Benefits and Uses of Coconut Oil
What is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is rich in fatty acids, which have numerous health benefits. Coconut oil contains medium chain saturated fatty acids, or medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). Almost half of the fat content in coconut oil is lauric acid. In fact, coconut oil is the highest source of lauric acid that occurs naturally.
A 2016 review of the benefits of coconut oil reported that coconut oil has nutritional and functional properties. Research has found that coconut oil has many potential uses to protect against various diseases. (1)
Of course, the consumption of saturated fat is generally not recommended. However, research has found that the body metabolizes MCTs differently from long-chain fatty acids. In fact, medium chain triglycerides have a protective effect on cardio health. (1)
Organic Virgin coconut oil vs. refined coconut oil
When using coconut oil for its health benefits, it is best to use organic unrefined virgin coconut oil. Virgin coconut oil is less processed than refined coconut oil and therefore contains more nutrients and antimicrobial properties.
If you are planning to fry with coconut oil, then refined coconut oil may be better for you. The smoke point of unrefined coconut oil is 350 °F (177 °C) whereas refined coconut oil smokes at 450 °F (232 °C).
The Benefits of Using Coconut Oil
Let’s look at how coconut oil can benefit your skin, hair, regulate blood glucose levels, and treat various types of infections.
Here are the best uses of coconut oil that are supported by scientific evidence:
1. Coconut Oil is Great for Cooking With
Coconut oil contains saturated fat and because of that, you can cook safely with it at high temperatures.
Researchers say that fats and oils with a smoke point below 392 °F (200 °C) release volatile aldehydes which can be toxic. (2) Research also shows that polyunsaturated oils are more harmful to cook with than oils rich in saturated fatty acids. (3)
For deep-frying, use refined coconut oil as this has a higher smoke point. You can also use it for baking – In fact, it can be used in almost all recipes instead of butter, oils, and other fats, just make sure it is organic to avoid unwanted GMOs, pesticides and chemicals.
2. Coconut Oil Boosts Your Metabolism
The fatty acids in coconut oil cause sustained energy release and enhance energy expenditure.
One study found that medium chain fatty acids increased metabolism and helped to speed up fat loss. (4)
The results of another study showed that consuming 10 grams of MCTs 3 times a day along with meals helped to increase calorie expenditure. (5)
3. Coconut Oil Can Assist with Weight Loss, Suppress Appetite and Reduce Hunger
It may surprise to you learn that including healthy fats in your diet like coconut oil can actually help you lose weight because consuming MCTs increases satiety.
One clinical trial found that consuming 20 g of medium chain triglycerides with breakfast helped to suppress appetite. The MCTs affected appetite-regulating hormones and increased feelings of fullness in overweight men. This has the effect of reducing the amount of food consumed and assisted in losing weight. (6)
Another study found that men who consumed more coconut oil ate less food during the day and lost weight. (34)
4. Coconut Oil May Protect Your Skin from Sun Damage
Unrefined coconut oil contains compounds that offer some protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Studies into the use of coconut oil as a partial sun block have found that it has an SPF value of 8. In fact, coconut oil offers better UV protection than many other oils like almond oil, sesame oil, and castor oil. (7)
You should remember that coconut oil doesn’t protect your skin from all of the harmful effects of UV rays like regular sun block does.
5. Coconut Oil is a Natural Skin Moisturizer
The rich fatty acid content in virgin coconut oil means that you can apply coconut oil directly to your skin to hydrate it.
One randomized double-blind controlled trial found that using coconut oil as a skin moisturizer was just as good as mineral oil. Coconut oil was an effective natural solution for treating dry skin conditions. (8)
Using coconut oil to moisturize your face or treat cracked heels also gives your skin a pleasant coconut scent. You can also combine coconut oil with other natural ingredients for the skin.
7. Coconut Oil Helps Treat Eczema and Psoriasis
Coconut oil is highly moisturizing and contains antimicrobial properties that make it great for treating inflammatory skin conditions.
Scientists have found that the emollient effects of virgin coconut oil help to moisturize dry skin that is associated with dermatitis. Also, applying coconut oil to cracked irritated skin helps to prevent secondary fungal or bacterial skin infections in people with eczema. (10)
Other studies have shown that coconut oil can help skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis because it contains anti-inflammatory properties that also help reduce pain. (11)
8. Coconut Oil Reduces the Appearance of Fine Lines and Wrinkles
The protective effect of coconut oil on your skin can help to reduce the visible signs of aging.
