Lately coconut oil has enjoyed a renaissance. A few years back it was still considered the saturated fat villain and was accused of causing heart attacks. The problem is that clinical trials could never proof that coconut oil would cause heart attacks or strokes; it actually showed the opposite: coconut oil prevented heart attacks! This is very interesting! This story is related to a powerful lobbying campaign of the soybean oil industry.
But perhaps more interesting is the fact that the medium chain fatty acids of coconut oil have a multitude of applications in the healthcare field so that your wrinkles and hair will benefit, your teeth will get less cavities and gum disease, you will have less infections, the immune system will be stronger and you will get less heart disease. But this is not all: coconut oil has been shown to specifically fight bacterial infections, viral infections, fungal infections and some parasitic infections. Anybody interested in 36 pounds of weight loss over 1 year? With coconut oil it is possible. There are definitely health benefits of coconut oil for you, hence the title of this blog.
In the following I will review this in more detail.
Properties of coconut oil
Coconut oil is derived from the white flesh of the coconut of the coconut palm tree. Cold-pressed coconut oil contains 92% saturated fats, 6%monounsaturated fats and 2% polyunsaturated fats. Olive oil in comparison contains 14% saturated fats, 77% monounsaturated fats and 9% polyunsaturated fats.
Tropical oils are coconut oil and palm kernel oil. These are the best sources of medium and short-chain fatty acids, which are fats ideal for cooking and frying food in a pan as both oils have a high smoking point. Coconut oil contains 64% of medium chain fatty aids (MCFA) while palm kernel oil has 58% of MCFA. Coconut oil is the one dietary oil that is least vulnerable to oxidation and formation of free radicals. This is the reason why it is safest for cooking or deep-frying. It has a melting point of 76 Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius). That means it is a white solid fat below that temperature and is a clear liquid oil above this temperature.
Coconut oil is composed of 48% lauric acid, 18% myristic acid, 7% capric acid and 0.5% caprylic acid. The coconut oil is a triglyceride, where three fatty acids are bound to a glycerol molecule. But when it gets in contact with our skin, the skin bacteria immediacy hydrolyze it into free fatty acids and glycerol. The same breakdown is happening in our mouth and gut by our own bacteria. The free fatty acids (FFA) are what give it the beneficial clinical effects. The FFA have antibacterial effects, antiviral effects, antifungal effects and antiparasitic effects. Specifically, lauric acid and monolaurin are the most anti-bacterial compounds of coconut oil. Coconut oil and palm kernel oil are the richest source of lauric acid; they contain almost 50% of lauric acid in their fats. In comparison, butter only contains 3% lauric acid.
Infections treated with coconut oil
Antibiotic resistant bacterial strains have become a serious problem in the past few years. Because of this it is important to know that the fatty acids derived from coconut oil have alternative antibiotic effects. Sinus infection can be treated by consuming coconut oil.
The CDC has reported that 75% of all cases of food poisoning are due to eating ground beef. This is due to resistant E.coli strains from beef that were fed antibiotics, so they would fatten up. The excuse of the Agro industry is that the farmers have to use antibiotics as the cattle in the crowded conditions of feedlots would otherwise get diseases. In 1993 seven hundred people got sick from eating contaminated Jack-in-the-Box hamburgers and at least 4 children died. Other common food poisoning bugs are salmonella strains. In 1994 a milk truck carrying milk that was contaminated with salmonella was shipped to an ice-cream factory in Minnesota. The contaminated ice cream was shipped to stores in several states and led to food poisoning of 224,000 people, the largest food poisoning outbreak in the US history. Giardia is another parasite that is common in India. Here is a study that showed how children with diarrhea due to giardia can be managed with coconut oil.
If you add all the cases of foodborne illnesses each year there are between 6.5 million to 81 million Americans who get sick and about 9,000 die as a result. One of the reasons of death from food poisoning is kidney disease and subsequent kidney failure; another common reason is blood poisoning.
