The coconut is the largest seed in the world. The oil extracted from the inner flesh of the coconut has been used by people in Polynesia and Southeast Asia for many generations. Coconut oil is very stable oil at room temperatures because it is resistant to rancidity. This stability arises from the fact that coconut oil is comprised of triglycerides made of medium-chain saturated fatty acids. In addition, coconut oil also contains antioxidants, Vitamin E & Polyphenols. Although the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil are saturated, they do not pose cardiovascular risk as do the longer saturated fatty acids. This exception is especially true for virgin coconut oil.
Copra Oil vs Virgin Coconut OilThere are basically 2 kinds of coconut oil available commercially on the open market; namely copra oil & virgin coconut oil. Copra oil is conventional coconut oil made from coconut flesh dried at high temperature in a kiln, or in the sun, over several days. The dried material is shipped in bulk over long distances to industrial oil mills. The unhygienic conditions involved in bulk shipping and processing can lead to microbial overgrowth & aflatoxin contamination. Copra oil production requires refining, bleaching, and deodorizing to produce an acceptable commercial product. Solvents and steam are used to remove contaminants. Regrettably, natural volatile coconut compounds and antioxidants are removed during this processing, which can take many months.
However, Virgin coconut oil is made from fresh, properly ripened coconut flesh at low temperatures within 24 hours of picking the coconuts from the trees. This more quality-sensitive manufacturing method assures that the finished product will be as undamaged, unadulterated, and beneficial as possible.
Medium Chain Fatty AcidsMedium chain fatty acids in coconut oil are more easily digested than longer fatty acids in other oils and fats. They can be absorbed by the mucous membrane of the small intestine despite insufficiency of pancreatic digestive enzymes, or bile insufficiency. Unlike most fats people eat, medium chain triglycerides are carried more directly to the liver for processing, rather than into the general circulation. At the cell level, medium chain triglycerides are a preferred source of energy. They are metabolized as energy sources inside the energy-producing organelles (mitochondria) of cells more easily than long chain fatty acids.
Benefits of Coconut Oil Medium Chain Fatty AcidsCoconut oil and its saturated medium chain fatty acids can never serve as essential fatty acids, used as raw materials for the manufacture of local tissue hormones. As far as is known by biological science, only the polyunsaturated fatty acids can serve in this capacity. Nevertheless, coconut oil medium chain fatty acids can have beneficial roles to play in human health. For e.g, medium chain triglycerides :
- Reduce body fat mass by inhibiting the expression of fat-generating genes in nuclear DNA;
- Increase the sensitivity of body tissues to insulin. This effect can help address the problem of the pre-diabetic state known as Syndrome X, or Metabolic Syndrome;
- Boost a person’s overall energy level;
- Increase whole body metabolic rate;
- Support a weight management regimen; and ....
- Are converted by the liver into ketones (compounds which nerve cells in the brain can use as an energy source alternative to blood sugar).
Metabolic Effects of Virgin Coconut OilContrary to commonly held opinions, even among many health professionals, the body knows how to distinguish among the fats we consume daily. Each type of fat eaten will have its own distinctive effect on cell and tissue function. For example, virgin coconut oil increases body metabolism after meals more strongly than does olive oil. Coconut oil consumption results in a 25-fold increase in plasma concentration of ketone bodies. Surprisingly, it does not appreciably increase serum triglycerides after meals. Solid fats are used in processed food production to provide texture and firmness to foods. Saturated fats are preferred because they have long shelf-life and they do not go rancid without refrigeration. Unfortunately, the cheapest & most profitable fats to use are hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are laden with health damaging trans-fats. Clinical research results indicate that eating solid fat rich in the medium-chain lauric acid induces a more favorable pattern of serum lipoproteins than eating partially hydrogenated soybean oil rich in trans-fatty acids. For this reason, investigators have concluded that tropical oils, such as coconut oil, rich in lauric acid, are preferable in food manufacturing.
