Are you looking for the benefits of coconut oil? In this blog, we will explore some of the coconut oil benefits for hair, skin, teeth and much more.
Coconut oil has been around so long, it has seen itself become both the hero and the villain- several times. With records dating back at least 3,500 years, it had humble beginnings as a bye-product, slowly blooming to be of daily use in households and industries, then falling into disregard via slander and market politics.
In raising awareness of the dangers of saturated fats, powerful health and food organizations took to rejecting a large number of tropical oils, this one included.
The usage of coconut oil (especially via ingestion) to treat more serious issues is yet to find consistent results in research. However, it still perches high on the totem pole, and rather self-assuredly too. Why shouldn’t it? Though the controversy is still unravelling (we’ll get into this in a bit), it is also propelling further research into the benefits of coconut oil in treating conditions like diabetes, Alzheimer’s, dementia, obesity and auto immune and inflammation based illnesses.
Topical applications of the oil now have scientifically backed benefits, and regions that don’t produce it (like the European Union and the United States) are among the top consumers globally today.
We’re diving in to coconut oil uses and benefits in our article today, and breaking down marketplace lingo so you can find the best fit for your needs in a *saturated* marketplace.
Coconut oil is extracted by pressing fresh or dry meat of the coconut fruit. There are two main families of the coconut, one derived in the Pacific Ocean basin and the other in the Indian Ocean basin.
This made coconut a historic staple in the lives of those living in the Pacific Islands, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. Over centuries, the plant migrated via the sea and trade.
By 2019, consumer and market needs had evolved to the point where the biggest cultivators in the world (Indonesia, Philippines and India) were joined by Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, China, Tanzania, Nigeria, Thailand and Vietnam.
Types Of Coconut Oil
Depending on the methods used, many grades of oil are produced that can be used for different purposes. Understanding the differences can help, because the sheer variety, discrepancy and lack of regulation in production procedures has led to a whole range of oils that use the labels of ‘raw’, ‘unrefined’, and ‘cold-pressed’ without qualms, while touting all the benefits.
For example, both virgin and extra virgin coconut oil refer to unrefined oil, but the distinction is irrelevant because unlike olive oil, coconut oil does not change its fatty acid profile within the unrefined oil making process. Additionally, there are markers and systems in place for identifying and verifying the virgin or extra virgin status of olive oil, which does not exist for coconut oil.
One way of extracting cold pressed coconut oil is by drying the flesh under cool temperatures, pressing the cake without heat and then straining away the oil. However, there is no way to fully regulate moisture content and temperature exposure using this method, which is why raw and cold pressed coconut oils can be so varied in flavour and quality.
When crushing fresh coconut flesh, both milk and oil are produced, which can then be separated in different ways. Centrifugal separation uses rotational movement to isolate matter of different densities, without adding any heat. This produces a premium, expensive oil that is unrefined and raw.
The fermentation method involves storing the pressed liquid of the fruit in a warmed vessel overnight, and gradually warming it the next day to further separate the oil and proteins.
Fascinatingly, while heat seems to kill many anti-oxidant properties and enzymes in other foods, some studies have shown that the anti-oxidants stored in the oil are thermally stable, and in fact increase in number when extracted via the fermentation method. The downside to this extraction process is that it shortens the shelf life of the oil.
With dried coconut flesh, oil can be extracted using the expeller method, where the heat generated in the crushing process lightly toasts it, imparting heightened flavour and fragrance.
Considering the production cost and familiarity of this method, most producers still choose to use expeller machines, and the product is labelled as ‘cold-pressed’ or ‘raw’, even though no measures are being taken to manage the heat naturally produced by the process.
Hydrogenation refers to a process where hydrogen atoms are added to the oil under high heat, converting its unsaturated fats into saturated fats. This gives the oil a longer shelf life, as well as increasing its solidity and smoking point by 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit. These oils are usually cheaper than cold pressed or unrefined oils, but are more costly to our health.
Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHOs) are semi-solid and more dangerous due to the high level of trans-fats in them, which have long been associated with diabetes, strokes, weight gain and obesity.
