The coconut is the largest known seed on the planet with many amazing health-promoting benefits. Those are explored in more detail below. In summary, raw coconut oil…
• Kills Harmful Viruses, Fungi and Bacteria
• Beautifies and Moisturizes the Skin
• Aids Weight Management
• Is diabetic Friendly
• Contains Coconut Water, the ‘Fluid of Life’ (more on coco H20 to come)
• Is great for Teeth & Gum Health (more on this & ‘Oil Pulling’ will be covered separately)
Celebrated for centuries for its therapeutic and beautifying gifts, modern research substantiates the traditional uses confirming coconut, its oil in particular, to be of high nutritional and medicinal value. Leading researcher in the field, Dr. Mary Enig, classifies the coconut as a functional food as it provides health benefits over and above its basic nutrients.
Botanically referred to as cocos nucifera (nucifera meaning ‘nut bearing’), the English word coconut originates from the Spanish and Portuguese word coco which means monkey face. This is because the base of the coconut with its three circular indentations resembles the face of a monkey.
Harvesting an abundant crop of around 60 coconuts, each tree blooms up to 13 times a year, and is revered by pacific islanders who refer to the palm as the ‘tree of life’. In Sanskrit it is known as ‘Kalpa Vriksha’, which literally means ‘the tree which gives all that is necessary for living’, as it is so multi-functional. All it’s parts can be used for some purpose or another: aside the offerings of the nut (it’s meat, milk, water and oil), the shell can provide a useful bowl, the husk was originally burned for fuel, the wood great for shelter and furniture, and a seed fibre known as coir can be taken from the husk to make mats, brushes, rope and fishing nets. Coconut oil is popular today in a wide range of commercial products, from foods to cosmetic soaps and lotions.
Coconut Oil – The Health Panacea
Coconut oil has been found to benefit a myriad of conditions from diabetes, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia to digestive disorders, thyroid imbalances, and viral, bacterial and fungal (including yeast) infections. Some more surprising benefits include the ability to lower cholesterol, stimulate weight loss and reduce the risk of heart disease. It is also a protective antioxidant and promotes young and healthy skin and hair.
As Mark Atkinson, renowned UK nutritionist and holistic medical physician shares, “Organic virgin coconut oil stands alone as being the healthiest oil that you can use. It possesses a plethora of health benefits, and the research to substantiate it. I strongly encourage you to make virgin coconut oil part of your daily nutritional plan.”
A key ingredient that makes coconut oil such an asset to health and the immune system is lauric acid, which constitutes around 50 percent of all the fatty acids in the oil. Lauric acid is converted into monolaurin in the body, the same fatty-acid derivative that babies make from their mother’s breast milk to fight disease. Monolaurin has antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties!
Mary Enig writes in Coconut: In Support of Good Health in the 21st Century,
“Monolaurin is the anti-viral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal monoglyceride used by the human or animal to destroy lipid coated viruses such as HIV, herpes, cytomegalovirus, influenza, various pathogenic bacteria including listeria monocytogenes and Heliobacter pylori, and protozoa such as giardia lamblia.”
The fact that monolaurin may reduce the viral load of HIV is an exciting proposition and the focus of current research. Results from one small-scale study on 15 HIV-infected patients conducted by Dr. Dayrit, Emeritus Proffessor of pharmacology at the University of the Philippines, led him to report, “this initial trial confirmed the anecdotal reports that coconut oil does have an anti-viral effect and can beneficially reduce the viral load of HIV patients. The positive anti-viral action was seen not only with the monoglyceride of lauric acid but with coconut oil itself.” Monolaurin functions by disrupting the lipid membrane of the virus, thus inactivating it.
Based on calculations of amounts of lauric acid present in mother’s breast milk, Dr. Enig suggests around 24 grams of the fatty acid a day for a rich dietary intake. This can be found in approximately 3 ½ tablespoons of coconut oil, 7 ounces of raw coconut or 10 ounces of coconut milk.
“Never before in the history of man is it so important to emphasize the value of Lauric Oils. The medium-chain fats in coconut oil are similar to fats in mother’s milk and have similar nutriceutical effects.” – Jon J. Kabara, Ph.D.
Lauric acid has also been reported to have potent effects on insulin secretion (Garfinkel et al 1992), a likely reason coconut oil is considered a preferable oil for diabetics. As Bruce Fife in The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil writes, ‘If you are diabetic or borderline diabetic, consumption of most fats should be avoided. Coconut oil, on the other hand, is different. Because it helps stabilize blood glucose levels and aids in shedding excess body weight, it is probably the only oil a diabetic should eat.’
Coconut oil is absorbed without the need for enzymes and insulin which places less of a strain on the pancreas allowing it to function more efficiently. Unlike polyunsaturated fats that can inhibit the cells ability to bind with insulin and hence get glucose, coconut oil helps to regulate blood sugar.
An example that clearly demonstrates the diabetic-friendly nature of coconut oil is with the Naura people of the South Pacific. These islanders lived for centuries without any incidences of diabetes. A change in the islands life-style and economic circumstances led to shifts in their usual dietary intake (composed largely of coconuts, bananas and yams) which began to incorporate western processed vegetable oils and refined flour and sugar. These dietary shifts brought with them health disorders including the emergence of diabetes.
The Journal of the Indian Medical Association has attributed the increase of type 2 diabetes in India to a move away from traditional oils like coconut oil in favour of polyunsaturated vegetable oils.
Cholesterol Lowering (Pro Heart Health)
Widespread studies of coconut-consuming populations such as those found in Polynesia and Sri Lanka, show that dietary coconut oil does not correspond to high serum cholesterol nor coronary heart disease.
