Coconut oil: the science

Coconut oil and coconut products have been one of the biggest health trends over the past couple of years. From “bulletproof coffee” made with coconut oil to even cleaning your teeth with it, many impressive claims have seen it surge in popularity.

But why is it so popular? And what are the health benefits?

Here we crack open the shell, and take a look at what all the fuss is about.

Saturated Fats

Despite the bad press, certain saturated fats may have positive  benefits to your health. Coconut oil contains healthy fatty acids that have different effects in the body compared with other dietary fats.

Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). When you eat MCTs, they tend to go straight to your liver. Your body then uses them as a quick source of energy or turns them into ketones, which are substances produced when the liver breaks down a lot of fat. These can be used by the brain for energy instead of glucose or sugar.

Some of the key benefits of MCT’s include better brain and memory function, energy boost, lowered cholesterol, weight loss and improved weight management.

Healthy Skin, Shiny Hair

It may come as a surprise that an oil you can cook with can also be added to your daily beauty routine.

Coconut oil contains numerous natural properties that benefit the skin including being naturally anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and moisturising, being composed primarily of nourishing fatty acids.

This oil is rich in antioxidants such as Vitamin E and Vitamin A, which help to slow down the ageing process, smooth the skin and may help to reduce damage from sun exposure.

Aside from being great for facial applications, its antioxidant properties have been known to treat various skin ailments such as eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis. Coconut oil can help to restore the skin’s natural PH levels, leaving it silky and smooth.

If you’re looking for a natural alternative to chemical filled hair care, coconut oil shows promise here too! Treating your hair with coconut oil will stimulate hair growth as it gets deep into the follicles, promoting scalp health. You’ll find it moisturises dry hair, giving you shine and softness for that healthy look and feel. Coconut oil also prevents hair breakage and split ends, which contributes to hair length and slows down hair loss.

The Vitals

It’s suggested that use of coconut oil as part of a healthy diet may have a beneficial impact on things like heart health, cholesterol and controlling blood sugar levels.

Given the higher content of natural saturated fats, it’s understood that it can raise your ‘good cholesterol’ and lower your ‘bad cholesterol’. This promotes better heart health, as your ‘bad’ cholesterol is kept low, which can help lower high blood pressure.

The presence of MCT’s and fatty acids in coconut oil may also help in preventing kidney, liver and gallbladder diseases. Along with this, the antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral properties contained in the coconut oil may aid with digestive and immune system issues, as they handle the various bacteria, fungi and parasites that cause health issues.

Brain Power

Out of all the organs in our bodies, our brain especially relies on healthy, dietary (and high quality) fats. This plays a part in ensuring energy gets to our brain to allow it to function optimally. Ever notice how you get a bit foggy or irritable when you haven’t eaten properly? Think of your brain as a high performance vehicle. You wouldn’t fill it with low quality fuel, as it won’t perform at its peak.

Due to its unique combination of medium-chain fatty acids and antioxidants, coconut oil, when taken as food, functions as an antidepressant. Additionally, as coconut oil is anti-inflammatory, it can help with, depression and anxiety, as brain inflammation is now thought to be a contributing factor to these stressors.

Using the oil as part of your overall diet may also enhance cognitive functions such as memory, attention, decision-making and problem solving.

Put simply, feeding your brain the right fuel will make it run better!             

The More You Know

Moderate amounts of coconut oil probably won’t do you too much harm, but it’s no elixir of life. As with any ‘super food’, excessive consumption is never wise. There are also many other healthy oils out there to include in your diet, such as olive oil.

It’s also important to know what kind of coconut oil you’re consuming. There are three types generally sold:

Virgin coconut oil - extracted without high temperatures or chemicals and considered unrefined.

Refined coconut oil - made from coconut flesh that may be bleached or deodorised.

Partially hydrogenated coconut oil - contains trans fats and should be avoided.

It is possible that virgin coconut oil contains healthy chemicals which may give it benefits over certain other oils. It’s important to note that this is currently speculative, and more research is needed, and it’s not a reason to consume vast amounts.

Consider what is right for you and your needs, and if ever unsure, seek advice from your doctor or dietician on how to implement this in your diet.