The FDA recommends that PHOs not be used in any food products. If the oil has been Fully Hydrogenated (and therefore solidified), it will be purified of trans-fats but still contain high levels of saturated fat (also associated with heart diseases).
RBD coconut oil is the most processed and mass produced version of this oil, and it undergoes refining, bleaching and deodorizing before it is put in a bottle and out of its misery. Here, coconut flesh is dried using the heat of the sun, thick smoke or a kiln. This alters the nutritional and chemical properties of the oil, making it no longer safe to ingest.
The extreme heat at this stage and during the pressing produces steam, which deodorizes the oil. It is then filtered using a bleaching clay, which turns the oil transparent and removes stray impurities. While the fatty acid contents of the oil don’t seem to change, the phytonutrients are impacted, which is why these oils no longer possess the natural aroma and flavour of coconut.
Properties Of Coconut Oil | Benefits Of Coconut Oil
- Antibacterial- The fatty acids present in the oil have been shown to be anti-bacterial and therefore especially useful in combatting skin issues like acne, cellulitis and dermatitis.
- Antifungal- MCTs in the oil have been shown to tackle several fungal infections like yeast infections, especially those in the candida family. More research is being done, especially for those infections that are now showing resistance to anti-biotics.
- Anti-inflammatory/ Anti-oxidative- Research suggests that consumption of coconut oil reduces oxidative and inflammatory stress, but there have not been enough human trials to support these claims.
- Anti-aging- The phenolic compounds in coconut oil are vital for many of the above mentioned effects, as well as supporting in skin barrier function and UV protection.
Coconut Oil Uses | Health Benefits Of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil contains MCTs and phenolic compounds (by-products of metabolic processes) that have each been proven to have incredible effects for humans and animals.
The benefits of each on specific conditions and illnesses is still being examined, especially because the varying grades and methods of extracting coconut oil change its properties. The best solution currently is to educate ourselves as consumers and ensure we’re buying what is relevant to our needs, from the most ethical producers possible.
Metabolic Magic Of MCTS
As mentioned earlier, coconut oil has been vilified quite aggressively since the 1940s, with the onset of the American edible oil industry. Many have now claimed that this agenda had less to do with health and more to do with economic profit. Coconut oil is said to contain over 80% saturated fats, and definitely took a fall from grace in the aftermath of this controversy.
Those arguing coconut oil benefits claim that it should not be included in the general saturated fats group because most of its fats are made up of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). These are digested and burned almost immediately in the body, as opposed to long chain triglycerides, which make up the majority of saturated fats. MCTs have also been shown to boost metabolic rate within a limited time period.
The digestion process of MCTs in the liver leads to the production of ketones, which can work as an energy source for the brain. This may be why studies are looking into the ingestion of coconut oil to treat neural disorders like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The complexity here is that most research studies use MCT extract, not coconut oil. In order to produce the same effects of MCT, one would have to consume quite a large quantity of coconut oil and the side effects of this are not clear yet.
When used topically, coconut oil benefits the treatment of dandruff, hair loss, UV damage and fungal activity because it reduces protein loss and protects follicular integrity.
When using coconut oil for skin, it has been known to strengthen skin barrier function and deeply moisturize, even in extreme conditions of eczema and psoriasis. While it cannot be claimed that it is a complete cure for these skin conditions, the oil certainly soothes while reducing the risk of infection and inflammation.
The MCT components of coconut oil have led to many claims that it can help in weight loss and treatment of diabetes. One reason is that it legitimately makes one feel more full, thereby reducing appetite. The other is that MCTs promote easier digestion and burning of calories, even improving glucose tolerance, which is a dire need in the diabetic system. Again, there has not been enough research utilizing coconut oil itself, as they isolate MCTs and fatty acids for more reliable results.