Virgin Coconut Oil and ObesityMedium-chain fatty acids are readily metabolized in the liver. This fast rate of metabolism leads to greater energy expenditure. Greater energy expenditure with medium chain fatty acids relative to long-chain fatty acids results in less body weight gain and decreased size of fat depots after several months of consumption. Medium-chain triglycerides in foods, especially those containing lauric acid, have greater satiating effect, naturally reducing intake of calories, compared with long-chain triglycerides. This effect means that people can feel satisfied after meals while ingesting fewer calories. All of these effects demonstrate that virgin coconut oil can be a valuable component of a multi-faceted weight management program.
Fuel for AthleticsAthletes, especially those engaged in sports that require high endurance, require reliable, efficient dietary energy sources. Increasing free fatty acids during exercise may spare muscle glycogen stores by increasing utilization of free fatty acids for energy. This shifting of fuel sources from glycogen to fat can enhance an athlete’s capacity for endurance exercise. The cellular preference for medium-chain fatty acids as an energy source indicates that virgin coconut oil may be a viable alternative fuel for exercising muscles.
Coconut Oil and InflammationDietary sources of the common plant omega-6 linoleic acid and the animal omega-6 arachidonic acid have the general tendency to induce an increase in pro-inflammatory local hormones. Some researchers have suggested that substituting virgin coconut oil in food preparation for these common omega-6 sources may help reduce inflammation tendency at the tissue level by displacing some of the excess dietary omega-6 fats.
Virgin Coconut Oil and Heart HealthCoconut oil has been the victim of a campaign of mis-information because it is a source of saturated fats. However, the medium-chain saturated fats do not induce the kind of cardiovascular risk associated with long-chain saturated fats. (In fact, in recent years researchers have been re-thinking the link between long saturated fats and heart disease). It must also be stated again that one can expect to derive the health benefits of ingested coconut oil from high-quality virgin products, not from common copra oil.
What heart health supports have been demonstrated for virgin coconut oil ? The medium-chain triglycerides in virgin coconut oil :
- Increase desirable HDL-cholesterol;
- Decrease :
- total cholesterol;
- undesirable LDL-cholesterol;
- total cholesterol-to-HDL ratio (an indicator of heart disease risk);
- Reduces LDL oxidation, a major risk factor in atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Virgin Coconut & Flaxseed Oil : Dynamic Duo for Heart HealthBoth the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in flaxseed oil and the medium-chain myristic acid in coconut oil independently increase cholesterol removal from tissues via transport onto desirable HDL (high-density lipoprotein) -- by 83% and 38% respectively. Amazingly, when ALA and myristic acid are both in the diet concurrently, their combined effects on mobilizing cholesterol complement each other to the extent that together they increase cholesterol transport to HDL by 152%. This synergistic effect means that flaxseed oil and coconut oil work together to support the activity of desirable HDL-cholesterol and reduce cardiovascular risk.
Virgin Coconut Oil and the Nervous SystemThe value of medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil is emerging in many unexpected areas of health. Some illuminating examples involve the Nervous System. Some cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease arise from an unexplained loss of the ability of brain nerve cells to use blood sugar (glucose) as an energy source. In the absence of a viable alternative energy source, brain cells die of starvation. It has been known for a long time that the brain can use ketone bodies as an alterative energy source. The ability of brain nerve cells to use ketone bodies for energy is an important survival mechanism during times of famine, when the body must survive by metabolizing stored fat converted into ketone bodies. In fact, ketone bodies constitute a significant portion of the energy resources used by the brains of neonates (new born babies).
Anecdotal evidence is emerging that persons with early Alzheimer’s linked to loss of brain cell ability to metabolize blood sugar may be helped by adding virgin coconut oil (two tablespoons daily) to their eating routine. The reason that coconut oil is beneficial in this situation is the above-stated fact that direct transport of absorbed medium-chain triglycerides to the liver facilitate efficient conversion of medium-chain triglycerides into ketone bodies.
