistant epileptic children [6].

Coconut Oil and Alzheimer’s Disease

In addition seizure treatment, ketones have also shown to have a positive effects on Alzheimer’s disease.

When people suffer from Alzheimer’s, they appear to have a limited capacity to use glucose for energy in specific areas of the brain. As we already know, the brain also has the capacity to use ketones for energy.

The brain actually uses ketones slightly differently than it uses glucose, as a result, ketones can be used for energy in these specific areas of malfunction, which actually reduces the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease [7].

In conjunction with reduced symptoms, this has also shown to increase cognitive function and memory in individuals suffering Alzheimer’s.

Coconut Oil and the Liver

The MCT’s in coconut oil can also have a positive effect on liver health.

Some specific MCT’s have shown to disrupt the lipid coating on harmful bacteria, which leads to their death.  This eliminates the need for them to be broken down and destroyed within the liver, which in turn, can lead to improved liver health.

This can further improve digestive processes, and protect us from harmful disease and illness.

Coconut Oil and Arthritis

As mentioned previously, coconut oil is extremely rich in antioxidants.

While these antioxidants are most well known for their ability to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, they have also shown to reduce arthritic symptoms [9]. Antioxidants have known anti-inflammatory properties. They lead to a reduction in systemic inflammation, which includes a specific reduction of inflammation within our joints.

This has been demonstrated to reduce arthritic symptoms, and improve joint health.

Coconut Oil and, Skin and Hair

While most of coconut oils benefits do come from consumption, it does actually have other uses.

Studies have shown that using coconut oil as a face wash can cause significant improvements in both the moisture and lipid profile of the skin [9], while also protecting the skin from harmful UV rays.

Additionally, coconut oil has also been suggestive to have properties that can protect hair from weather and sun damage when used as a conditioning agent.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, I truly think that coconut oil is deserving of superfood status.

It can help promote weight loss, improve cardiovascular, brain, liver, and joint health, and can even improve the appearance of our skin and hair.

It is not only full of beneficial vitamins and minerals, but can have genuine benefits to our health as well!

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1. Seaton, Timothy B., et al. “Thermic effect of medium-chain and long-chain triglycerides in man.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 44.5 (1986): 630-634. Viewed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3532757

2. McClernon, F. Joseph, et al. “The Effects of a Low‐Carbohydrate Ketogenic Diet and a Low‐Fat Diet on Mood, Hunger, and Other Self‐Reported Symptoms.” Obesity 15.1 (2007): 182-182. Viewed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17228046

3. Stubbs, R. J., and C. G. Harbron. “Covert manipulation of the ratio of medium-to long-chain triglycerides in isoenergetically dense diets: effect on food intake in ad libitum feeding men.” International journal of obesity and related metabolic disorders: journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity 20.5 (1996): 435-444. Viewed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8696422

4. Mensink, Ronald P., et al. “Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 77.5 (2003): 1146-1155. Viewed at: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/77/5/1146.short

4. Liau, Kai Ming, et al. “An open-label pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of virgin coconut oil in reducing visceral adiposity.” ISRN pharmacology 2011 (2011). Viewed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3226242/

5. Marina, A. M., et al. “Antioxidant capacity and phenolic acids of virgin coconut oil.” International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 60.sup2 (2009): 114-123. Viewed at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09637480802549127

6. Neal, Elizabeth G., et al. “The ketogenic diet for the treatment of childhood epilepsy: a randomised controlled trial.” The Lancet Neurology 7.6 (2008): 500-506. Viewed at: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laneur/article/PIIS1474-4422(08)70092-9/abstract

7. Costantini, Lauren C., et al. “Hypometabolism as a therapeutic target in Alzheimer's disease.” BMC neuroscience 9.2 (2008): 1. Viewed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2604900/

8. Vysakh, A., et al. “Polyphenolics isolated from virgin coconut oil inhibits adjuvant induced arthritis in rats through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action.” International immunopharmacology 20.1 (2014): 124-130. Viewed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24613207?dopt=Abstract

9. Agero, A. L., and Vermén M. Verallo-Rowell. “A randomized double-blind controlled trial comparing extra virgin coconut oil with mineral oil as a moisturizer for mild to moderate xerosis.” Dermatitis 15.3 (2004): 109-116. Viewed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15724344


About the Author John Wright

John has been a fitness enthusiast for over 10 years, starting out while struggling with obesity as a teenager. Over the years he has advised numerous clients on how to transform their physiques and their lives. As a writer on Nutrition Inspector he aims to help others achieve real results by staying clear of the common hype and false claims in the supplement industry! You can contact him via the "About Us" page.

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