Coconut oil is one of the most well known and widely used oils in the world today. However, it was not so well known to the northern regions in the recent past. A spurt in medicinal research and an increase in awareness about the extremely beneficial properties of this oil have lead to its growing popularity the world over. But, it is also the most debated oil among health communities.
Coconut oil’s remarkable health benefits are a testimony to the fact that even saturated fats provide incredible benefits if taken in reasonable amounts. Coconut oil contains a very high percentage of saturated fatty acids, which is strikingly different from the fatty acid profile of any other oil. However, it is these special compounds in high concentrations that lend special healing capabilities to coconut oil. Here, we shall discuss the complete nutritional profile of coconut oil including the micro-nutrients ( like phenols ) and the benefits that they yield.
All coconut oil is essentially derived from the copra of the coconut. Copra is the dried meat of coconut. Hence. copra oil is another name for coconut oil. However, it is important to note that the way copra is processed to extract oil differs. That is why there are many varieties of coconut oil. Before one buys coconut oil, one should be sure what that product is.
Virgin Coconut oil – This coconut oil is derived without the use of any substances or methods which alter the composition of natural coconut oil. That means, virgin coconut oil is extracted from mechanical methods, as is done in Kerala, India. There, coconut oil has been produced naturally in villages since ancient times. An example of the most ancient method is an ox-powered mill. VCO ( Virgin coconut oil ) has a sharp coconutty aroma and tastes like coconut. Extra virgin coconut oil is actually a misnomer, as it is the same as virgin coconut oil.
Solvent based extraction – In this method, hexane is used to extract coconut oil from the slurry. It yields more oil and is thus popular. This oil should not be used for edible purposes, and even for the skin.
RBD Coconut oil – It stands for “Refined, Bleached and Deodorized”. This is the most widely used coconut oil. It is not as good as virgin coconut oil, but it is ideal for cooking and cosmetic purposes. This oil has very little of the characteristic coconut aroma.
Hydrogenated Coconut oil – In this oil, the small amount of unsaturated fats too are hydrogenated and thus making it unhealthy. It might contain some trans fats as well.
The list of medicinal and therapeutic properties of coconut oil is stupefying. 
- Anti-fungal – Coconut oil contains some of the strongest anti-fungal compounds, like capric acid, lauric acid and caprylic acid.
- Immunomodulatory – Coconut oil intake in presence of sufficient Zinc boost immune function but with a modulatory effect.
- Anti-Viral – Coconut oil has a very powerful anti-viral activity. It has shown anti-viral activity against many lipid coated viruses, the prominent ones like hepatitis C, visna, Epstein barr.
- Anti-Caries – Oil pulling using coconut oil reduces the risk of caries and slows accumulation of dental plaque.
- Hypolipidemic – Consumption of coconut oil improves lipid profile.
- Antithrombotic – It reduces the risk of blood clots.
- Anti-atherosclerotic – Lauric acid in coconut oil deactivates certain pathogens which are linked to a higher risk of atherosclerosis.
- Anti-bacterial – Coconut oil has anti-bacterial activity against a large number of bacteria.
- Cardioprotective – Virgin coconut oil actually lowers total cholesterol by decreasing LDL cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol.
- Anti-cholecystitic – It helps in the dissolution of gallstones.
- Emollient – Coconut oil is one of the best moisturizers for dry skin out there.
- Anti-Acne – Although coconut oil is comedogenic, it may help in acne as it attacks the acne causing bacteria, P.acnes.
- Antioxidant – Virgin coconut oil has a high amount of anti-oxidants that boost health by reducing cell damage induced by free radicals.
- Suncreen – Coconut oil exerts a mild suncreen like effect when applied on the skin.
- Anti-inflammatory for the skin.
- Apoptopic – induces programmed cell death.
Uses and Health Benefits
Coconut tree has been referred as “Kalpavriksha” in Indian texts, which means the all giving tree. Even its oil can be put to a variety of diverse uses in the household and the industry. Coconut oil is one of the best natural things for our skin.
Coconut oil for Hair
Coconut oil helps to reduce protein loss in hair when applied regularly. This prevents breakage during combing of hair shafts which become weak due to loss of protein content. This is a major finding. Coconut oil can be applied directly onto wet or dry hair. However, the best benefits are availed by using it as a hot oil massage for hair. Warm the oil slightly and gently pat it onto the scalp, extending the oil along the hair shafts. Cover with a shower cap and keep for about 20 minutes. Then wash off the hair in cold water. This routine can be performed weekly to give softer but strong hair. The thickness of individual hair shaft can improve through continuous use as the protein loss is compensated for.
Coconut oil for Skin
Coconut oil is the best remedy for dry skin. Regular application of it quickly helps the skin shed off dead cells, crusts, peelings and any infection that might be emerging. Applying coconut oil just after shower locks the mositure inside the cells and seals it off. This makes the skin very smooth. In winter months, applying coconut oil keeps the skin slightly warm as the oil layer acts as mild insulation. Thus, it prevents the dry skin problems of winter.
