Last updated September 4, 2019 by Lisa Richards, CNC   Reviewed by Katie Stone, ND.

The Top 7 Health Benefits Of Coconut Oil

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is one of those things that has been around forever (or close to it!) but nobody really got interested in it until recently.

It’s now believed that around 1500 studies have been conducted on this amazing oil and its powerful health benefits. It appears that coconut oil has many more uses than most vegetable oils: in fact, it’s now referred to as a ‘superfood’.

These benefits are largely related to the composition of the oil, which includes a type of healthy fat called medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). These unique fats are made up of Caprylic acid, Lauric acid and Capric acid. It’s been found that over 60 percent of the oils in coconut include these three fatty acids, which means 91 percent of coconut oil’s fats are healthy saturated fats.

So, why are these fats so special? Let’s look at the many reasons!

1. Coconut Oil Improves Digestion

Making coconut oil part of your daily diet could help to improve digestive function. It may even reduce the incidence of stomach ulcers and treat ulcerative colitis.

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The fatty acid composition of coconut oil is believed to benefit digestion as it helps your body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and also minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Taking a dose of coconut oil alongside omega-3 fatty acids has even been shown to double their efficacy, as it makes the Omega-3 fatty acids more bioavailable. This means they are more easily digested and used by the body.

It also appears that coconut oil’s ability to reduce pathogenic bacteria and yeast in the gut can help to restore healthy intestinal balance. Yeasts such as Candida can upset normal stomach acid production, which can in turn result in unpleasant symptoms such as bloating and indigestion. By restoring normal healthy flora in the gut and reducing inflammation, coconut oil is beneficial for digestive health.

A 2017 study involving mice with Crohn’s disease found that coconut oil significantly reduced bacterial diversity in the gut. The mice were fed diet high in beneficial fats. At the end of the study, they showed up to 30 percent fewer kinds of gut bacteria than mice who were on a normal diet. (1)

Even those mice that were only fed low concentrations of coconut oil showed less severe small intestine inflammation, likely due to coconut oil’s important anti-inflammatory effects.  This could mean that coconut oil may be helpful to humans with inflammatory bowel diseases. (2)

2. Coconut Oil Supports The Immune System

With its powerful antibacterial properties, coconut oil can be useful during times of convalescence. It’s also great as a preventative for keeping pathogenic organisms at bay.

Around 50 percent of coconut oil is lauric acid, which is converted to monolaurin in the body. Monolaurin is an important antiviral agent that can attack a variety of bacteria and viruses.

Research has shown that coconut oil can help to kill pathogens such as herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, listeria monocytogenes, helicobacter pylori, and even harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia. (3)

3. Coconut Oil Is Anti-inflammatory

Coconut oil may be helpful for those suffering from inflammatory joint disorders such as arthritis.

An Indian study found that the excellent antioxidant content of virgin coconut oil (VCO)  help to reduce inflammation and relieve arthritis symptoms more effectively than leading medications.

The study involved rats with arthritis and found that the higher level of white blood cells and C-reactive protein (an inflammatory chemical) was reduced in those treated with coconut oil. Further tests showed that inflammatory cells and other substances were suppressed by the coconut oil, while edema formation was also reduced. (4)

Coconut oil may also help to relieve inflammation in muscles and joints. Research published in the journal Pharmaceutical Biology reported that virgin coconut oil had both anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, which directly reduces pain. It has also been suggested that coconut oil extract may be just as effective as Indomethacin, a prescription pain medication. (5)

Using coconut oil as a low-cost and effective alternative topical treatment is now becoming popular.  It’s thought that topical application can boost blood supply to the arthritic joint and reduce some of the pain and swelling.

4. Coconut Oil Can Help With Yeast Infections And Candida

Adding coconut oil to your Candida diet could help to fight off pathogenic yeast. Coconut oil is naturally antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral, so it’s particularly helpful to a weakened immune system.

The lauric acid in coconut oil (known as monolaurin) has been shown to help prevent Candida albicans from growing and spreading. Studies on the use of coconut oil in treating yeast infections have shown that it can be an effective means of warding off further infection.

One study showed that Candida albicans is particularly susceptible to concentrated treatment with coconut oil. It was found that less coconut oil was needed to kill the yeast than the prescription medication fluconazole (the most common antifungal medication for Candida). (6)

Another study published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy suggested that the capric acid and lauric acid content of coconut oil could be used as an anti-Candida remedy. Scientists tested the susceptibility of Candida albicans to several different fatty acids using transmission electron microscopy (TEM). When the Candida yeast was treated with capric acid, it was found that this 10-carbon saturated fatty acid had the fastest and most effective destruction on all three strains of Candida. It appears that the capric acid breaks up the cytoplasm of the yeast and leaves it disorganized and shrunken by disintegrated its plasma membrane. (7)

Lauric acid, the other fatty acid within coconut oil, was also tested. While it too was effective, it performed better at lower concentrations and after a longer incubation time. (8)

5. Coconut Oil Can Help With Weight Loss

One of the most exciting discoveries about coconut oil in recent years is its ability to speed weight loss. The capric acid content of coconut oil has been found to support energy levels and reduce appetite, resulting in weight loss. Although it seems strange that a saturated fat such as coconut oil could actually make you slimmer, the explanation is rather logical. It’s all to do with how your body uses medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) to control a range of physiological processes.

