For most North Americans, coconut is a fun flavor, enjoyed shredded, sweetened, and made into cookies or candy, or perhaps whipped up in a piña colada.
For much of the rest of the world, though, coconuts are more than just an occasional addition to a tasty confection; they are a staple of nutrition and traditional medicine. Coconut oil, especially, is used to promote health and treat an amazing variety of ailments.
Until recently, coconut oil was out of favor because of its high saturated fat content. Saturated fats are often implicated for contributing to heart disease and high cholesterol. Paradoxically, though, nutritionists now know that coconut oil is possibly the most healthy oil in existence, surpassing even olive oil. As scientists learn more about the composition of various fats, and their effect on health, they discovered that the length of the fat chains that make up coconut oil allow them to be more readily used for energy than some other fats, so they don’t hang around clogging up the bloodstream, or settling in around vital organs. In fact, coconut oil may even help to clear other, less healthy fats, away.
Beyond just that, though, coconut oil contains three compounds — lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid — that make it useful as an antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial, and moisturizer. Here’s a look at just a few of the health benefits attributed to coconut oil:
Skin and hair care: Coconut oil is an exceptional moisturizer for both skin and hair. It can help to fight dandruff, whether caused by a dry scalp or a more serious condition, and breathe new life into dry, brittle hair. It has been shown to heal flaking, cracked skin, forestall wrinkles, and help in the treatment of eczema, psoriasis, and other chronic conditions, and to speed up the recovery of bruises. It also makes a great natural alternative to commercial hair conditioners or skin lotions.
Immune support: The lauric acid in coconut oil is converted by the body into monolaurin, which is key to a strong immune system. As a result, coconut oil can help the body fight off a variety of viruses and infections, such as cold, the flu, and even harmful parasites such as giardia lamblia. It can also be used topically to heal skin abrasions and fight fungal infections. It kills harmful bacteria and fungi without damaging tissues, and also moisturizes wounds to prevent them from drying out.
Cardiovascular health: The lauric acid in coconut oil can help to prevent or lessen issues such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. It can also contribute to greater elasticity in the veins and arteries, for a more healthy circulatory system
Healthy organ function: Coconut oil supports the function of the liver, pancreas, kidneys, and gall bladder, ensuring that everything operates smoothly, and preventing disease in these important organs.
Digestion: The antimicrobial properties of coconut oil fight off bad bacteria, fungi, and parasites that can take up residence in the digestive tract, helping to promote healthier digestion. This can prevent issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, and also allow the body to more efficiently absorb the nutrients in food.
Blood sugar: Coconut oil improves the secretion of insulin, which helps the body to regulate blood sugar, and also enables the body to more efficiently use glucose for energy. This makes it helpful in preventing and treating diabetes.
Bones and teeth: Coconut oil can improve the body’s ability to absorb minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, which contribute to strong bones and teeth.
Weight loss: The fatty acids in coconut oil are easy to digest, and are used up quickly by the body, in the form of energy. In addition, healthy dietary fats speed up the body’s metabolism, allowing it to burn more calories, while at the same time contributing to a sense of feeling full, which can prevent overeating.