Coconut oil is the most easily available remedy for any kind of skin infection, because it is a strong anti-fungal and anti-bacterial.
- Acne – Coconut oil kills Propionibacterium Acnes, the bacteria which is believed to be a factor in acne.
- Fungal infections – Use it for common problesm like athlete’s foot, jock itch, candidiasis, ringworm, toenail infection and other problems like corns and calluses.
- Viral skin infections like herpes, shingles and canker sores also respond to coconut oil.
Coconut oil relieves the symptoms of atopic dermatitis to some extent. It acts as an emollient and provides nutrition to the skin cells externally. This effect helps to keep eczema in check. It also prevents the outgrowth of S.aureus bacteria which is known to colonize in skin areas affected by atopic dermatitis. 
Coconut oil is helpful in scalp psoriasis, which is a manifestation of psoriasis on the scalp. Although psoriasis is immune system related disorder, coconut oil eases off the itching and scaling on the scalp. It dissolves away dead skin cells and promotes the skin to recover.
Although there is lack of medicinal research journals confirming the efficacy of coconut oil in treating Alzheimer’s, there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence to support this. The Medium Chain Triglycerides ( MCTs) in Coconut oil, like Lauric acid, Capric acid and Caprylic acid boost brain function and prevent damage to neurons. As a result, coconut oil can be taken in small amounts in whatever food item convenient. Addition of turmeric in diet is also beneficial. Curcumin in turmeric is better absorbed in presence of fats and thus is made more bio-available.
MCTs in Coconut oil have been found to preserve insulin function . As a result, this oil is helpful in type-2 diabetes. Insulin resistance is said to occur when insulin hormone has impaired ability to regulate metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. Insulin regulates the delivery of glucose to skeletal muscle and also regulates retention of fat. As a result, improved insulin function also reduces the risk of developing obesity.
Potent Natural Anti-Viral
Coconut oil contains lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid which exhibits potent anti-viral activity against lipid coated viruses in its monolaurin form. These viruses like HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, Herpes virus and influenza viruses develop a coating made from lipds which enables them to stay undetected by the host’s immune system. Monolaurin eliminated the coating, making them detectable by the immune system, and the natural killing action starts. Therefore, coconut oil is being used by many patients suffering from these viral diseases as a nutritional supplement. The dosage of coconut oil required for sufficient activity varies. Moreover, it takes months for the viral count to lower slowly.
Coconut Oil and Heart Disease
Consumption of virgin coconut oil lowers oxidantion of LDL cholesterol. This is attributed to the polyphenol antioxidants in virgin coconut oil. This shows that consumption of virgin form of coconut oil provides much more antioxidants and may help to improve lipid profile. However, it is important to not exceed the daily fat intake limit recommendations. 
Unique Metabolism of the MCTs
Medium chain triglycerides, like lauric acid are absorbed directly into the portal system without any alteration. There is no need for bile salts as well. Therefore, MCTs are among the most easily absorbed nutrients. These are fed to people who have malabsorption. High concentration of MCTs in diet induces ketosis in the liver. This is beneficial in the case of intractable epilepsy.
Medicinal Properties of Coconut oil according to Ayurveda
Coconut grows naturally in the coastal regions. Practioners of Ayurveda have often remarked at the immense medicinal properties of coconut oil.
- Ayurvedic texts refer to Coconut oil as Maha medhya, which means that it is a nourishing food for the mind.
- Coconut oil is used for performing Abhyanga massage.
- It is a pacifier of Pitta dosha ( humor ). Thus, it can alleviate characteristic “pitta”conditions like inflammation, acne and anger.
- Carrier oil of great repute. Many ayurvedic medications have their base as coconut oil.
- Oil Pulling done using coconut oil helps prevent dental caries, gingivitis, bad breath and whitish coating on tongue.
Home Remedies using Coconut Oil
Besides its more powerful health benefits, coconut oil also finds use in some common problems that can be resolved using home remedies.
- Use it for cracked heels, chapped lips and shedding skin. Also good for under eye circles. Coconut oil penetrates deep into the skin. So, it is good for treating dark circles and cellulite.
- Apply after a shave to prevent burning sensation.
- It is helpful in diaper rash.
- Apply on nails to keep them stronger and promote growth.
- To make a homemade soap.
- Apply on mosquito bites to calm the itch.
Coconut oil is also great for cooking, especially deep fry cooking. It has a smoke point of 350° F which means it doesn’t smoke even at higher temperatures.
Side Effects, Safe Dosage and Toxicity Issues
Coconut oil is generally considered safe. However, people beginning to take coconut oil internally should start with just 1 teaspoon at one time. Taking 1 – 2 tablespoon in one go is a lot of fat and may cause vomiting and sharp abdominal pain.
