Coconul Oil health benefit and nutritional value, review of research studies by Ray Sahelian, M.D.

March 27 2014

Coconuts are becoming very popular in the form of coconut oil, water, milk, flakes, powder, butter and cream. Some claim that consuming more coconut products lowers cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk for heart disease and cures diseases. How true are these claims? This fruit, and its various forms and extracts, have health benefits but so do many types of other oils. Therefore, it may be a good thing to add it to your diet, but there is no reason to overdo it.

Nutrient and composition, nutritional value
Coconuts are nutrient rich. They are a good source of iron, phosphorus, zinc, and other minerals and vitamins. They are also a good source of protein and fiber, while containing few naturally occurring sugars. Around 92% of coconut fats are saturated. This has lead to the belief that coconut fats are 'bad for health', particularly in relation to heart disease. Yet most of these saturated fats are medium chain fatty acids whose properties and metabolism are different to those of animal origin. Medium chain fatty acids do not undergo degradation and re-esterification processes and are directly used in the body to produce energy. They are not as 'bad for health' as saturated fats. Coconut contains the fatty acid lauric acid and its glyceride ester called monolaurin.

My opinion about coconut oil, water, milk, flakes, flour, butter, cream
The Internet is full of advice - but it has its fair share of questionable recommendations as well. Readers of my Natural Healing Secrets newsletter have been asking me if what they're reading about coconut oil is true. Some websites are making claims that seem to go beyond what the limited research tells us. For instance, one website claims, Coconut Oil is The Smarter Fat That Helps Promote Weight Loss." Another says, "Coconut Oil Can Cure Your Hypothyroidism." Still another claims, "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..." and the list continues with the rest of the alphabet.
   Most smart nutritionists never thought coconut was unhealthy. After all people in the Pacific islands and many parts of the world have been consuming coconuts, sometimes in large amounts, with no apparent adverse effects. Coconuts in its various forms, and the oil, are a healthy addition to one's diet. The problems arise when marketers and promoters make it seem that these are miracle foods and consumers think the more they consume of the these foods, the healthier they will be. Thus, their diet goes off balance and they fail to incorporate other healthy food choices. Those who never or rarely consume coconut or such products would likely derive some health benefit by incorporating them in their diet. However, those who consume coconuts on a regular basis aren't likely to incur additional benefits - particularly if the excess coconut use leads to high caloric intake or substitutes for other beneficial oils found in flaxseed or fish oils.
   Instead of consuming large amounts of one type of oil or food, try small amounts of a variety. This way you'll get the benefit of a number of different fatty acids rather than just one. In my opinion, fish oils and flaxseed oil are your healthiest options, but virgin olive oil, coconut and other oils can certainly be incorporated in your diet. However, I don't agree that large amounts of any oil are healthy as some websites promote. As much as possible ingest your oils without heating. If you do use them for cooking, keep the cooking temperature as low as possible. Do not use hydrogenated forms of oils but rather use virgin oils. Consume this fruit in reasonable amounts in a variety of forms including water, flour, flakes, butter, milk, etc.

Benefit of coconut oil, review of research
Certain oils have health benefits including fish oils, borage, flaxseed, hemp, extra virgin olive, krill oil etc. Even if coconut oil supplementation has great health benefits, it would be naive to substitute it in any large quantity in place of the above oils. It is preferable to have a small amount of different oils rather than relying primarily on one type as some coconut oil promoters may have you believe.

Cholesterol influence of flakes
The cholesterol-lowering effect of coconut flakes in humans with moderately raised serum cholesterol.
J Med Food. 2004.
This study investigated the effect of coconut flakes on serum cholesterol levels of humans with moderately raised serum cholesterol in 21 subjects. The study was conducted in a double-blind randomized crossover design on a 14-week period, consisting of four 2-week experimental periods, with each experimental period separated by a 2-week washout period. The test foods were as follows: corn flakes as the control food, oat bran flakes as the reference food, and corn flakes with 15% and 25% dietary fiber from coconut flakes (made from coconut flour production). Results showed a significant percent reduction in serum total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol for all test foods, except for corn flakes. Coconut flour is a good source of both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, and both types of fiber may have a significant role in the reduction of the above lipid biomarker.