Prior et al’s research (1981) revealed that when islanders with a high dietary intake of coconut migrated to New Zealand and lowered their intake of coconut oil, cholesterol levels increased.
As Mary Enig writes, “A review of the diet/heart disease literature relevant to coconut oil clearly indicates that coconut oil is at worst neutral with respect to atherogenicity of fats and oils and, in fact, is likely to be a beneficial oil for prevention and treatment of some heart disease. Additionally, coconut oil provides a source of antimicrobial lipid for individuals with compromised immune systems and is a nonpromoting fat with respect to chemical carcinogenesis.”
The cholesterol lowering and weight loss properties of coconut oil directly relate to its thyroid stimulating functions. Coconut oil can raise basal body temperatures while increasing metabolism. This is good news for people who suffer with low thyroid function.
One of the reasons the benefits of coconut oil go unrecognised is because of the assumption that all saturated fats are bad for you. This does not take into account, however, that there are different kinds of saturated fat, found in the length of the carbon molecules the fatty acids contain (short-, medium- or long-chain). The medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA’s) that comprise coconut oil are small enough molecules to be absorbed directly into the liver and used as an immediate source of energy by the body. They place no strain on the digestive system and their availability for metabolism means they are not likely to be stored as fat, unlike high-calorie, cholesterol-heavy, long-chain animal fats. Only coconut oil and palm kernel oil among all edible oils, contain these healthy MCFA’s.
Eat Fat, Loose Weight?
It’s a curious thought that by eating fat you might actually loose weight, yet as Dr. Weston A Price, the Darwin of nutrition, writes:
“Replacing the fats you now eat with coconut oil may be the wisest decision you can make to lose excess body fat. We often think that the less fat we eat the better. However, you don’t necessarily need to reduce your fat intake, you simply need to choose a fat that is better for you, one that doesn’t contribute to weight gain. You can lose unwanted body fat by eating more saturated fat (in the form of coconut oil) and less polyunsaturated fat (processed vegetable oils). One of the remarkable things about coconut oil is that it can help you lose weight. Yes, there is a dietary fat that can actually help you take off unwanted pounds. Coconut oil can quite literally be called a low-fat fat.”
In the 1940’s, farmers discovered that attempts to fatten up their animals with coconut oil produced the opposite effect; they became leaner and more active. Ironically, with the demand for leaner meat today, they are now using coconut oil for this very purpose.
A study on rats that introduced coconut oil to a high fat diet concluded that “the coconut oil enriched diet is effective in …[producing]… a decrease in white fat stores.” (Portillo et al, 1998).
As Raymond Peat MD, author of Coconut Oil and Its Virtues concludes, “The anti-obesity effect of coconut oil is clear in all of the animal studies, and in my friends who eat it regularly.”
Coconut oil is an excellent moisturizer for rough, dry or wrinkled skin. We need only look at the smooth and youthful complexions of the Phillipino islanders, despite a climate that exposes them consistently to the sun, to witness the benefits coconut oil can offer.
The fibres of young healthy skin are smooth, strong and elasticated. As we age, free radical attack can damage this connective tissue, causing it to break down, harden and loose its elasticity. Coconut oil has antioxidant properties that can prevent the formation of free radicals as well as protect against them, rejuvenate the skin and promoting age-defying beauty.
Most commercial creams and lotions are not only predominantly water, providing just a short-term solution to dry skin, but they often contain highly refined vegetable oils which are devoid of natural antioxidants and even worse, susceptible to oxidation, turning rancid and generating a host of free radicals that are detrimental to the skin’s cells. The proliferation of free-radicals also occurs in the body when processed oils are consumed, demonstrated by depleted levels of vitamin E and other antioxidants that are used up in attempts to subjugate the attack.
Unlike other oils, coconut oil is highly stable and not prone to oxidisation; when kept at room temperature for a year coconut oil has shown no sign of rancidity.
Coconut oil not only softens and beautifies the skin, but functions as a protective healing ointment, its anti-microbial properties helping to prevent against fungal, bacterial and viral infections. The skins natural oil sebum, like coconut oil, contains medium-chain fatty acids, which combined with a healthy bacterium always found present on the skin helps to protect us against external germs and disease. Washing with soap strips our skin of this protective layer which can be replaced with the benefits of coconut oil, absorbing quickly to soften and moisturize and re-establishing an anti-microbial acid barrier.
Choosing the Right Oil
If purchasing coconut oil it is important to go for a quality product that is unrefined. Organic, raw virgin oil that is cold-pressed is recommended to ensure the oil is in its original healthy state with all beneficial properties. One important aspect in the production of virgin coconut oil is the reduction of final moisture content to 0.1 per cent or less, which prevents the oil from becoming rancid.
Shilhavy, B. & Shilhavy M. Virgin Coconut Oil: How It Has Changed People’s Lives, and How It Can Change Yours! Tropical Traditions, Inc., 2004
Peat, R. From PMS to menopause: Female hormones in context. R. Peat, 1997. (see Coconut Oil & It’s Virtues within)
Calbom, C. et al. The Coconut Diet : The Secret Ingredient for Effortless Weight Loss. Harpercollins Pub Ltd, 2004
Fife, B. & Kabara, J. The Coconut Oil Miracle. Avery; 4th edition, 2004
Enig, M. G. Know Your Fats : The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol, Bethesda Press, 2000
Ravnskov, U., M.D., Ph.D. The Cholesterol Myths: Exposing the Fallacy That Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease. NewTrends Publishing, 2000
Enig, M., & Fallon, S. Eat Fat, Lose Fat: Lose Weight And Feel Great With The Delicious, Science-based Coconut Diet. Hudson Street Press, 2004
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