The scientific name for coconut is Cocos nucifera. Early Spanish explorers called it coco, which means "monkey face" because the three indentations (eyes) on the hairy nut resembles the head and face of a monkey. Nucifera means "nut-bearing."
The coconut provides a nutritious source of meat, juice, milk, and oil that has fed and nourished populations around the world for generations. On many islands coconut is a
Harvested coconuts lined up on the beach.
staple in the diet and provides the majority of the food eaten. Nearly one third of the world's population depends on coconut to some degree for their food and their economy. Among these cultures the coconut has a long and respected history.
Coconut is highly nutritious and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is classified as a "functional food" because it provides many health benefits beyond its nutritional content. Coconut oil is of special interest because it possesses healing properties far beyond that of any other dietary oil and is extensively used in traditional medicine among Asian and Pacific populations. Pacific Islanders consider coconut oil to be the cure for all illness. The coconut palm is so highly valued by them as both a source of food and medicine that it is called "The Tree of Life." Only recently has modern medical science unlocked the secrets to coconut's amazing healing powers.
Coconut In Traditional Medicine
People from many diverse cultures, languages, religions, and races scattered around the globe have revered the coconut as a valuable source of both food and medicine. Wherever the coconut palm grows the people have learned of its importance as a effective medicine. For thousands of years coconut products have held a respected and valuable place in local folk medicine.
In traditional medicine around the world coconut is used to treat a wide variety of health problems including the following: abscesses, asthma, baldness, bronchitis, bruises, burns, colds, constipation, cough, dropsy, dysentery, earache, fever, flu, gingivitis, gonorrhea, irregular or painful menstruation, jaundice, kidney stones, lice, malnutrition, nausea, rash, scabies, scurvy, skin infections, sore throat, swelling, syphilis, toothache, tuberculosis, tumors, typhoid, ulcers, upset stomach, weakness, and wounds.
Coconut In Modern Medicine
Modern medical science is now confirming the use of coconut in treating many of the above conditions. Published studies in medical journals show that coconut, in one form or another, may provide a wide range of health benefits. Some of these are summarized below:
Kills viruses that cause influenza, herpes, measles, hepatitis C, SARS, AIDS, and other illnesses.
Kills bacteria that cause ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, gum disease and cavities, pneumonia, and gonorrhea, and other diseases.
Kills fungi and yeasts that cause candidiasis, ringworm, athlete's foot, thrush, diaper rash, and other infections.
Expels or kills tapeworms, lice, giardia, and other parasites.
Provides a nutritional source of quick energy.
Boosts energy and endurance, enhancing physical and athletic performance.
Improves digestion and absorption of other nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
Improves insulin secretion and utilization of blood glucose.
Relieves stress on pancreas and enzyme systems of the body.
Reduces symptoms associated with pancreatitis.
Helps relieve symptoms and reduce health risks associated with diabetes.
Reduces problems associated with malabsorption syndrome and cystic fibrosis.
Improves calcium and magnesium absorption and supports the development of strong bones and teeth.
Helps protect against osteoporosis.
Helps relieve symptoms associated with gallbladder disease.
Relieves symptoms associated with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and stomach ulcers.
Improves digestion and bowel function.
Relieves pain and irritation caused by hemorrhoids.
Supports tissue healing and repair.
Supports and aids immune system function.
Helps protect the body from breast, colon, and other cancers.
Is heart healthy; improves cholesterol ratio reducing risk of heart disease.
Protects arteries from injury that causes atherosclerosis and thus protects against heart disease.
Helps prevent periodontal disease and tooth decay.
Functions as a protective antioxidant.
Helps to protect the body from harmful free radicals that promote premature aging and degenerative disease.
Does not deplete the body's antioxidant reserves like other oils do.
Improves utilization of essential fatty acids and protects them from oxidation.
Helps relieve symptoms associated with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Relieves symptoms associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (prostate enlargement).
Reduces epileptic seizures.
Helps protect against kidney disease and bladder infections.
Dissolves kidney stones.
Helps prevent liver disease.
Is lower in calories than all other fats.
Supports thyroid function.
Promotes loss of excess weight by increasing metabolic rate.
Is utilized by the body to produce energy in preference to being stored as body fat like other dietary fats.
Helps prevent obesity and overweight problems.
Applied topically helps to form a chemical barrier on the skin to ward of infection.
Reduces symptoms associated the psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis.
Supports the natural chemical balance of the skin.
Softens skin and helps relieve dryness and flaking.
Prevents wrinkles, sagging skin, and age spots.
