16 Proven Health Benefits & Uses of Coconut Oil

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated - Medically reviewed by Vanessa Voltolina (MS, RD)

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Coconut oil may sound exotic and delicious…but how can you use it in daily life? Well, for starters, the health benefits of coconut oil include improving heart health by increasing the HDL cholesterol levels, promoting weight loss, relieving symptoms of yeast infections, skin and hair care, improving digestion, and boosting immunity. The oil is not just used in tropical countries, where coconut plantations are abundant, but also in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia. People are discovering the wonders that this oil can create, and it is again gaining popularity throughout the world.

Let us look at some of the known benefits of coconut oil.

Health Benefits

Coconut oil has several health benefits, the most important ones being its usefulness in hair care and skin care.

Increases levels of HDL Cholesterol

According to literature from Walter C. Willett, M.D. of Harvard Medical School, coconut oil helps to increase the levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) that aids in improving heart health. However, Willett has advised using coconut oil sparingly as most of the research conducted on coconut oil and its effect on cholesterol levels is based on short-term studies.

Promotes Weight Loss by Burning Fat

Research from the 2009 journal Lipids suggests that coconut oil appears to be useful for promoting weight loss and in particular for reducing abdominal obesity.

Coconut and coconut oil on a wooden table

It is also easy to digest — as compared to other edible oils — and helps in healthy functioning of the thyroid and endocrine system. Further, according to a 2011 pilot study conducted by researchers at Universiti Sains, Malaysia, coconut oil increases the body’s metabolic rate by removing stress on the pancreas, thereby, burning more energy and helping obese and overweight people (specifically males) lose weight. However, further research is needed to back up these findings.

Improves Heart Health

A 2016 review study led by Laurene Boateng et al. states that 50 percent of fats found in coconut oil are medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), such as lauric acid. These acids are absorbed easily by the intestine and can be used by the body to produce energy. Further, the MCTs do not participate in the transport or biosynthesis of cholesterol.

In a research study conducted on 116 coronary artery disease patients, it was observed that a diet rich in extra virgin coconut oil led to an increase in good cholesterol levels (HDL cholesterol) and decrease in bad cholesterol levels (LDL cholesterol).

Another study suggests that intake of this oil may help in maintaining healthy lipid profiles in pre-menopausal women.

If you are using coconut oil often, check your cholesterol levels regularly. If you find them increasing, it is better to stop or cut down on it. In any case, consult a professional medical practitioner before you start consuming coconut oil extensively. Never play with your (or someone else’s) heart!

Hair Care

Do you know the reason for the long and shining hair of women in tropical coastal regions? The answer: coconut oil!

Women in tropical, coastal regions of the world use this oil for their hair almost daily. This thick, butter-like oil helps in the healthy growth of your hair and gives a shine to those strands. A study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science found that coconut oil is also highly effective in reducing protein loss, which, if unchecked, can lead to various unhealthy qualities in your hair. Due to low molecular weight, it is able to penetrate the hair shaft and prevent hair damage.

This is one of the reasons why it is used as a hair care oil, and in the manufacturing of various conditioners and dandruff-relief creams. The best variety for healthy hair is organic extra virgin coconut oil. Just apply it topically to your hair or use a coconut oil hair mask.

Worried about damaged hair? Again coconut oil is one solution. It is an excellent conditioner and helps the re-growth process of damaged hair. It also provides the essential proteins required for nourishing and healing damaged hair. Another research study conducted by Ruetsch SB et al., TRI/Princeton indicates that coconut oil provides better protection to hair from damage caused by hygral fatigue.

By regularly massaging your head with it, you can ensure that your scalp is dandruff free, even if your scalp is chronically dry. It also helps in keeping your hair and scalp free from lice infestation.

Watch Video: 9 Best Benefits Of Coconut Oil

Skin Care

Did you know that coconut oil works great for skin? According to a 2018 study on the effects of plant oils on the skin, coconut oil is found to be rich in antibacterial, anti-aging, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.

