- Dr. David Alfaro
Everyone has been talking about Coconut Oil. They are putting it in everything and on everything. I have heard of people scooping it into their coffee, using it as moisturizer and even swishing their mouths with it. So, I thought that I would look into this to see if there was any evidence behind the hype. Let us talk about Coconut Oil.
What is Coconut Oil?
Coconut Oil is obtained from the meat of the coconut through various methods. It can be removed by using solvents and other chemical treatments, or it can be pressed out, as in Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO). You will often see "hexane free" on containers of VCO to indicate that it was pressed, without the use of solvents.
Coconut Oil has many components to it, but the main constituents are the medium chain length saturated fatty acids, Lauric acid (C12) and Myristic acid (C14).
How is coconut oil absorbed and metabolized?
Most fatty acids are absorbed into the lymphatic system instead of being directed to the liver for processing like most nutrients are. The lymphatic system then drains directly into the bloodstream, so fats enter the blood relatively unprocessed. There is evidence, however, that medium chain fatty acids, like those found in coconut oil, can be transported straight to the liver via the hepatic portal vein. This makes them available for oxidation more readily than other types of fats.
Isn't saturated fat bad for you?
Longitudinal studies such as the Framingham Heart Study have shown correlations between high cholesterol and saturated fats, with heart disease. The natural assumption would therefore be to think that coconut oil is bad for you because of the high saturated fat content. This may not necessarily be the case. There is plenty of evidence that coconut oil can actually improve blood lipid profiles by increasing healthy fats and decreasing unhealthy fats.
After fats are absorbed, they are reorganized into different "packages" (not the technical term) that allow them to travel in the blood. There are groups of fats that travel in dense little packages (HDL: high density lipoproteins), and those that are less compact (LDL: low density lipoproteins). The ratio of HDL to LDL is an important marker of cardiovascular health, with higher levels of HDL being better for you. While there isn't enough evidence to make conclusions about the long term effect of coconut oil on heart disease, its HDL raising effects are promising. Check out these studies: Saturated fat and heart disease review Coconut oil and heart health
Won’t eating fat make me fat?
What makes people gain body fat is a lack of caloric output (sitting around on the couch) in comparison to their caloric input (eating too much). In order to improve one’s body composition, a healthy balanced diet and regular exercise is best! But….there are some foods that may be burned off more efficiently, and coconut oil appears to be one of those foods. Coconut oil has been shown to help burn belly fat! There are various studies that have shown that the addition of coconut oil to ones diet can not only help improve blood lipid profiles but can reduce waist circumference.
Coconut oil and waist circumference in coronary artery disease Coconut oil and obesity
Furthermore, not only has coconut oil been shown to be burned efficiently, it may also help kickstart the oxidation of other fats. One group of researchers tracked how fats were burned in participants that included coconut oil in their diet, and found that not only was coconut oil more readily oxidated than other fats, but the rate at which the other fats were oxidated increased as well.
Coconut oil and fat burning But.......... while these are interesting findings, there is no magic elixir for weight loss. It is best to get out and do some exercise.
What are other uses of coconut oil?
I know people who use coconut oil for everything! They brush their teeth with it, smear it in their hair, rub it on their skin….the list goes on…..but does it work? or is it just hype? So…..like the nerd I am….. I looked it up and was again quite surprised. There are actually quite a few clinical trials looking at the dermatological applications of coconut oil. First of all, it has been shown to be an effective moisturizer with little allergic potential. This makes sense because as it is a saturated fat, it is very stable and does not need any additives or preservatives. Have you looked at your moisturizer? Even the “healthy” ones have dozens of ingredients. Virgin coconut oil is just that, coconut oil.
Coconut Oil as a moisturizer Not only has it been shown to be a good moisturizer, it can also be effective against some of the common skin bacteria that are associated with dermatitis, eczema and acne.
Read: Coconut Oil for dermatitis I even found articles that showed that coconut oil was effective in protecting hair from damage if used before washing, and various articles that use coconut oil as an ingredient to fight lice.
Coconut oil and louse Coconut oil as a conditioner
Have you heard of "oil pulling"?
Oil pulling is the practice of swishing sesame oil in your mouth in order to dissolve plaque and bacteria. I have read of people advocating the use of coconut oil for this purpose, but all of the clinical studies that look at oil pulling utilize sesame oil. So I can’t speak on coconut oil's actual efficacy for reducing caries or gingivitis, but IN VITRO studies prove that coconut oil can be antimicrobial against some of the bacteria and fungi that regularly colonize the mouth.
Coconut oil vs S. Mutans and Candida
After taking a look at the evidence behind coconut oil, it looks like it holds up its end of the bargain. Obviously, long term and large scale research is required to validate the findings of these few small trials, but for now coconut oil appears to be a safe and healthy product to eat and smear everywhere. The beautiful thing is that it is completely natural, and can survive with a pretty stable shelf life without the need for preservatives. No chemicals or additives! I didn't go in thinking that I was going to be a believer, but after doing the research.....I am pretty convinced…...I believe the hype on this one! For a good review on coconut oil read: coconut in health promotion Thanks for reading! Please like and share! Dr. Dave