Nutritional and Medicinal Information
Coconut oil is predominantly saturated fatty acids. 100 gm of coconut oil contains –
Saturated Fat – 86.5 %
Monounsaturated Fat (MUFA) – 5.8 %
Polyunsaturated Fat (PUFA) – 1.8 %
100 gm provides 862 calories and is comprised almost all of fats. It also contains some Iron, Vitamin E and Vitamin K.
- Iron – 0.04 mg .
- Vitamin K – 0.5 μg .
- Vitamin E – 0.09 mg ( alpha-tocopherol ), gamma tocopherol ( 0.20 mg ) .
Complete Fatty Acid profile of Coconut oil
The most important nutritional aspect of any oil is the breakdown of its fatty acids. This holds the key to their nutrition. Now, coconut oil has the most strikingly different fat profile. Below is the fatty acid profile of Malaysian virgin coconut oil.
|Caproic Acid (6:0)||0.6%||Saturated fat|
|Stearic Acid (18:0)||3.46 %||Saturated fat|
|Palmitic Acid (16:0)||8.40 %||Saturated fat|
|Palmitoleic Acid (16:1)||0.06 %||MUFA|
|Oleic Acid (18:1)||5.80 %||MUFA|
|Linoleic Acid (18:2)||0.90 %||PUFA|
|Alpha Linolenic Acid(18:3)||0.44 %||PUFA|
|Myristic Acid (14:0)||16.23 %||Saturated fat|
|Lauric Acid (12:0)||48.03 %||Saturated fat|
|Capric Acid (10:0)||6.27 %||Saturated fat|
|Caprylic Acid (8:0)||7.64 %||Saturated fat|
Source : 7
Almost half of coconut oil is lauric acid. It is also found in palm kernel oil and in mother’s milk. It is the chief saturated fat in coconut oil and is responsible for many of its anti-bacterial and anti-viral effects. Capric acid has activity against Candida albicans. Caprylic acid is also a powerful anti-fungal fatty acid which acts against Candida fungus.
|Density||3||great for massage oil|
|Storage temperature||Room Temperature||Ideal temperature for storage|
|Comedogenicity||4||Pore clogging potential ( 0 – 5 )|
|Peroxide value||0.21||Measure of Acidity|
|Anisidine value||0.23 %||Measure of Initial Rancidity|
|Saponification Value||245-255||Measure of the average carbon chain length|
|Iodine Value||4.71||Measure of unsaturation of oil|
|Free Fatty Acids||0.13 %||Percentage of volatile oils|
Source : 7
The comedogenicity is to be noted. Coconut oil is highly comedogenic. But, anecdotal evidences are there to suggest that coconut oil helps in clearing up acne. So, it is a matter of personal suitability.
The antioxidant capacity of virgin coconut oil is quite appreciable. This is due to a noticeably higher concentration of phenols in virgin coconut oil as compared to the commercial one.
|Phenol||Concentration ( mg/kg )||Property|
|Caffeic acid||3||Inhibition of cancer propagation|
|Ferulic acid||3||Apoptotic, leads to programmed cell death in cancer, skin whitening|
|(+/-)Catechin||2.9||Strong antioxidant also found in green tea|
Source : 8
Buying and Storage
Coconut oil is the most stable oil. It has a remakable shelf life of 2 years and does not go rancid at room temperaures or even higher temperatures. So, one can buy the largest size of coconut oil and not be worried about storage. However, it is important to buy coconut oil from a reputed brand. One can also buy virgin coconut oil directly from places where coconut grows in plenty, like India, Malaysia and Indonesia and the Pacific Islands.
1. Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.: Arecaceae): In health promotion and disease prevention.Mandal et. al.
2. Effect of coconut oil on prevention of hair damage. Rele A.S. et. al.
3. Novel Antibacterial and Emollient Effects of Coconut and Virgin Olive Oils in Adult Atopic Dermatitis. Verallo-Rowel et. al.
4. Use of medium chain triglycerides for the treatment and prevention of alzheimer’s disease and other diseases resulting from reduced neuronal metabolism II. US 6835750 B1.
5. Enhancement of Muscle Mitochondrial Oxidative Capacity and Alterations in Insulin Action Are Lipid Species Dependent Potent Tissue-Specific Effects of Medium-Chain Fatty Acids. Turner et.al.
6. Beneficial effects of virgin coconut oil on lipid parameters and in vitro LDL oxidation. Nevin et.al.Clinical Biochemistry.
7. Chemical Properties of Virgin Coconut Oil. Marina et.al.
8. Variation of phenolic content in coconut oil extracted by two conventional methods. Seneviratne et.al.
9. USDA Nutrient Database
10. Beneficial Botanicals
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