It may also aid in treating various skin problems that include the following:

  • Eczema & psoriasis: Topical application of virgin coconut oil can reduce the severity of these conditions.
  • UV radiation: Research suggests that the use of coconut oil protects the skin against the harmful effects of UV rays.
  • Dermatitis: A 2015 study by Allison L. Goddard and Peter A. Lio suggests that coconut oil is effective in relieving symptoms of atopic dermatitis (as compared to mineral oil). Another study provided backup to the fact that virgin coconut oil can be used as an effective way of managing atopic dermatitis.
  • Skin wound: Virgin coconut oil helps to speed up wound healing given its indicated skincare properties.
  • Xerosis or dry skin: Vermen M. Verallo-Rowell M.D and Agero, AL in their research found that coconut oil is a safe and effective moisturizer for the skin. Pure cold-pressed, organic, non-GMO coconut oil is an excellent massage oil that can be used for all types of skin, including dry skin.
  • Antimicrobial activity: Monolaurin is an active component of coconut oil found to be antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal in nature. It protects against the harmful effects of bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus that causes pimples and other skin infections.
  • Burns: Use of coconut oil helps in providing relief from burns.
  • Other: It also helps repair the skin barrier.

Unlike mineral oil, there is a little chance of having any adverse side effects on the skin from the application of this oil. Therefore, it has been safely used for thousands of years for preventing dryness and flaking of skin.

For this exact reason, this oil forms the base ingredient of various body care products like soaps, lotions, and creams that are used for skin care. What’s more, it also delays the appearance of wrinkles and sagging of skin, which normally accompany aging.

Coconut Oil May Aid in Relieving Symptoms of Dementia

Recent research led by Dr. De la Rubia Orti JE et al. suggests that the use of coconut oil improves the cognitive abilities of Alzheimer’s patients, specifically in language and orientation areas. Another study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences indicates that MCTs found in coconut oil are a great source of ketone associated with improving memory. But more clinical and scientific data is needed to ascertain whether coconut oil actually boosts the functioning of the brain. The National Institute of Aging is currently running a clinical trial to obtain more data in this area.

Coconut Oil helps Prevent Yeast Infection – Candida

Candida, also known as systemic candidiasis, is a tragic disease caused by an excessive and uncontrolled growth of yeast called Candida albicans in the stomach. A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food by Dr. David Olusoga Ogbolu et al. on coconut oil suggests that it provides relief from the inflammation caused by candida, both externally and internally. Its high moisture retaining capacity keeps the skin from cracking or peeling off. Capric acid, caprylic acid, caproic acid, myristic acid, and lauric acid found in coconut oil help in eliminating Candida albicans.

Further, unlike other pharmaceutical treatments for candida, the effect of coconut oil is gradual and not drastic or sudden, which gives the patient an appropriate amount of time to get used to the withdrawal symptoms or Herxheimer reactions (the name given to the symptoms accompanying body’s rejection of toxins generated during elimination of these fungi). But in the treatment of this condition, people should systematically and gradually increase their dosages of coconut oil, and shouldn’t initially start with a large quantity.

Health benefits of coconut oil- infographic

Coconut Oil Promotes Dental Care

Many research studies suggest that the use of oil pulling is effective against various dental issues such as plaque and halitosis. Recent research by Dr. F. C. Peedikayil et al. suggests that oil pulling using coconut oil can be an effective procedure in reducing plaque formation and plaque-induced gingivitis.

Seizure Control

A research study by Pishan Chang et al. states that the MCT ketogenic diet is used in treating refractory childhood epilepsy. Another study indicates its use for treating drug-resistant epilepsy. Further, Chomtho K et al. in their research found that this diet is also effective in Thai children suffering from intractable epilepsy. It also states that a larger study is needed.

