What’s the deal with coconut oil? Coconut oil has been used by the functional medicine community for years, touted for its many health benefits. But recently, the American Heart Association criticized coconut oil as being unhealthy. Natural medicine practitioner Dr. David Jockers disagrees. He explains the controversy and why he still recommends coconut oil as a healthy and harmless way to boost your immune system, heal cuts and bruises and even add some creaminess to your next meal. Read on to learn more about coconut oil and find four little-known benefits, plus 10 inventive uses for coconut oil.
Foods that offer a wide array of health benefits, beyond just their nutritional value, are called “superfoods.” Coconut oil, full of many important fatty acids, has a unique taste and many healthy benefits, and is a tropical superfood for sure. Coconut oil’s status as a superfood is due in part to its close resemblance to mother’s milk. Often called “liquid gold,” breastmilk is considered the most perfect food on the planet. And what’s the closest match to mother’s milk from a plant source? Coconut oil!
Recently, the American Heart Association (AHA) released a statement on coconut oil, suggesting that it is contributing to cardiovascular disease and recommending that Americans instead opt for what it labels “heart healthy vegetable oils,” which are lower in saturated fat. This has caused a lot of controversy in the health community, as many functional medicine doctors, including myself, have been using coconut oil for years.
So, have I changed my mind based on the AHA recommendations? Absolutely not. In my opinion, the AHA’s dietary recommendations are based on questionable and outdated data. I continue to recommend consuming coconut oil as a source of important fatty acids and to help in stabilizing blood sugar levels.
The AHA is Relying on Outdated Research
In order to draw the conclusion that the saturated fats and cholesterol in coconut oil lead to heart disease, the AHA relied on outdated research and ignored more recent findings about coconut oil. In fact, not only have recent studies pointed out the cardiovascular disease prevention benefits of coconut oil, but adding coconut oil into the diet has been shown to positively affect those who are already suffering from heart disease. (2, 3) How? Supplementing with coconut oil improves lipid profiles and encouraged decreases in bodyweight and waist size. (Both weight and waist size are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.)
Additionally, many of the AHA’s dietary fat recommendations are based on the theory that saturated fat raises LDL, which is considered the “bad cholesterol.” (HDL is often called the “good cholesterol.”) However, calling all LDL cholesterol “bad” is actually misleading. There are two types of LDL cholesterol, high density and low density. Saturated fats, such as those found in coconut oil, only increase low density LDL cholesterol, which is not connected with heart disease. (5) And, more importantly, coconut oil can also raise your HDL, which is a negative risk factor for cardiovascular disease. What does this mean? Coconut oil is not raising your cholesterol in a negative way.
How Inflammation (Not Coconut Oil) Contributes to Cardiovascular Disease
To protect against heart disease, we need to address the real underlying issues, and most importantly control inflammation, which recent studies show is the actual cause of cardiovascular problems, obesity and a whole host of other chronic conditions. Inflammation is caused by a variety of factors, including oxidative stress, which damages the lining of arterial walls and promotes atherosclerosis. Omega-6 fats consumed in excess have been repeatedly shown to contribute to chronic inflammation. These are the types of fats that are in the vegetable oils that the AHA suggest we use to replace coconut oil and butter. But replacing healthy saturated fats with processed, genetically modified vegetable oils may actually be doing your body more harm than good.
Instead, I continue to recommend including healthy saturated fats like coconut oil, which will help to lower inflammation, balance blood sugar and maintain body weight. By limiting inflammation, balancing blood sugar, reducing body weight and balancing hormones, you can drastically lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Four Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
Beyond protecting our bodies from heart disease, here’s some additional benefits to using coconut oil and 10 ways to incorporate it into your daily life.
1. Coconut oil and MCTs
Coconut oil is rich in healthy, small- to medium-chained saturated fats called medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs. Most common vegetable or seed oils consist of long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs), also known as long-chain triglycerides or LCTs, which are not as healthy or easily digestible.
2. MCTs Provide Powerful Health Benefits
MCTs are smaller and travel through cell membranes easily. They are sent directly to the liver where they are converted into usable energy rather than being stored as fat.