So how does coconut oil fit into foodborne infections? When you eat 1 or two tablespoons of coconut oil three times with meals, the free fatty acids of coconut oil that are released in the gut get taken up into the blood stream and circulate in the body. If the free fatty acids encounter bacteria the medium chain fatty acids infiltrate the membrane of the bacterium and cause it to rupture. The same process happens in the gut to bacteria that do not belong there. Pathological E.coli, salmonella species and other pathological bacteria get eradicated in the same way I have just described. Other bacteria against which coconut oil is effective are H. pylori (the problem bug that causes gastric ulcers), Chlamydia pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, Staphylococcus aureus (rodent study), Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Neisseria (the cause of gonorrhea) and many gram-positive bacteria (Ref.1, p. 75 and 76). I am afraid that most of these claims could not be verified by a PubMed search. PubMed had a reference regarding Salmonella and Pseudomonas aeruginosa in a mouse assay and both of these bacteria did not respond to coconut oil in various concentration. However, Clostridium difficile, which is a problem bug with chronic diarrhea patients responded to coconut oil treatment.
Some women are plagued by frequent urinary infections. Coconut oil is a simple remedy that will treat these infections and when you eat coconut oil as a supplement or cook with it regularly you are having a good chance to eliminate them altogether.
When men get older they can be plagued by benign prostatic hypertrophy. This is a condition where the prostate is enlarged and squeezes the part of the urethra that travels through the prostate gland. The end result is that he has difficulties urinating. Urologists usually recommend a shaving off the prostatic tissue through a special cystoscopic procedure.
In a study on rats coconut oil was shown to decrease the prostatic weight as a result of treatment with coconut oil. In Ref.1 Dr. Fife stated that 1 to 2 tablespoons of coconut oil three times per day with meals would bring the swelling of the prostate gland down within only a few days and urination would be back to normal. However, I did a PubMed search for human data on benign prostatic hyperplasia and could not find a single literature quotation to confirm this.
What about flu bugs? Dr. Fife cited a case of a woman who was just starting to come down with the flu (Ref.1). He recommended that she should take 2 to 3 tablespoons of coconut oil dissolved in lukewarm orange juice with every meal. On the first day her symptoms got worse as one often sees with seasonal infections. On the second day she expected to get worse again, but to her surprise the symptoms were starting to go away. By the end of the third day all of her symptoms had gone!
Other infectious agents that respond to coconut oil are: HIV, herpes-1 and 2, Cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus (the cause of mononucleosis), influenza virus (all strains), hepatitis C virus, Coxsackie B4 virus and others. A full list can be seen on p. 75 and 76 of Ref.1.
One of the chronic virus infections is hepatitis C. A person who has this condition is at a higher risk of developing liver cirrhosis and subsequently hepatocellular liver cancer. By using Coconut oil in the stage of chronic liver infections with hepatitis C virus the medium chain fatty acids do their trick of invading the outer membrane of the hepatitis C virus. The virus particles all rupture and release their genetic codes and cannot find another way of regenerating themselves. Within a few weeks and months the person can be completely hepatitis C free. Their energy comes back as the liver function returns to normal. From here the patient can rest assured that cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer won’t develop.
This is not the end of the surprising effects of coconut oil. Yeast bugs and other fungal infections respond very well to coconut oil. Candida albicans, the cause of gut infections, chronic vaginal infections and opportunistic infections in AIDS patients gets eradicated very similarly to the flu patient described above.
Athletes foot is a fungal infection between the toes that can go on for years with frequent flare ups, but it can be eliminated in just a few days by topical application of coconut oil. If you take it internally as well, it gets secreted through your sweat glands and eradicates the yeast bugs that way.
Giardia lamblia is the cause for a common gut infection that is picked up by outdoor enthusiast, when they drink contaminated water. Cryptosporidium is another one of these parasites that won’t make cows sick, but when we consume drinking water that has not been fully sanitized, we get abdominal cramps and diarrhea. AIDS patients get seriously ill from this. Coconut oil comes to the rescue: it will do the same as with all the other bugs: destroy the envelope of the bugs with its MCFA’s, which destroys them. There is no anti-parasitic drug resistance that would develop. Several tapeworms respond very well to coconut oil treatment. However, some parasites like F. hepatica did not respond to coconut oil.