Cholesterol and lipid influence of oil
Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity.
Lipids. 2009.
The effects of dietary supplementation with coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women were investigated. The clinical trial involved 40 women aged 20-40 years. Groups received daily dietary supplements comprising 30 mL of either soy bean oil (group S) or coconut oil (group C) over a 12-week period, during which all subjects were instructed to follow a balanced hypocaloric diet and to walk for 50 min per day. Energy intake and amount of carbohydrate ingested by both groups diminished over the trial, whereas the consumption of protein and fibre increased and lipid ingestion remained unchanged. Group S presented an increase in total cholesterol, LDL and LDL:HDL ratio, whilst HDL diminished. Such alterations were not observed in group C. It appears that dietetic supplementation with coconut oil does not cause high lipid levels and seems to promote a reduction in abdominal obesity.

Blood pressure and coconut water
The control of hypertension by use of coconut water and mauby: two tropical food drinks.
West Indian Med J. 2005.
The regular consumption of two tropical food drinks, coconut (Cocos nucifera) water and mauby (Colubrina arborescens), was tested on the control of hypertension. Twenty-eight hypertensive subjects were assigned to four equal groups and their systolic and diastolic blood pressures recorded for two weeks before and then for another two weeks while receiving one of four interventions. One group (the control) received bottled drinking water, the second group received coconut water, the third received mauby and the fourth group, a mixture of coconut water and mauby. Significant decreases in the mean systolic blood pressure were observed for 71%, 40% and 43% respectively of the groups receiving the coconut water, mauby and the mixture. For the group receiving the mixture, the largest decreases in mean systolic and mean diastolic pressure were approximately double the largest values seen with the single interventions.

Heart disease
The role of coconut and coconut oil in coronary heart disease in Kerala, south India.
Trop Doct. 1997.
Department of Medicine, Medical College, Kerala, South India.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is common in India and, recently, an increase in the incidence of CHD was reported from the South Indian state of Kerala. The traditional Indian diet is low in fat content. The high incidence of CHD in Indians is, therefore, in contrast to western studies that have correlated high fat, saturated fat and cholesterol intake to CHD. Consumption of coconut and coconut oil that contain high amounts of saturated fat and are thought to be strongly atherogenic, are believed to be one of the main reasons for the high incidence of CHD in Kerala. To explore this presumed link, we studied 32 CHD patients and 16 age and sex matched healthy controls. Consumption of coconut and coconut oil was found to be similar in both groups. The groups did not differ in the fat, saturated fat and cholesterol consumption. The results imply no specific role for coconut or the oil in the causation of CHD in the present set of Indian patients from Kerala.

Liver health
Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011.
Hepatoprotective activity of dried- and fermented-processed virgin coconut oil.
Department of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Science, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Selangor, Malaysia.
The present study aims to determine the liver protective effect of virgin coconut oil, prepared by dried- or fermented-processed methods, using the paracetamol-induced liver damage in rats. Liver injury was induced by 3 g/kg paracetamol (acetaminophen, Tylenol). Interestingly, pretreatment of the rats with 10, but not 1 and 5, mL/kg of virgin coconut oil significantly reduced the liver damage caused by the administration of paracetamol, which is further confirmed by the histological findings. In conclusion, VCO possesses liver protective effect that requires further in-depth study.

Skin health research study, topical application
A randomized double-blind controlled trial comparing extra virgin coconut oil with mineral oil as a moisturizer for mild to moderate xerosis.
Dermatitis. 2004.
Xerosis is a common skin condition characterized by dry, rough, scaly, and itchy skin, associated with a defect in skin barrier function, and treated with moisturizers. People in the tropics have effectively used coconut oil as a traditional moisturizer for centuries. Recently, the oil also has been shown to have skin antiseptic effects. A moisturizer with antiseptic effects has value, but there are no clinical studies to document the efficacy and safety of coconut oil as a skin moisturizer. This study aimed to determine the effectivity and safety of virgin coconut oil compared with mineral oil as a therapeutic moisturizer for mild to moderate xerosis. A randomized double-blind controlled clinical trial was conducted on mild to moderate xerosis in 34 patients with negative patch-test reactions to the test products. These patients were randomized to apply either coconut oil or mineral oil on the legs twice a day for 2 weeks. Coconut oil and mineral oil have comparable effects. Both oils showed effectivity through significant improvement in skin hydration and increase in skin surface lipid levels. Safety was demonstrated through no significant difference in TEWL and skin pH. Subjective grading of xerosis by the investigators and visual analogue scales used by the patients showed a general trend toward better (though not statistically evident) improvement with coconut oil than with mineral oil. Safety for both was further demonstrated by negative patch-test results prior to the study and by the absence of adverse reactions during the study. Coconut oil is as effective and safe as mineral oil when used as a moisturizer

