Written by Kris Gunnars, BSc on June 4, 2017
Coconut oil has been demonized in the past because it contains saturated fat.
Additionally, coconut oil doesn’t contain your average saturated fats, like the ones you would find in cheese or steak.
They contain Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) – which are fatty acids of a medium length.
Most of the fatty acids in the diet are long-chain fatty acids, but the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil are metabolized differently.
They go straight to the liver from the digestive tract, where they are used as a quick source of energy or turned into so-called ketones, which can have therapeutic effects on brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s.
BOTTOM LINE: Coconut oil contains a lot of medium chain triglycerides, which are metabolized differently and can have therapeutic effects on several brain disorders.
Coconut is an exotic food in the Western world, primarily consumed by health conscious people.
However, in some parts of the world, coconut is a dietary staple that people have thrived on for many generations.
The best example of such a population is the Tokelauans, which live in the South Pacific.
They eat over 60% of their calories from coconuts and are the biggest consumers of saturated fat in the world.
These people are in great health, with no evidence of heart disease (3).
Another example of a population that eats a lot of coconuts and remains in excellent health is the Kitavans (4).
BOTTOM LINE: Plenty of populations around the world have thrived for multiple generations eating massive amounts of coconut fat.
Obesity is currently one of the biggest health problems in the world.
While some people think obesity is only a matter of calories, others (myself included) believe that the sources of those calories are important too.
It is a fact that different foods affect our bodies and hormones in different ways. In this regard, a calorie is not a calorie.
One study found that 15-30 grams of MCTs per day increased 24-hour energy expenditure by 5%, totaling about 120 calories per day (7).
BOTTOM LINE: The medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil have been shown to increase calories burned over 24 hours by as much as 5%, potentially leading to significant weight loss over the long term.
Almost 50% of the fatty acids in coconut oil is the 12-carbon Lauric Acid.
When lauric acid is digested, it forms a substance called monolaurin.
Both lauric acid and monolaurin can kill harmful pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and fungi (8).
For example, these substances have been shown to kill the bacteria Staphylococcus Aureus (a very dangerous pathogen) and the yeast Candida Albicans, a common source of yeast infections in humans (9, 10).
BOTTOM LINE: The fatty acids and breakdown products in coconut oil can kill harmful pathogens, potentially helping to prevent infections.
One interesting feature of coconut oil is that it can reduce your hunger.
This may be related to the way the fatty acids in it are metabolized because ketones can have an appetite reducing effect (11).
In one study, varying amounts of medium and long-chain triglycerides were fed to 6 healthy men.
The men eating the most MCTs ate 256 fewer calories per day, on average (12).
Another study in 14 healthy men discovered that those who ate the most MCTs at breakfast ate fewer calories at lunch (13).
These studies were small and only done for a short period of time. If this effect were to persist over the long term, it could have a dramatic influence on body weight over a period of several years.
BOTTOM LINE: The fatty acids in coconut oil can significantly reduce appetite, which may positively affect body weight over the long term.
The best-known therapeutic application of this diet is treating drug-resistant epilepsy in children (14).
This diet involves eating very little carbohydrates and large amounts of fat, leading to greatly increased concentrations of ketones in the blood.
For some reason, this diet can dramatically reduce the rate of seizures in epileptic children, even those who haven’t had success with multiple different types of drugs.
Because the MCTs in coconut oil gets shipped to the liver and turned into ketones, they are often used in epileptic patients to induce ketosis while allowing for a bit more carbs in the diet (15, 16).
BOTTOM LINE: The MCTs in coconut oil can increase the blood concentration of ketone bodies, which can help reduce seizures in epileptic children.
Coconut oil contains healthy saturated fats.
Coconut oil may also improve other risk factors and therefore protect against heart disease.
In one study in 40 women, coconut oil reduced Total and LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL compared to soybean oil (17).
BOTTOM LINE: Studies in both humans and rats show that coconut oil improves important risk factors like Total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol, which may translate to a reduced risk of heart disease.
Coconut oil can serve various purposes that have nothing to do with eating it.
Many people are using it for cosmetic purposes and to improve the health and appearance of their skin and hair.
Studies on individuals with dry skin show that coconut oil can improve the moisture and fat content of the skin (20).
BOTTOM LINE: Coconut oil can be applied topically as well, studies showing it to be effective as a skin moisturizer and protecting against hair damage. It can also be used as a mild form of sunscreen and as a mouthwash.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia worldwide and occurs primarily in elderly individuals.
In Alzheimer’s patients, there appears to be a reduced ability to use carbs for energy in certain parts of the brain.
Researchers have speculated that ketones can provide an alternative energy source for these malfunctioning brain cells and reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s (26).
In one 2006 study, consumption of medium chain triglycerides led to immediate improvement in brain function in patients with milder forms of Alzheimer’s (27).
BOTTOM LINE: Studies show that the fatty acids in coconut oil can increase blood levels of ketones, supplying energy for the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients and relieving symptoms.
Given that coconut oil can reduce appetite and increase fat burning, it makes sense that it can also help you lose weight.
Coconut oil appears to be especially effective at reducing belly fat, which lodges in the abdominal cavity and around organs.
This is the most dangerous fat of all and is highly associated with many chronic diseases.
Waist circumference is easily measured and is a great marker for the amount of fat in the abdominal cavity.
In a study in 40 women with abdominal obesity, supplementing with 30 mL (2 tablespoons) of coconut oil per day led to a significant reduction in both BMI and waist circumference in a period of 12 weeks (17).
Another study in 20 obese males noted a reduction in waist circumference of 2.86 cm (1.1 inches) after 4 weeks of 30 mL (2 tablespoons) of coconut oil per day (30).
This number may not seem too impressive on the surface, but be aware that these people aren’t adding exercise or restricting calories. They’re losing significant amounts of belly fat simply by adding coconut oil to their diet.
You can read more about the weight loss effects of coconut oil in this article.
In order to enjoy the health benefits outlined in the article, then you must get organic, virgin coconut oil, not the refined stuff.
I personally cook almost everything I eat in coconut oil and my health has never been better.