Persons with severe seizure disorders may also benefit from virgin coconut oil. In recent years, neurologists have been using ketogenic diets (similar to Dr. Atkins’ diet) to help control seizure frequency and intensity in intractable patients who are not adequately responsive to anti-seizure pharmaceutical drugs. Because the Ketogenic diet they have recommended increases cardiovascular risk, the only conventional answer has been the use of cholesterol-lowering pharmaceuticals, while trying to manage the adverse side effects of these drugs. Due to its lower stress on the cardiovascular system while providing an efficient source of ketones, virgin coconut oil may serve as a more healthful alternative in the treatment of intractable seizure disorders.
Anti-Microbial Properties of Virgin Coconut OilThe medium-chain triglycerides have anti-bacterial influence because they have the ability to disintegrate bacterial cell walls. Virgin coconut oil has anti-viral properties because it disrupts the assembly of viral particles during the attempt by viral organisms to multiply. Coconut oil fatty acids are also anti-fungal with respect to Candida species. In their search for non-toxic agents to control antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, researchers are discovering the value of coconut oil constituents, especially lauric acid, for the prevention and treatment of severe bacterial infections that are antibiotic resistant.
Coconut Oil and MalignancyAs with the omega-3 fatty acids, experiments designed to uncover the effect of fat intake on cancer development have revealed that, compared to common vegetable oils high in the omega-6 linoleic acid, coconut oil fats induce less promotion of breast tumors. Thus, virgin coconut oil can be used as a food component that may complement the anti-malignancy effects of flaxseed oil and fish oil.
Virgin Coconut Oil and Wound TreatmentThe traditional medicine of islanders in eastern Indonesia has historically included coconut oil as an important medical tool. Scientists who have examined the logic of their choice have concluded that the stability of the medium-chain saturated fatty acids of coconut oil validate their use of coconut oil for preserving botanical medicines and in wound treatment.
Coconut Oil for Treatment of PoisoningBy inhibiting the absorption of ingested poisons, coconut oil is becoming a new tool in hospital emergency rooms for the treatment of some accidental and deliberate poisonings. Of particular interest is poisoning from aluminum phosphide, a chemical used for pest control in grain storage facilities. This chemical produces phosphine gas, a poison that damages cell mitochondria, the organelles that generate energy. Coconut oil has proven its value in the treatment of this kind of poisoning.
Cooking with Virgin Coconut OilVirgin coconut oil is a healthful and delicious butter substitute in food preparation. It is very shelf-stable because it does not turn rancid, yet it is superior to hydrogenated vegetable shortening laden with trans-fats. It works well in frying and sautéing because it does not burn easily. Coconut oil is an excellent baking ingredient that is very useful as a vegetable shortening for cakes, pie crust, biscuits, etc. It even serves as a tasty bread spread.
Virgin Coconut Oil : Traditional Cosmetic SecretIndigenous peoples of Polynesia and southeast Asia have used coconut oil as a hair conditioner and skin softener for ages. It also works well as a moisturizer for both skin and hair. Many massage therapists use it as massage oil because of its healing and non-staining properties. Furthermore, coconut oil helps to reduce the pain of sunburned skin. Lauric acid, one of the medium-chain fatty acids, helps to heal rashes and acne.
Dosing of Virgin Coconut OilHow much coconut oil should a person consume daily? The anecdotal dosage found helpful for nervous system support in early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is two tablespoons daily. To make this amount easier to take, you can mix it with other foods, such as oatmeal.
Safety of Virgin Coconut Oil and Medium Chain TriglyceridesMedium-chain triglycerides are widely used in hospitals and clinics as an energy source for "parenteral" (intravenous) nutrition in individuals requiring supplemental nutrition that by-passes digestion in the intestines. The safety of human dietary consumption of medium-chain triglycerides has been clearly demonstrated. Investigations indicate that dietary medium-chain triglycerides are safe during pregnancy and nursing. In addition, laboratory research reveals no cancer-causing or mutation-generating tendency for these constituents of virgin coconut oil.
Again, it is important to reiterate that coconut oil is not a source of essential fatty acids. These must be obtained from other sources, such as flaxseed oil, nuts and seed, fish oil, wild ocean fish, wild game, grass-fed livestock, etc.