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Health Benefits of Virgin Coconut Oil

young green coconut
Young green coconut

Coconut oil is a staple in the diets of many tropical countries. In 1930 research by Dr. Weston Price on the dietary habits of the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands showed that there was almost no heart disease in the population. A very important part of their diet is coconut oil which was consumed in large quantities daily. Again in 1981, studies of the people of two Polynesian atolls who consumed coconut oil on a daily basis found that the population had good heart health. In Kerala - a state in the Southern part of India almost all cooking is done in coconut oil. Coconut in some form or another shows up in every dish. In the Philippines as well, coconut and coconut oil is an ingredient in most recipes.

However starting in the 1950s coconut oil was given a bad rap for many decades - on account of being high in almost saturated fat. Manufacturers of vegetable oils such as soybean oil and canola oil also had a vested interest in the propaganda against coconut oil.

Raises HDL and helps keep cholesterol levels healthy. Good for cardiovascular health

Indeed coconut oil is almost 90% saturated fat. However most of the fats in coconut oil are medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) instead of long chain triglycerides found in other oils. MCTs are easier to digest. Lauric acid in coconut oil helps raise HDL cholesterol levels and also helps convert cholesterol to chemicals that are the building blocks of our body hormones. Coconut oil helps to support proper thryroid functioning lack of which causes unhealthy cholesterol levels.

In a 2015 study of 116 adults with coronary artery disease, it was found that consumption of extra virgin coconut oil led to some remarkable benefits. During the first phase of 3 months, it was found that body weight, Body Mass Index (BMI), waist circumference, neck circumference and insulin concentrations were reduced. During the second phase of 3-6 months, it was found that in addition to the above benefits, there was an increase in HDL-C concentration. 3

coconut kernels
Coconut kernels

Healthy cooking oil

Coconut oil has a very high melting point - 76-78 Fahrenheit - which makes it an ideal cooking medium. Even at high temperatures, the oil does not lose its nutrients and it also contains no trans-fats. As a cooking medium coconut oil surpasses other vegetable oils which are highly susceptible to oxidative damage at high heat and also contain a high amount of omega-6 fatty acids that are a primary cause of many cardiovascular and other health issues.

Coconut oil aids in weight loss

In a 2009 study, women who consumed 2 tablespoons of coconut oil each day were found to have lost fat from the abdomen after 12 weeks.

Coconut oil helped to reduce body weight, waist circumference and BMI of 116 patients in a 2015 study 3

Coconut oil helps in brain functions

Coconut oil has even been said to help in reducing Alzheimer's symptoms. Kieran Clarke, professor of physiological biochemistry at Oxford University and head of the Cardiac Metabolism Research Group states that the fat in coconut oil contains ketones which helps boost the brain's energy supply. A 2008 paper in the journal BMC Neuroscience by Dr. Mary Newport who gave coconut oil to her husband suffering from Alzheimer's also indicates that Medium Chain Triglycerides help to provide fuel to the brain.

Antioxidant benefits of coconut oil

Virgin coconut oil obtained from fresh coconut has high polyphenol levels. Studies have shown it to contain gallic acid, ferulic acid, quercetin, methyl catechin, dihydrokaempferol and myricetin glycoside. These phenolic acids are considered to act as anti-oxidants and prevent cell death. 1

In a study of rats who were fed Virgin coconut oil, Sunflower oil and Olive oil, it was found that the antioxidant status of the group fed coconut oil was better than that of the other three oil fed groups. The activities of catalase, superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, glutathione reductase and paraoxonase 1 in tissues was significantly increased in rats fed the virgin coconut oil. These are enzymes that protect cells from oxidative damage. They provide powerful free radical protection and also play a role in reducing internal inflammation. Paraoxonase 1 protects against lipid oxidation.2

Helps in the body's inflammation response

Arthritis and many other chronic diseases are a result of the body's inflammation response. In the face of injury or other perceived threat the body reacts and increases production of white blood cells, C-reactive protein and inflammatory cells. In a study of rats, it was found that feeding virgin coconut oil to arthritic rats reduced white blood cells, edema formation and expression of inflammatory genes. Synovial fluid in joints showed that reactive mesothelial cells and inflammatory cells were inhibited. 4

Good for digestion

Virgin coconut oil has also been found to be a digestive aid. Medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) in coconut oil are easily digested and help provide lipid absorption to people with compromised digestive systems.

Coconut oil is soothing and anti-bacterial and can help destroy H-pylori bacteria in the gut that cause various digestive disorders such as Crohn's and IBS.

Coconut oil improves the bio-availability of omega-3 fatty acids as well as minerals like calcium and magnesium. It also helps improve the uptake of carotenoids from vegetables and fruits

Great for skin

When applied to the skin, coconut oil acts as a natural moisturizer and anti-bacterial agent. It is considered very effective in preventing and removing acne. Also useful as an aftershave lotion and to heal nicks and cuts

Excellent for hair

Coconut oil is great as a natural hair conditioner. Women in India typically massage coconut oil into the hair and scalp and leave overnight before shampooing. It works as a cooling agent and a wonderful moisturizer. It also helps to get rid of dandruff

Types of coconut oil

Coconut oil can be organic, virgin or refined.

Organic coconut oil is that obtained from coconut grown on trees using organic manure.

Virgin coconut oil is extracted from fresh coconut pulp without using heat or chemicals.

Refined coconut oil is extracted from dried coconut. Coconut meat can be dried using fire, sun or ovens. This dried coconut is known as copra. RBD or refined bleached and deodorized coconut oil is obtained by pressing and applying heat to dried copra and then further refining it for commercial use.

While there is no industry standard for extra virgin coconut oil like there is for olive oil, many companies promote their brands based on the fact that the oil is extracted from very fresh, organically grown coconuts by cold-pressing and then filtering. Pure extra virgin coconut oil is generally found to be light with a coconut taste and smell.

It has been found that wet processing of virgin coconut oil allows the retention of higher amounts of biologically active unsaponifiable components like polyphenols (84 mg per 100 g oil) and tocopherols (33.12 μg per 100 g oil) compared to other oils. 2


1. Toxicology Mechanisms and Methods. 2017 Jul;27(6):442-450. doi: 10.1080/15376516.2017.1320458. Epub 2017 Apr 26.
Polyphenols of virgin coconut oil prevent pro-oxidant mediated cell death.
Illam SP1, Narayanankutty A1, Raghavamenon AC1.

2. Food & Function 2013 Sep;4(9):1402-9. doi: 10.1039/c3fo60085h.
Effect of virgin coconut oil enriched diet on the antioxidant status and paraoxonase 1 activity in ameliorating the oxidative stress in rats - a comparative study.
Arunima S1, Rajamohan T.

3. Nutricion Hospitalaria. 2015 Nov 1;32(5):2144-52. doi: 10.3305/nh.2015.32.5.9642.
Cardoso DA1, Moreira AS2, de Oliveira GM1, Raggio Luiz R3, Rosa G4.

4. International Immunopharmacology 2014 May;20(1):124-30. doi: 10.1016/j.intimp.2014.02.026. Epub 2014 Mar 6.
Polyphenolics isolated from virgin coconut oil inhibits adjuvant induced arthritis in rats through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action.
Vysakh A1, Ratheesh M2, Rajmohanan TP3, Pramod C4, Premlal S5, Girish kumar B6, Sibi PI4.

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