Due to the presence of MCTs in coconut oil, they may be used as a part of the ketogenic diet to give relief from seizures and epilepsy.

Other Benefits

  • Antimicrobial Effects: According to the Coconut Research Center, coconut oil kills the viruses that cause influenza, measles, hepatitis, herpes, SARS, and other serious health risks. It also kills bacteria that cause ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and gonorrhea. Finally, coconut oil may also aid in eliminating fungi and yeast that cause ringworm, athlete’s foot, thrush, and diaper rash.
  • Kidney & Liver Health: The presence of medium chain triglycerides and fatty acids in coconut oil may help in preventing kidney, liver and gallbladder diseases. Coconut oil is also believed to be useful in keeping the pancreas healthy by giving relief from pancreatitis. However, more scientific research is needed to establish these benefits.
  • Digestive & Immune System: The saturated fats such as lauric acid and monolaurin present in coconut oil have antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral properties. These properties may help in dealing with various bacteria, fungi, and parasites that cause various health issues.

Using this oil has been shown to mildly help the following:

  • Stress relief: Pure coconut carrier oil for aromatherapy is very soothing and helps remove stress. Applying it to the head, followed by a gentle massage, helps eliminate mental fatigue. According to research by Dr. Swee Keong Yeap et al., virgin coconut oil gives relief from stress and has antioxidant properties.
  • Wound healing: When applied to infected areas, coconut oil forms a chemical layer that protects the infected body part from external dust, air, fungi, bacteria, and viruses.
  • Diabetes: Pure coconut oil helps in controlling blood sugar, and improves the secretion of insulin. It also promotes the effective utilization of blood glucose, thereby, preventing and managing diabetes.
  • Bones: As mentioned earlier, coconut oil improves the ability of our body to absorb important minerals. These include calcium and magnesium, which are necessary for the development of bones. Thus, it is very useful for women who are prone to osteoporosis after middle age.
  • Boosts Energy: Coconut oil is often used by athletes, bodybuilders and by those who are dieting. The reason behind this is that it contains fewer calories than other oils, its fat content is easily converted into energy, and it does not lead to accumulation of fat in the heart and arteries. It helps boost energy and endurance and enhances athlete performance.

Nutrition Facts

Oil, coconut
Serving Size :
NutrientValue
Water [g]0.03
Energy [kcal]892
Protein [g]0
Total lipid (fat) [g]99.06
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]0
Fiber, total dietary [g]0
Sugars, total [g]0
Calcium, Ca [mg]1
Iron, Fe [mg]0.05
Magnesium, Mg [mg]0
Phosphorus, P [mg]0
Potassium, K [mg]0
Sodium, Na [mg]0
Zinc, Zn [mg]0.02
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]0
Thiamin [mg]0
Riboflavin [mg]0
Niacin [mg]0
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0
Folate, DFE [µg]0
Vitamin B-12 [µg]0
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]0
Vitamin A, IU [IU]0
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) [mg]0.11
Vitamin D (D2 + D3) [µg]0
Vitamin D [IU]0
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg]0.6
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]82.48
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]6.33
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]1.7
Fatty acids, total trans [g]0.03
Cholesterol [mg]0
Caffeine [mg]0
Sources include : USDA

Rich source of Fatty acids that provide many benefits

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, coconut oil contains 0 cholesterol and is a good source of energy, lipids, and various other nutrients. It contains vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, vitamin K, calcium, zinc, and iron.

More than 90% of coconut oil consists of FFAs or free fatty acids, saturated fats (Don’t panic! It’s not as bad as it sounds, read until the end of this and your opinion may change). A recent study by Laurene Boateng et al. suggests that coconut oil also contains a few unsaturated fatty acids, such as monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Virgin coconut oil is no different from this.

Saturated fatty acids

Most of them are medium chain triglycerides, which are supposed to assimilate well into the body’s systems.

