Over the last decade, coconut oil has made a big name for itself in the world of health and wellness, nutrition, and cooking. It’s controversial high saturated fat content has made it the center of many debates as to whether or not there are “good” and “bad” saturated fats, having made it’s debut into the Western diet not long after it was determined that diets high in saturated fats cause obesity and heart disease.
Now there are a variety of claims out there about coconut oil. Health gurus, lifestyle bloggers, personal trainers, and some medical professionals say it can help you lose weight and fight disease and illness. The question is, are there any real truths to these claims? We have done the dirty work for you and searched for the actual science behind coconut oil and what it actually can and can’t do for you.
5 Claims About Virgin Coconut Oil Uses and Benefits and Why You Should Include VCO in Your Daily Diet
Before we get into the reasons, let’s point out the fact that the header says virgin coconut oil. If it does not say virgin, than chances are it has been highly processed, bleached, and deodorized, meaning it has essentially been stripped away of all of it’s benefits. So before you go out and buy the absolute cheapest coconut oil you can find, make sure that you are not compromising health for cost.
1. Virgin Coconut Oil is a Healthy Fat
The most heavily debated claim about coconut oil is that the saturated fats that make up most of the oil are healthy saturated fats. This through people for a loop:
Wait, what? I thought saturated fats are bad for you!
Previously, studies done on saturated fats (found primarily in animal fats) were found to promote high cholesterol, obesity, and heart disease. These studies prompted the medical and dietetic community to suggest keeping saturated fats to a minimum. Then coconut oil came along and flipped the whole thing on it’s head: Despite it’s high saturated fat content, people from countries who eat a variety of coconut products and use coconut oil every day didn’t seem to have the same issues with heart disease we were having in North America. (1, 2, 3)
It has been claimed that the type of saturated fats in coconut oil is different from other saturated fats and that they are actually really good for your health. After being studied and reviewed, it was found that virgin coconut oil is different than animal fats. (1, 2, 3)
Coconut oil is made up mostly of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs). Unlike the long chain versions in animal fats, MCFAs are easily oxidized and aren’t stored in adipose tissue (the fat layer beneath your skin). (1, 2, 3)
Since then, more health benefits have been found to come from the many compounds in coconut oil such as phenols and lauric acid. (1, 2, 3)
The Bottom Line: Coconut oil is a healthy fat that is an excellent option to use in cooking and baking, and the saturated fats found in coconut oil have health promoting effects that differentiate it from other types of saturated fats. As with any fat, it should be consumed in moderation and as a part of an overall healthy diet.
2. Virgin Coconut Oil Promotes Weight Loss
There are thousands of blogs out there that claim eating x-amount of coconut oil every day will cause you to lose weight, lower your cholesterol, and improve your overall blood parameters and health. Dieters rejoice: There is actually some scientific proof to back this up, though it is not as cut-and-dry as you may think.
One study found that taking 30mL of virgin coconut oil each day, in 10mL doses, thirty minutes before a meal, reduced waist circumference. The study only found however, that this was statistically significant in men. (1)
Another study done only on women, however, found that dietary supplementation of virgin coconut oil in women had a positive effect in the reduction of stomach fat. (4) More studies on women showed that, in comparison to olive oil, coconut oil had a appetite suppressing effect on women who had excess body fat, helping them to lose weight and keep it off. (5)
The Bottom Line: Virgin coconut oil can help you to lose weight, however not without including it as a part of a healthier lifestyle.
3. Virgin Coconut Oil Improves Cholesterol
Beyond just weight loss, there has been information put out that states virgin coconut oil can lower bad cholesterol, raise good cholesterol, and improve your overall blood parameters. The results of the studies done on this have somewhat mixed results, though the general consensus is that, along with proper diet and exercise, coconut oil could help. (2, 3, 6, 7)
A study done in rats found that supplementing the diet with virgin coconut oil lowered low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL), aka the “bad”, artery clogging cholesterol, while raising the health promoting high-density lipoproteins (HDL) in serum and tissues. This study also showed a decrease in total cholesterol, triglycerides, and phospholipids in the rats. (6)
The Bottom Line: Virgin coconut oil may help to reduce bad cholesterol, raise good cholesterol, and have an overall positive impact on your cardiovascular health, however more studies need to be done and VCO cannot replace a generally healthy diet and active lifestyle.
4. Virgin Coconut Oil is Anti-Bacterial and Anti-Fungal
Thanks to the MCFAs and it’s lauric acid content, virgin coconut oil has been found to have incredible anti-microbial effects.
Streptococcus mutans: Kids who performed an “oil swish” after brushing their teeth each night with virgin coconut oil saw a significant decrease in the S.mutans, the bacteria that cause cavities. (8)
Clostridium difficile: This is the bacteria that most commonly causes hospital-acquired antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and has began to have major issues surrounding antibiotic resistance. The MCFAs in virgin coconut oil have proven to have C.difficile growth inhibiting effects, without having to resort to the use of antibiotics. (9)
Salmonella: Studies done in-vitro have shown that the MCFAs and the lauric acid in virgin coconut may have an antibacterial affect against salmonella. More studies need to be done in animals and then humans before it’s true efficacy in salmonella treatment can be determined. (10)
Candida: Candida is the “it” bacteria currently, causing everything from vaginal yeast infections in women to stomach and digestive problems in, well, basically everyone. One study done proved that when enriched with zinc, virgin coconut oil effectively treats vaginal candida yeast infections. (11)
Virgin coconut oil has also proven to be effective in fighting all types of candida bacteria, and is especially effective against the growing number of antibiotic resistant species. (12)
The Bottom Line: Coconut oil is an excellent anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent and has potential to be used in the treatment of many bacterial and fungal infections, especially where antibiotic resistant species of candida bacteria are concerned. (12)
5. Virgin Coconut Oil has Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-oxidant Capacity
There have been several studies done on the anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties of virgin coconut oil, and most have come up with positive results. Where the controversy lies is in which type of coconut oil is most effective: Fermented, heat-extracted, or cold-extracted.
A study done using oil extracted from fresh coconut meat at 50C found that virgin coconut oil increased the antioxidant status in rats, stating that VCO obtained this way is beneficial as an antioxidant. (13)
Another study compared the antioxidant effects of virgin coconut oil obtained through the fermentation method versus the chilling method. What it found was that the fermented method VCO had the highest scavenging power of free radicals, but the chilled method VCO had the highest free radical reducing ability. Both abilities were attributed to the phenolic compounds in the oil, and both ultimately proved to be beneficial antioxidants. (14)
To add to the controversy, a separate study found that heat extracted coconut oil has higher antioxidant capacity than cold extracted, which is contrary to the information in the media saying that cold pressed was the way to go. (15)
The Bottom Line: Virgin coconut oil has excellent antioxidant capabilities, whether obtained through the fermentation method, heat extracted, or cold extracted. The key here is that you are using organic, virgin coconut oil to get maximum benefits.
Coconut oil is a fantastic addition to a healthy diet and is a great option for cooking and baking thanks to its high-heat stability and smoke point. It has a variety of health benefits, however just consuming virgin coconut oil cannot counteract poor diet and lifestyle.
Do you use coconut oil on a regular basis? What has been your experience with the health benefits of coconut oil?