Researchers have found that fine lines and wrinkles can appear due to the effect of UVB radiation. Antioxidants in coconut oil can help to reduce the effects of oxidative stress on the skin. The anti-inflammatory effect of coconut oil also protects the skin from damage and has an anti-aging effect. (12)
All you need to do is apply a little coconut oil to the skin around your eyes, the rest of the face and the back of your hands before going to bed to help prevent fine lines appearing.
9. Coconut Oil Helps to Treat Stretch Marks
The rich fatty acid content of coconut oil can also repair abdominal skin that has been damaged as the result of pregnancy or rapid weight loss.
Research published in 2016 found that massaging coconut oil on your belly could help to improve your skin’s condition and reduce stretch marks due to its anti-inflammatory properties. (13)
10. Coconut Oil Accelerates Wound Healing
Regularly applying a little coconut oil to skin burns, grazes, or cuts can help wounds heal quicker and prevent secondary skin infections from developing.
One study on rats found that topically applying virgin coconut oil helped wounds heal faster. The antioxidant properties of coconut oil repaired skin damage and increased collagen production. (14)
Coconut oil also has healing properties that help treat skin tissue damage caused by heat, chemicals, or sunburn. One study found that coconut oil could be used as a burn wound healing remedy. (15)
11. Coconut Oil Can Help Treat Acne
Even though coconut oil is rich in fatty acids, its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties mean that it is a good moisturizer for acne.
Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid and scientific research has found that lauric acid has an antibacterial effect on the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes. This is a strain of bacteria responsible for some forms of acne. Lauric acid has the potential for treating acne vulgaris. (16, 17)
A dermatology journal reported that coconut oil could be used as a good moisturizer for acne outbreaks. (18)
When using coconut oil to help treat acne, remember that you only need a tiny amount of coconut oil to be an effective acne moisturizer and prevent clogging pores.
12. Coconut Oil as a Carrier Oil for Massage
Since essential oils are very concentrated, you need to add essential oils to a carrier oil to create a soothing, healing massage oil. Although you can use oils like sweet almond oil, olive oil, or grapeseed oil, research shows that coconut oil has many benefits.
Scientists have found that coconut oil readily penetrates the skin’s upper layer. Coconut oil alleviates itching, promotes healthy skin, protects the skin from various infections, and soothes inflammation. (12)
13. Coconut Oil Can Improve Your Dental Health
The antibacterial properties of coconut oil can help to rid your mouth of plaque-forming bacteria and reduce your risk of gum disease.
A study from 2016 found that coconut oil was just as effective as chlorhexidine (a skin antiseptic) in killing off strains of Streptococcus mutans. (19) This is the type of bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease.
Research has found that oil pulling with coconut oil can help to reduce incidences of plaque-related gingivitis. The use of coconut oil in oil pulling also helps to improve dental health because lauric acid helps treat mouth sores. (20)
14. Coconut Oil Helps Balance Your Hormones
The MCT fat content of coconut oil can help nourish your body and balance hormone levels. Studies have shown that saturated fats like coconut oil prevent some of the effects of hormonal imbalances and estrogen deficiencies. (21, 22)
15. Coconut Oil Regulates Blood Glucose Levels
Consuming coconut oil with your food results in slow-releasing energy that won’t spike your blood glucose levels.
Researchers have found that medium chain fatty acids like lauric acid help to improve glucose tolerance levels and reduce insulin resistance. (23)
16. Coconut Oil Boosts Brain Function and Reduces Stress
Using more coconut oil in your diet can also help to reduce the effects of stress and inflammation in your brain.
Studies have found that virgin coconut oil helps protect cognitive function by increasing the levels brain antioxidants. Researchers reported that virgin coconut oil has anti-stress and antidepressant potential. (24)
Other studies have pointed to the fact that MCTs have benefits to brain health in helping to prevent neurological disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. The organic compounds called ketones in coconut oil nourish the brain. (42, 43)
17. Coconut Oil Has Antiviral Properties and Can Treat Cold Sores
Dabbing a little coconut oil on your lips at the first sign of a cold sore could prevent it from getting worse.
Research has found that lauric acid contains antiviral compounds, as well as helping to reduce skin inflammation and pain. (25)
18. Coconut Oil is Antifungal and Can Treat Candida Overgrowth
Lauric acid in coconut oil helps combat fungal infections and can help to treat candidiasis.