With respect to the transmission of malaria it was found that 2% Neem oil in coconut oil is an effective anti malarial mosquito repellant for 12 hours.
Dr. Fife gave an example of the building of the Panama Canal. The contractors found that the local indigenous Indians were the most reliable workers and never got sick. Yellow fever and malaria were the two diseases that plagued imported workers. According to Dr. Fife investigators found out that the local Indians consumed coconut oil regularly, which kept them slim and infection free including free of malaria and of yellow fever (Ref. 1, p. 94). I am afraid that a PubMed check for pertinent references regarding suppression of malaria and yellow fever could NOT be found.
Dental decay and coconut oil
Due to its broad-spectrum antibiotic properties coconut oil kills the germs that cause dental decay and gum disease, called periodontitis. You will keep the dentist less busy with regular coconut oil intake and save yourself a lot of dental bills.
Less heart attacks with coconut oil
There is a connection between poor dental hygiene, which leads to chronic Chlamydia pneumoniae infection and heart disease. Regular coconut oil consumption reduces heart attack rates and mortality of heart disease. Although the long-chain fatty acids of saturated fat and trans fat (hydrogenated vegetable oils) have been shown to cause hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis), this is NOT the case for medium-chain fatty acids from coconut oil. Research has shown that coconut oil is neutral with respect to blood cholesterol. Medium fatty acids are directly metabolized into energy by the liver, so they do not continue to circulate in the blood stream like other fats. In coconut consuming areas like Sri Lanka and Kerala, India very little heart disease was registered until the early 1980’s. Then only one of every 100,000 deaths was attributed to heart disease in Sri Lanka; and only 2.3 out of 1000 people in Kerala, India suffered from coronary artery disease in 1979. In contrast in the US about 333 out of 1000 Americans die of coronary heart disease every ear, that’s 1 in 3 people! Cardiovascular protection is further discussed here.
In this context it is interesting to read on this website that they believe coconut oil would cause heart attacks. Another study in Malaysian volunteers showed the opposite: no sign of changes in cholesterol, triglycerides or inflammatory markers. Many other studies have also shown that the medium chain fatty acids of coconut oil are neutral or beneficial in terms of cardiovascular disease.
Corn oil, safflower oil, grape seed oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, peanut oil and even olive oil are increasing the risk for blood clots, which in turn is a risk for developing heart attacks and strokes. They are also omega-6 fatty acids that lead to inflammation and indirectly cause heart attacks and strokes. On the other hand, omega-3 fatty acids and the medium chain fatty acids of coconut oil reduce the risk of clot formation. This means there are only three safe oils: omega-3 fatty acids, coconut oil and olive oil when used non-heated and in combination with either omega-3 or with coconut oil. When combined with one or two of the other oils the blood clotting property of olive oil is neutralized.
Several mechanisms investigated in a rat model showed cholesterol-lowering effects of coconut oil. But when it comes to human studies, it was shown in premenopausal Philippine women that lipid profiles were also beneficially influenced by coconut oil consumption.
Improving the looks of your skin and hair
Coconut oil is protecting the skin against damage, heals and gives it a healthy and youthful appearance. It has been observed in Polynesians who are exposed to a lot of sun that they are protected from sunburns by applying coconut oil, and their skin remains youthful looking into an older age without the development of precancerous or cancerous skin conditions. They are eating coconut oil and put it onto their skin as a lotion. Coconut oil helps for extremely dry skin. At the same time it prevents bacterial, viral and fungal infections.
In one study mild to moderate atopic dermatitis skin rashes improved significantly with virgin coconut oil. Many cosmetics contain coconut oil and you may wonder how safe this is. A safety study has been performed regarding coconut oil based cosmetics and you can rest assured that it was found to be very safe.