  • Lauric acid: It is the chief contributor, representing more than 40% of the total, followed by capric acid, caprylic acid, myristic acid, and palmitic acid. The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin. Lauric acid is helpful in dealing with viruses and diseases.
  • Capric acid: It reacts with certain enzymes secreted by other bacteria, which subsequently converts it into a powerful antimicrobial agent, monocaprin.
  • Caprylic acid, caproic acid, and myristic acid: They are rich in antimicrobial and antifungal properties
  • Stearic acid: This acid has cleansing and solidifying properties. No wonder it is used for skin care products.

Unsaturated fatty acids

The oil contains polyunsaturated fatty acids- linoleic acid, monounsaturated fatty acids- oleic acid.

Poly-phenols

Coconut contains gallic acid, which is also known as phenolic acid. These polyphenols are responsible for the fragrance and the taste of coconut oil. Virgin coconut oil is rich in these polyphenols.

Derivatives of fatty acid

It also contains betaines, ethanolamide, ethoxylates, fatty esters, fatty polysorbates, monoglycerides, and polyol esters.

Derivatives of fatty alcohols

Apart from the above mentioned fatty acids it also contains fatty chlorides, fatty alcohol sulfate, and fatty alcohol ether sulfate.

Uses of Coconut Oil

Top uses of coconut oil include:

  • Skin moisturizer
  • Nourish scalp and increase hair growth
  • Culinary applications
  • Carrier oil

Use as carrier oil: Carrier oils are those oils, which easily penetrate or absorb into the skin, facilitating seepage or absorption of other oils (such as essential oils) and herbal extracts when mixed into it. It is easily absorbed through the skin’s pores and thus is used as a carrier oil.

Furthermore, being one of the most stable oils, it doesn’t go rancid, nor does it let the other oils, herbal extracts, or medicines spoil inside of it. It does not alter the properties of the oils and herbs mixed with it. It also protects the herbs and oils from microbial or fungal interactions.

Coconut oil is expensive in several countries; however, in tropical countries, its cost is low enough to make it affordable as a carrier oil. It is best to use pure and fractionated coconut massage oil for skincare.

Where to buy?

Coconut oil is easily available online and in supermarkets. All you need to do is choose the right product based on your requirements

  • Organic extra virgin coconut oil, unrefined
  • Organic virgin coconut oil, unrefined
  • Fractionated coconut oil
  • Refined coconut oil
  • Pure coconut oil for hair and skin

How to use and store?

Unlike most other oils, coconut oil has a high melting point – about 24 to 25 degrees Celsius, or 76-78 Fahrenheit. Therefore, it is solid at room temperature and melts only when the temperature rises considerably. It is often in this form and is not supposed to be kept in the refrigerator.

  • If you are using it for topical purposes, especially hair care, just melt the oil (if it is solid) by keeping the bottle in the sun or soaking it in warm water.

You can also take some oil out and put it in a small bowl and warm it. Then, take the oil on your palm and apply it to your hair.

  • You can use coconut oil for cooking your favorite recipes. It can easily replace butter or vegetable oil.

In colder countries, the oil comes in good, broad containers. However, if you get it in a pack (tetra-pack or plastic pouch), after opening the pack, be sure to keep the oil in containers with a tight lid and broad mouth. This will help you scoop it out with a spoon if it solidifies. Also, be sure you seal the container well to avoid any attention of insects or rodents!

Remember, you don’t need to completely switch to the coconut oil because then you will lose other benefits from more traditional oils and dairy products. However, it is a nice addition and flavor to add to any cook’s repertoire.

Hope this will be of some help to you. Got any suggestions? Your comments are welcome! If you find it beneficial, share this information with your friends too.

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About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve, Co-Founder, Organic Facts is a health and wellness enthusiast and is responsible for managing it. She has completed the Nutrition And Healthy Living Cornell Certificate Program, Cornell University, US. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. An ardent follower of naturopathy, she believes in healing with foods. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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