Coconut oil is the most “stable” commonly-used fatty acid because it contains a high level of saturated fats. Its stability is key to reducing our bodies’ free radical load.
3. Coconut Oil Benefits Hormone and Immune Health
Coconut oil helps balance hormones, stabilize blood sugar levels and boost cell healing. It has also been shown to stimulate the thyroid and reduce stress on the liver and pancreas, which in turn increases metabolism and helps the body burn fat more effectively. Coconut oil also increases our energy levels because it is clean and easy to digest.
Both mothers’ milk and coconut oil are rich in lauric acid, which boosts the immune system. Lauric acid is converted to monolaurin, which has potent anti-biotic, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties.
Coconut oil does not pose dangerous side effects to our bodies, unlike artificial antibiotics and antivirals. Coconut oil’s fatty acids are safe for humans, yet easily destroy harmful microbes. Because coconut oil protects the body from bacteria and viruses, it’s one of the best things to have during the cold and flu season!
4. Coconut Oil Accelerates Physical and Mental Healing
MCTs are also known for their ability to quickly heal cuts and bruises. They destroy harmful microbes and help with both cellular metabolism and tissue repair. Coconut oil is also very soothing and an excellent stress reducer.
Coconut oil is a good remedy for dry skin because it keeps the skin and connective tissue strong, soft and moist. It helps protect skin from damage by free radicals and naturally reduces the appearance of aging. Coconut oil is also one of best nutritional moisturizers for our hair and scalp. Applying it to the scalp can enhance hair’s texture and highlights while getting rid of dandruff and dry scalp conditions.
Ten Ways to Use Coconut Oil
(Always get virgin or extra virgin coconut oil.)
1. Rub coconut oil into your hair or onto your skin as moisturizer after bathing.
2. Use it as a natural deodorant by applying to underarms.
3. Use coconut oil whenever you cook instead of other oils. (Consider frying fish, for example, in coconut oil.)
4. Have 1-2 teaspoons of raw extra virgin coconut oil orally each day as a supplement.
5. Practice oil pulling with coconut oil every day.
6. Add coconut oil to your morning coffee or tea.
7. Use coconut milk as a substitute for other types of dairy in shakes or creamy dishes.
8. Melt coconut oil on vegetables instead of butter to make them creamy and more satisfying.
9. Apply coconut oil to insect stings, bites or cuts to soothe and encourage healing.
10. Consider combining coconut oil with chocolate or as part of a healthy sweet treat.
- Coconut oil is a superfood, full of fatty acids with lots of health benefits
- The recent recommendation by the AHA to reduce consumption of coconut oil is based on outdated research and incorrect assumptions about cholesterol
- Inflammation is a major factor in cardiovascular disease
- Coconut oil helps to raise HDL and reduce cardiovascular risk
- Coconut oil is rich in MCTs that are converted into usable energy, rather than being stored as fat
- Coconut oil helps to balance hormones and stabilize blood sugar levels
- Coconut oil accelerates physical and mental healing
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Foufelle F, Perdereau D, Gouhot B, Ferre P, Girard J. Effect of diets rich in medium-chain and long-chain triglycerides on lipogenic-enzyme gene expression in liver and adipose tissue of the weaned rat. Eur J Biochem. 1992 Sep 1;208(2):381-7. PMID: 1355731
NaturoDoc – Coconut Oil and Its Virtues Link Here
Mercola – How to Help Your Thyroid With Virgin Coconut Oil Link Here
Kochikuzhyil BM, Devi K, Fattepur SR. Effect of saturated fatty acid-rich dietary vegetable oils on lipid profile, antioxidant enzymes and glucose tolerance in diabetic rats. Indian J Pharmacol. 2010 Jun;42(3):142-5. PMID: 20871763
Garvan Institute – How Coconut Oil Could Help Reduce The Symptoms Of Type 2 Diabetes Link Here
WebMD – MonoLaurin
Coconut Research Center – Coconut Oil and Medium-Chain Triglycerides Link Here