Even hair can be treated with coconut oil. Dr. Fife quotes a New York hair stylist Amanda George who said: “I massage two teaspoons of warm coconut oil into my hair before bed, then wash it out in the morning.” Her hair is luxuriant, soft and shimmering (Ref. 1, p.135).
Coconut oil has an inhibitory effect in terms of the development of Alzheimer’s. It seems that the medium chain fatty acids prevent aggregation of amyloid-β peptide and thus stop the further development in the direction of Alzheimer’s; coconut oil also helps reduce elevated LDL, insulin resistance and hypertension, which are all risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.
Detoxing with coconut oil
When you first use coconut oil it can have a strong detoxification effect (medically termed “Herxheimer reaction”). It stimulates the immune system and helps the body to get rid of any stored toxins and germs. There can be a skin rash, sinus congestion, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and diarrhea. Not everybody experiences all of these symptoms, but one or the other. This can go on for a day or two, but sometimes it may take longer like several weeks. It may feel as if you are coming down with a flu, but this is not true: you are detoxifying and you will feel more energetic when this is behind you. Coconut oil is hypoallergenic, so it is very rare to have a true allergy to coconut oil. Most people do not experience the above described detoxification reaction.
Lose weight while eating coconut oil
Medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) from coconut oil have a different metabolism than long chain fatty acids (LCFA) like soybean oil, canola oil, safflower oil and others. Studies have shown that MCFA are burnt directly by the liver and lead to a higher body temperature production, called “thermogenic effect”. Various researchers found a two to threefold higher burning of calories in MCFA compared to LCFA. Over one year this translated into a weight loss of 36 pounds, if you replaced all of the LCFA fats in your diet with MCFA fats. Here is a clarification that coconut oil has medium chain fatty acids and is metabolized differently than animal fats. The weight loss happens like a “side effect” when you switch to cooking with coconut oil and supplementing with coconut oil. Here is a weight reduction study that was done in 20 healthy, obese Malay volunteers. They were all males.
The role of coconut oil in cancer treatment is not yet investigated. Carbohydrate restriction is one way of starving tumor cells. It is conceivable that a ketogenic diet including coconut oil may be beneficial for cancer patients, but trials to this effect have not yet been done, which means we do not have the evidence for or against it. However, here is a study that showed that breast cancer patients had much less side-effects with chemotherapy when supplemented with coconut oil.
Coconut oil has experienced a renaissance in the last view years. It is now available in containers of various sizes as organic virgin coconut oil. Try a small container first and see how you react. In the beginning you may detox and feel like you have the flu for a few days. But later you will have more energy and you’ll gradually notice improvements of energy, of skin and hair. Your body will notice further improvements internally as the immune system functions better and you lose a few pounds. Your heart is pumping blood easier as there is less hardening of the arteries. Cook with coconut oil, as the smoking point for coconut oil is higher than olive oil, which means you are not eating oxidized or toxic oil. Use olive oil in your salad dressings. Throw away all the other oils, such as safflower oil, canola oil, sunflower seed oil, corn oil and soybean oil or grapeseed oil. These are largely omega-6 containing oils that cause heart attacks and strokes as they get oxidized and cause inflammation in the body through the arachidonic acid system.
Remember this: cook with coconut oil and use olive oil for salad dressings.
Read labels and make sure you are not buying the cheaper hydrogenated coconut oil with free radicals in it; opt for the cold pressed, virgin coconut oil, which is more expensive, but healthy.
In reviewing Dr. Fife’s “The Coconut Oil Miracle” I found that there are many experiential stories that may ultimately be true, if confirmed by trials or studies. I have attempted to find references, but could not fond them for all topics mentioned above; be cautious regarding these gaps. I recommend that you keep an open mind, but at the same time stay critical. I think the overall evidence supports that coconut oil is a valuable nutrient that has many positive effects.
Ref.1: Bruce Fife, C.N., N.D.: “The Coconut Oil Miracle”, 5th edition,2013, Penguin Books, NY 10014