Emails and answers
Is it true that the coconut oil and hemp oil have many health benefits? Coconut oil used to get a bad rap, but now it seems to be very much in vogue. Hemp oil was associated with marijuana, but apparently is safe when taken as an oil.
   Moderate use of a variety of oils appear to be safe but it is best not to rely heavily on only one or two in the diet.

I am a health writer and doing an article on coconut oil and other products like coconut flour and cream; I would love to get a quote from you for this piece. We used to believe that coconut was unhealthy; now it appears that it may be good for us after all. Why the change? What do we know now that we didn't before? What effect does coconut oil have on HDL and LDL cholesterol levels? What are some other health benefits?
   I am not aware of any long term studies with coconut and coconut oil in terms of safety and cholesterol effect in humans to determine the ideal intake and the influence on blood lipids. The use of coconut water in reasonable amounts may have a beneficial affect on blood pressure.

I heard a medical doctor give a lecture where he said that one should avoid products made from palm kernel oil and coconut oil, while a chiropractic doctor promotes the use of coconut oil as a healthy oil. I'm confused.
   There are few foods that I would consider being very harmful when ingested in small quantities. In the case of coconut oil, I would not go out of my way to use it in large amounts, but occasionally consuming small amounts should be fine.

I have read some very good things about coconut oil stimulating the thyroid gland. Could you give me your opinion about using coconut oil daily for thyroid health?
   I am not aware of any thorough studies on its effects on thyroid health.

Manufacturers claim that it reduces viral infection loads. Is this true?
   I am not aware of human research with coconut oil use as being an effective way to enhance the immune system.

I am a writer writing a cover story on foods made with coconut milk, flakes, and water, the focus is on nutrition and debunking misinformation. I have done some search of National Institutes of Health articles and found info on coconut milk fat (saturated fat), coconut flakes (one study suggests it reduces serum cholesterol) and one on coconut water (one study suggests it can lower hypertension). Can you comment on the pros and cons?
    Reasonable amounts of these foods as part of a healthy diet are acceptable and coconut products may lower cholesterol and perhaps blood pressure. However, coconuts, even though they are healthy, should be a small part of a varied diet, and not used in excess at the expense of other healthy foods.

By "coconut products" did Dr. Sahelian mean all types, including coconut water (those drinks), and canned coconut milk (usually from Thailand), and flaked coconut? My guess is this: water has the least amount of fat --- it's liquid. Low-fat coconut milk has 3 grams of saturated fat, 40 calories in 4 ounces (i.e. for use in baking, smoothie drinks, etc or for children). Coconut flake is higher in fat than water--and higher in calories. Is this correct?
    Yes, but again when consuming a small amount or a reasonable amount of each as part of a healthy diet, there is no need to be focused on such details, too much thinking and worrying is not a good thing, people should just add small amounts of such products to their overall healthy diet and enjoy their taste.

I am a big proponent of this product and wanted to share with you a couple of quotes: "Virgin Coconut Oil has anti virus, anti fungus and anti natural parasites characteristics. It helps to control and overcome a variety of diseases and ailments " Dr. John J. Kabara ( University Michigan-USA). "Virgin Coconut Oil stands strong as the most salutary oil that you use. It contains abundance of beneficial nutrients and research treasures that are really valuable. Indeed I would really like you to include it as part of your daily nutrition intake." Dr. Mark Atkinsion, Holistic Medical Physician, MBBBS Bsc (Hons) FRIPHH FCMA BETD SAC DIP.
    I think these physicians are hyping this product more than necessary.

There's much good news about the Coconut Virgin Oil being produced in the Philippines. Please tell us about your assessment of the product.
   I have not seen much specific research on coconut oil from the Philippines to make any assessments at this time.