Promotes healthy looking hair and complexion.
Provides protection from damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
Helps control dandruff.
Does not form harmful by-products when heated to normal cooking temperature like other vegetable oils do.
Has no harmful or discomforting side effects.
Is completely non-toxic to humans.
See Research to read some of the published studies regarding the above mentioned uses of coconut products.
While coconut possesses many health benefits due to its fiber and nutritional content, it's the oil that makes it a truly remarkable food and medicine.
Once mistakenly believed to be unhealthy because of its high saturated fat content, it is now known that the fat in coconut oil is a unique and different from most all other fats and possesses many health giving properties. It is now gaining long overdue recognition as a nutritious health food.
Coconut oil has been described as "the healthiest oil on earth." That's quite a remarkable statement. What makes coconut oil so good? What makes it different from all other oils, especially other saturated fats?
The difference is in the fat molecule. All fats and oils are composed of molecules called fatty acids. There are two methods of classifying fatty acids. The first you are probably familiar with, is based on saturation. You have saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats. Another system of classification is based on molecular size or length of the carbon chain within each fatty acid. Fatty acids consist of long chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached. In this system you have short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), and long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). Coconut oil is composed predominately of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), also known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCT).
The vast majority of fats and oils in our diets, whether they are saturated or unsaturated or come from animals or plants, are composed of long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). Some 98 to 100% of all the fatty acids you consume are LCFA.
The size of the fatty acid is extremely important. Why? Because our bodies respond to and metabolize each fatty acid differently depending on its size. So the physiological effects of MCFA in coconut oil are distinctly different from those of LCFA more commonly found in our foods. The saturated fatty acids in coconut oil are predominately medium-chain fatty acids. Both the saturated and unsaturated fat found in meat, milk, eggs, and plants (including most all vegetable oils) are composed of LCFA.
MCFA are very different from LCFA. They do not have a negative effect on cholesterol and help to protect against heart disease. MCFA help to lower the risk of both atherosclerosis and heart disease. It is primarily due to the MCFA in coconut oil that makes it so special and so beneficial.
There are only a very few good dietary sources of MCFA. By far the best sources are from coconut and palm kernel oils.
The health benefits of coconut oil include hair care, skin care, stress relief, maintaining cholesterol levels, weight loss, increased immunity, proper digestion and metabolism, relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure,diabetes, HIV and cancer, dental care, and bone strength. These benefits of coconut oil can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its properties such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial, soothing, etc.
How is Lauric Acid Used by our body?
The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin which is claimed to help in dealing with viruses and bacteria causing diseases such as herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV. It helps in fighting harmful bacteria such as listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia. As a result of these various health benefits of coconut oil, though its exact mechanism of action was unknown, it has been extensively used in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicinal system. The Coconut Research Center has compiled various references on scientific research done on coconut oil.
Before we move on to the benefits of coconut oil in detail, let us understand its composition.
Composition of Coconut Oil:
Coconut oil consists of more than ninety percent of saturated fats (Don’t panic! First read to the last word. Your opinion may change), with traces of few unsaturated fatty acids, such as monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Virgin Coconut Oil is no different from this. Let us have a bit detailed study of this.
The Saturated Fatty Acids: Most of them are Medium Chain Triglycerides, which are supposed to assimilate well. Lauric Acid is the chief contributor, with more than forty percent of the share, followed by Capric Acid, Caprylic Acid, Myristic Acid and Palmitic.
The Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: Linoleic Acid.
The Monounsaturated Fatty Acids: Oleic Acid.
The Poly-phenols: Gallic Acid, which is phenolic acid. These poly-phenols are supposed to be responsible for the fragrance and the taste of Coconut Oil and Virgin Coconut Oil is rich in these poly-phenols.
Certain derivatives of fatty acid like Betaines, Ethanolamide, Ethoxylates, Fatty Esters, Fatty Polysorbates, Monoglycerides and Polyol Esters.
Fatty Chlorides, Fatty Alcohol Sulphate and Fatty Alcohol Ether Sulphate, all of which are derivatives of Fatty Alcohols.
Let us now explore the benefits of coconut oil in detail:
Coconut oil is one of the best natural nutrition for hair. It helps in healthy growth of hair providing them a shiny complexion. Regular massage of the head with coconut oil ensures that your scalp is free of dandruff, lice, and lice eggs, even if your scalp is dry. Coconut oil is extensively used in the Indian sub-continent for hair care. It is an excellent conditioner and helps in the re-growth of damaged hair. It also provides the essential proteins required for nourishing damaged hair. It is therefore used as hair care oil and used in manufacturing various conditioners, and dandruff relief creams. Coconut oil is normally applied topically for hair care.