In 1985, it was found that capric acid can actually boost thyroid function, helps lower resting heart rate and help your body to burn fat for energy. However, a study published in the Obesity Research Journal has suggested that it is the MCFAs in coconut oil that can burn fat even more efficiently.

Researchers say that although most of the fats we eat take a while to digest, the MCFAs in coconut oil are burned in a rapid three-step process. This makes MCFAs something of a ‘perfect’ energy source compared to other fats, which go through a 26-step process.

It also means that unlike long-chain fatty acids (such as those in plant-based oils) MCFAs are easy to digest and are not readily stored as fat. Their smaller size allows for fast cell permeability, providing immediate energy. More importantly, they are quick to be processed by the liver, so they’re even less likely to be stored as fat.

At the same time, coconut oil reduces your appetite! This is thought to be due to fast metabolism of the MCFAs in the body and the ketone bodies produced by the liver, which have a powerful appetite-suppressing effect. Of course, this effect is most beneficial when other sources of energy are eliminated, such as sugars and carbs. (9)

6. Coconut Oil May Reduce Cardiovascular Disease

As a saturated fat, the scientific consensus around coconut oil and heart disease is mixed. However, research suggests that coconut oil may actually lower the risk of heart disease and stroke when taken every day for just four weeks.

University of Cambridge researchers have found that the saturated fat in coconut oil can not only increase the healthy cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) in your body, but also help convert the unhealthy cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) into the healthy kind.

By boosting the levels of HDL, coconut oil can improve cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of heart disease. At the same time, it appears that coconut oil also reduces high triglycerides.

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The Cambridge study involved 94 volunteers aged between 50 and 75 who had no history of heart disease or diabetes. The volunteers were divided into three groups and each asked to take 50g (about 3 tablespoons) of either coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil or unsalted butter every day for four weeks.

Those who took the butter saw their LDL cholesterol levels rise by around of 10 percent, while those taking olive oil had a slight reduction in their LDL levels, but a five percent rise in HDL cholesterol levels.

Meanwhile, those who ate coconut oil had the most impressive result, with their HDL levels rising by an average of 15 percent. This led researchers to conclude that coconut oil may indeed be a type of superfood that can lower your chances of developing heart disease or stroke. (10)

7. Coconut Oil Can Treat Skin Conditions

As well as treating inflammatory ailments internally, coconut oil has some impressive benefits for the skin. The antimicrobial properties of MCFAs may help to ward off harmful microorganisms that cause bacterial skin infections, such as acne, cellulitis and athlete’s foot.

Several studies have found that applying coconut oil directly to the skin may prevent the growth and spread of bacteria and fungi, thanks to the lauric acid content.

One lab study found that lauric acid is effective against a nasty bacterium called Propionibacterium acnes. This bacteria often leads to the development of chronic inflammatory acne. (11)

Coconut oil can be a great treatment for athlete’s foot. Simply apply to the affected area and allow to absorb.

Capric acid also joins in the fight, although less so than lauric acid. Capric acid has antimicrobial properties that are beneficial for treating certain types of fungi when used on the skin. Together, they can help to treat acne by reducing both bacteria and inflammation on the skin. Amazingly, coconut oil can work wonders for dry skin as well as oily!

It’s recommended that coconut oil be applied directly to the affected area (be sure to clean the skin first). It’s also great when used in place of normal facial cleanser: simply smooth the coconut oil over the skin and gently wipe off the excess with cotton facial pads. Where possible, stick to extra-virgin organic coconut oil.

Coconut Oil: The All-Rounder

Coconut oil is indeed a powerful addition to your daily health regimen! Not only can it help to defeat ongoing health problems such as fungal overgrowth and dysbiosis, it can prevent them from returning.

As a medicine, coconut oil has none of the side-effects of pharmaceutical medications. However, it may be just as effective in treating Candida as some antifungal prescriptions.

For those with inflammatory disorders of the joints or gastrointestinal tract, coconut oil offers a much healthier and certainly more long-term solution to pain management. It may even assist in healing.

With the increasing levels of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke in Western society, coconut oil should be taken more seriously. A great way to include it in your daily lifestyle is to use it in place of other daily fats, such as butter or cooking oil. Coconut oil has a high smoke point, so it’s great when used for frying or baking. Get creative with coconut oil and you may well become healthier!

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