While the controversy over coconut oil was initiated over the banner of promoting heart and cholesterol health, subsequent studies seemed to show that populations with a long standing history of dietary intake of coconut oil had high levels of HDL (or good) cholesterol and lower (or atleast unrelated) incidence of heart disease, especially as compared to countries where the oil was being banned. Within smaller control groups, no real correlation between good and bad cholesterol and intake or lack of coconut oil could be found.
Where does this leave us? On the one hand, most anti-coconut oil data has been shown to have subversive economic and political agendas (especially in retrospect), while pro-coconut oil data is carried out by those originating in countries where it is a historic, cultural and economic staple.
These are not factors that can be ignored; even though the fields of medicine and research claim to stand outside of these realms, they are often funded by the same.
Where the oil has already proven its worth with regards to topical usage, we can proceed with care. We can ensure that we buy the oil that is least processed so as to ensure maximum benefits. We can ensure that we don’t treat it as a magical cure-all, or rely on it too heavily to cure diseases when it hasn’t been tested yet.
However, centuries worth of Ayurvedic practice and indigenous knowledge do tell us that it is a surprising oil, and one that can at least improve, if not cure, a whole host of conditions.
Home Remedies Using Coconut Oil | What are the Benefits of Coconut Oil?
Benefits Of Coconut Oil For Skin
Coconut Oil for skin is an incredibly friendly carrier, and fairly non-reactive to other compounds when used topically. Therefore you can add a few drops of essential oil to it and create your own mosquito repellent or lip balm, or even combine it with salts for a body scrub.
Some use it as a make-up remover, or even as a highlighter when applied over the make-up, lending a glow to the face. It can be used a moisturizer over dry areas of the body and face, serve as a lip balm, and treat problem areas like cracked heels or dermatitis. When in a pinch, it also works well for wounds and injuries, especially if you don’t have immediate access to other first aid supplies.
Benefits Of Coconut Oil For Hair
Coconut oil for hair can be used as a hair mask, as it treats frizziness and frayed ends wells. It can be applied plain or combined with other essential oils topically, and the latter must be chosen on the basis of personal need/ preference.
Ayurveda has long promoted the use of coconut oil for hair conditions, especially dandruff, and some reports even show favourable results when treating psoriasis. But if you are suffering from these or any other scalp conditions, do consult with your dermatologist and do a patch test first.
Also, See: Benefits of Mullein Oil For Hair
Benefits Of Coconut Oil For Dental Health
Coconut oil for teeth can be combined with baking soda and used as a toothpaste. It also has many proven benefits in treating dental issues like gingivitis and plaque. This can be done via oil pulling, an ancient and time proven technique.
Dosage, Dangers And Side Effects
With the myriad of health claims surrounding coconut oil, it is wise to remember a few facts.
- Many documented studies have not been on humans, and are still in progress.
- Most studies, especially when examining more serious conditions, have had to rely on extracts or concentrations of compounds in coconut oil for experimental accuracy.
- The reason we can get away with using coconut oil for so many purposes without research is that it is a fairly non-reactive oil with mild side effects. This changes if you are ingesting large quantities of coconut oil on a regular basis, or already have serious conditions or allergies.
- Always consult your doctor or dermatologist first when beginning to use coconut oil as a treatment, and conduct a patch test for topical purposes.
Nutritional And Medicinal Information
Coconut oil is composed of the following fatty acids: Caprylic acid: C -8:0 (8%), Capric acid: C-10:0 (7%), lauric acid: C-12:0 (49%), myristic acid: C-14:0(8%), palmitic acid: C-16:0 (8%), stearic acid C: 18:0 (2%), oleic acid: C-18:1 (6%) and 2% of C-18:2 linoleic acid.
Buying And Storing Coconut Oil
Compared to other oils like itself, coconut oil has a longer shelf life. It lasts well when stored in a dark place, and doesn’t have to be refrigerated. Virgin coconut oil can last up to 3 years, while the refined version usually stores well up to 18 months.
If you’re buying a large bottle or planning to use the oil slowly over a long period, always go for a glass container. The toxins in plastic may leach into the oil over long periods, especially if exposed to sunlight or warmer temperatures too much.