The latest on coconut oil: is it healthy or not?
Ask a health-related question in any social media forum and chances are a number of responses will include the words, “coconut oil!” Yes, generally followed by at least one exclamation point. In mom groups across all media platforms, coconut oil has finally taken the number one spot away from breast milk as the cure to all ills.
So we know what moms have to say about the miraculous properties of this highly saturated oil, which is extracted from fresh coconuts or the dried kernel of coconuts harvested from the coconut palm. But what do scientists, doctors, and massage therapists have to say about coconut oil? Is it healthy? Or is it all hype? The answer to that question seems to depend on where you are putting it.
Consuming Coconut Oil
According to Statista, US consumption of coconut oil so far in 2019 is at 445, 000 metric tons. That’s already 14, 000 more metric tons than was sold in 2018. But is coconut oil really the cure-all that we’ve been told it is for everything from heart disease and weight gain, to fighting high cholesterol and alzheimer’s disease?According to Harvard Health, coconut oil is about 90 percent saturated fat, whereas butter is 64 percent saturated fat, and beef fat, or lard, is 40 percent. A diet high in saturated fats significantly increases our risk for heart disease as it raises our levels of bad cholesterol. (LDL) Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. The good news is that the saturated fat contained in coconut oil is of a variety called 12-carbon saturated fat, which is a higher percentage than in most oils. 12-carbon saturated fats can increase the level of good cholesterol (HDL) in the blood, so coconut oil is better at raising the good cholesterol levels than other types of fat.
A 2008 study out of Columbia University showed that medium-chain fatty acids help burn fat. This study was widely circulated as “proof” that medium-chain fatty acid containing coconut oil would help people to lose weight. However, this is misleading because coconut oil only contains about 14 percent medium-chain fatty acids. In essence, coconut oil is less healthy than some other plant-based oils such as virgin olive oil and sunflower seed oil, as it contains about six times the saturated fat. However; it does contain similar antioxidants and may help raise levels of good cholesterol. If you love cooking with coconut oil, it’s recommended that you limit yourself to one tablespoon per day.
Coconut Oil for Skin
There are many studies showing significant benefits to the skin and hair when coconut oil is applied topically. The medium-chain fatty acids contained in coconut oil contain antimicrobial properties that can prevent skin infections. According to a study by Himalaya Drug Company, virgin coconut oil protects against inflammatory skin conditions and creates healthier skin in general. About 50 percent of coconut oil is a fatty acid, known as lauric acid, which has been shown to have antibacterial effects against a wide range of bacteria. It also contains antioxidant enzymes to promote healing. Another test tube study has shown that the lauric acid contained in coconut oil can effectively kill Propionibacterium Acnes, a type of bacteria that causes inflammatory acne.
Besides its antibacterial properties, studies have shown that coconut oil contains capric acid, which inhibits fungi growth. These studies, along with a great deal of anecdotal evidence seem to support the claims that coconut oil, when applied to the skin, can effectively treat cellulitis, acne, folliculitis, and athlete’s foot. Coconut oil is a popular oil choice for massage therapists to use for body massage, and considering the proven benefits to the skin, massage therapists are very likely onto something. And because of its neutral aroma, it makes a great carrier oil to which to add essential oils for a custom-scented massage oil.
Coconut Oil and Hair
Can hair benefit from coconut oil as well as skin? Yes, it can, according to Good Housekeeping’s senior chemist, Sabina Wisemann. When applied to most hair types two to three times a week, coconut oil can significantly increase hair’s hydration, adding shine and manageability to hair and decreasing frizz. Coconut oil also protects hair from absorbing too much water, according to Wisemann. This also helps prevent frizz and damage to our hair follicles.
In effect, coconut oil is both healthy and hype, depending on how it’s used. While research seems to show that it isn’t particularly helpful to our diets, when applied topically to skin and hair, coconut oil does live up to its great reputation.Resources— Good Houskeeping, HuffPost, Harvard Health, Healthline, Health Impact News