Coconut oil is excellent massage oil for the skin as well. It acts as an effective moisturizer on all types of skins including dry skin. The benefit of coconut oil on the skin is comparable to that of mineral oil. Further, unlike mineral oil, there is no chance of having any adverse side effects on the skin with the application of coconut oil. Coconut oil therefore is a safe solution for preventing dryness and flaking of skin. It also delays wrinkles, and sagging of skin which normally become prominent with age. Coconut oil also helps in treating various skin problems including psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema and other skin infections. Therefore coconut oil forms the basic ingredient of various body care products such as soaps, lotions, creams, etc., used for skin care. Coconut oil also helps in preventing premature agingand degenerative diseases due to its antioxidant properties.
There is a misconception spread among many people that coconut oil is not good for the heart. This is because it contains a large quantity of saturated fats. However, coconut oil is beneficial for the heart. It contains about 50% lauric acid, which helps in preventing various heart problems including high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. The saturated fats present in coconut oil are not harmful as it happens in case of other vegetables oils. It does not lead to increase in LDL levels. It also reduces the incidence of injury in arteries and therefore helps in preventing atherosclerosis.
Coconut oil is very useful in reducing weight. It contains short and medium-chain fatty acids that help in taking off excessive weight. It is also easy to digest and it helps in healthy functioning of the thyroid and enzymes systems. Further, it increases the body metabolism by removing stress on pancreases, thereby burning out more energy and helping obese and overweight people reduce their weight. Hence, people living in tropical coastal areas, who eat coconut oil daily as their primary cooking oil, are normally not fat, obese or overweight.
Internal use of coconut oil occurs primarily as cooking oil. Coconut oil helps in improving the digestive system and thus prevents various stomach and digestion related problems including irritable bowel syndrome. The saturated fats present in coconut oil have anti microbial properties and help in dealing with various bacteria, fungi, parasites, etc., that cause indigestion. Coconut oil also helps in absorption of other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
Coconut oil is also good for the immune system. It strengthens the immune system as it contains antimicrobial lipids, lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid which have antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin which is claimed to help in dealing with viruses and bacteria causing diseases such as herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV. It helps in fighting harmful bacteria such as listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia.
Healing and Infections
When applied on infections, it forms a chemical layer which protects the infected body part from external dust, air, fungi, bacteria and virus. Coconut oil is most effective on bruises as it speeds up the healing process by repairing damaged tissues.
Infections: Coconut oil is very effective against a variety of infections due to its antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. According to the Coconut Research Center, coconut oil kills viruses that cause influenza, measles, hepatitis, herpes, SARS, etc. It also kills bacteria that cause ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and gonorrhea, etc. Coconut oil is also effective on fungi and yeast that cause candidiasis, ringworm, athlete's foot, thrush, diaper rash, etc.
Liver: The presence of medium chain triglycerides and fatty acids helps in preventing liver diseases as they substances are easily converted into energy when they reach the liver, thus reducing work load on the liver and also preventing accumulation of fat.
Kidney: Coconut oil helps in preventing kidney and gall bladder diseases. It also helps in dissolving kidney stones.
Pancreatitis: Coconut oil is also believed to be useful in treating pancreatitis.
Stress Relief: Coconut oil is very soothing and hence it helps in removing stress. Applying coconut oil to the head followed with a gentle massage helps in removing mental fatigue.
Diabetes: Coconut oil helps in controlling blood sugar, and improves the secretion of insulin. It also helps in effective utilization of blood glucose, thereby preventing and treating diabetes.
Bones: As mentioned earlier, coconut oil improves the ability of our body to absorb important minerals. These includecalcium and magnesium which are necessary for development of bones. Thus coconut oil is very useful to women who are prone to osteoporosis after middle age.
Dental Care:Calcium is an important element present in teeth. Since coconut oil facilitates absorption of calcium by the body, it helps in getting strong teeth. Coconut oil also stops tooth decay.
HIV and Cancer: It is believed that coconut oil plays an instrumental role in reducing viral susceptibility of HIV andcancer patients. Preliminary research has shown indications of the effect of coconut oil on reducing the viral load of HIV patients (Reference).
Finally, coconut oil is often preferred by athletes and body builders and by those who are dieting. The reason behind this being that coconut oil contains lesser 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. Coconut oil helps in boosting energy and endurance, and enhances the performance of athletes.