Researchers have found that coconut oil’s antimicrobial properties can treat candida infections naturally. In fact, the study found that coconut oil was as effective as the antifungal treatment fluconazole. (26)
19. Coconut Oil is Antibacterial and Can Help Fight Infections
The rich fatty acid content in pure coconut oil is effective in treating some bacterial infections.
One study found that coconut oil has an antibacterial effect against Clostridium difficile infections that can affect the gastrointestinal tract. (27)
20. Coconut Oil is Anti-Inflammatory and Can Reduce Inflammation
Using more coconut oil in your diet can also help to reduce the effects of inflammation.
Clinical trials have found that a diet rich in coconut oil can reduce inflammatory markers in the body. (28) Other lab trials on rats have found that coconut oil has analgesic properties that can help to relieve pain. (29)
21. Coconut Oil May Help Relieve Arthritis Symptoms
The anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect of consuming coconut oil can also help to manage painful symptoms of arthritis.
Coconut oil contains antioxidants called polyphenols. One study on rats found that polyphenolic fractions have an anti-arthritic effect. Coconut oil extracts helped to increase antioxidant enzymes and treat the effects of arthritis. (30)
22. Coconut Oil Is Good for Your Scalp
Applying pure coconut oil can help to moisturize your scalp and keep it free from dandruff. Scientists have found that coconut oil contains antifungal properties that are effective against Malassezia fungus species. This type of fungus is often the cause of dandruff and dry flakey skin on your scalp. (31)
23. Coconut Oil May Promote Hair Growth
Using coconut oil as a leave-in conditioner can help to strengthen your hair and could prevent hair loss.
Research has found that compounds in coconut oil penetrate hair shafts and provide nourishment. Lauric acid from coconut oil is good for damaged and undamaged hair. (32)
24. Coconut Oil Conditions Dry Hair and Repairs Damaged Hair
If you have dry, brittle hair, you can use coconut oil on your hair to improve its appearance and give your hair luster.
One study showed that treating hair with coconut oil helps to increase the amount of moisture hair strands absorb. (33)
25. Coconut Oil Can Reduce Belly Fat
The effect of coconut oil on your metabolism can also help to reduce your waistline and lose fat from your abdominal region.
According to the results of one open-label pilot study, obese men consumed 10 grams of coconut oil 30 minutes before their meal. After a 6-week period, the men on average had lost nearly an inch (2.86 cm) from their waistline. (35)
Another study showed a similar result when women regularly consumed coconut oil had a reduction in abdominal obesity. (36)
26. Coconut Oil Can Improve Bone Health
Consuming coconut oil regularly in your diet is good to strengthen your bones and prevent damage to bone cells.
The antioxidant properties in coconut oil positively affect your bone health. One study found that polyphenols in coconut oil prevent the negative effects of oxidative stress in bones. (37)
Other studies have found that coconut oil may help to prevent osteoporosis. (38)
27. Coconut Oil Is Good for Your Liver Health
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect of coconut oil may also have a positive impact on the health of your liver. Coconut oil causes an increase of liver enzymes that help to protect the liver from toxins and inflammation. (39) One study even found that coconut oil also reduces the damaging effects of alcohol on the liver. (40)
28. Coconut Oil and Essential Oils Repel Insects
One study found that combining coconut oil with ylang-ylang oil or lemongrass essential oil was an effective insect repellent. Scientists discovered that the coconut oil combination gave nearly 99% protection from mosquitoes. (41)
29. Coconut Oil as a Non-Toxic Treatment for Lice
Combining coconut oil, anise oil, and ylang-ylang oil can create an effective insecticide that can treat head lice. The coconut oil lice remedy was applied 3 times a day every 5 days. The researchers found that coconut oil was an effective lice treatment with no side effects. (42)
30. Coconut Oil Can Kill Off Armpit Odor
The antibacterial properties in coconut oil mean that it can protect your underarm area from smelling of sweat.
You can combine coconut oil with other natural ingredients to boost its deodorizing power. For example, baking soda and tea tree oil have an antibacterial effect that can keep your underarm fresh without dangerous chemicals.
31. Coconut Oil May Help Improve Male Sexual Health
Studies conducted on rats have found that the high content of lauric acid in coconut oil can help to reduce the risk of an enlarged prostate. Scientists also noted increases in levels of testosterone when consuming coconut oil. (44)
32. Coconut Oil and Tea Tree Oil Can Help Treat Athlete’s Foot
Mix a few drops of tea tree oil with a tablespoon of coconut oil and use as an antifungal treatment for athletes’ foot. The antimicrobial properties of coconut oil are boosted by tea tree oil, which has antifungal properties. (45)