Coconut oil is widely marketed as a superfood .
The unique combination of fatty acids in coconut oil may have positive effects on your health, such as increased fat loss , heart health, and brain function.
Here are 10 evidence-based health benefits of coconut oil .
Coconut oil is high in certain saturated fats. These fats have different effects on the body than most other dietary fats.
The fatty acids in coconut oil can encourage your body to burn fat and provide quick energy to your body and brain. They also increase HDL (good) cholesterol in your blood, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease .
Most dietary fats are categorized as long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), while coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCT), which are shorter fatty acid chains .
When you eat MCTs, they tend to go straight to your liver. Your body uses them for quick energy or turns them into ketones.
Ketones may have powerful benefits for your brain, and researchers are studying ketones as a treatment for epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, and other conditions.
Coconut is a rare food in the western world, with health conscious people being the main consumers.
However, in some parts of the world, the coconut — which is loaded with coconut oil — is a staple that people have thrived on for generations.
For example, a 1981 study noted that the people of Tokelau, a chain of islands in the South Pacific, got over 60% of their calories from coconuts. Researchers have reported not only good general health, but also very low rates of heart disease .
The people of Kitavan in Papua New Guinea also eat lots of coconuts, as well as tubers, fruits, and fish, and have few strokes or heart disease .
Obesity is one of the biggest health conditions affecting the western world today.
While some people think obesity is just a matter of how many calories a person eats, the source of those calories is also important. Different foods affect your body and your hormones in different ways.
The MCTs in coconut oil can increase the number of calories your body burns compared to longer chain fatty acids .
One study found that consuming 15–30 grams of MCTs per day increased 24-hour energy expenditure by 5% .
However, these studies did not specifically examine the effects of coconut oil. They looked at the health effects of MCTs, excluding lauric acid, which only makes up about 14% of coconut oil .
There is currently no solid evidence to say that consuming coconut oil will increase the number of calories you burn.
Keep in mind that coconut oil is very high in calories and can easily lead to weight gain if consumed in large amounts.
Lauric acid makes up about 50% of the fatty acids in coconut oil .
When your body digests lauric acid, it forms a substance called monolaurin . Lauric acid and monolaurin can kill harmful pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi .
For example, test-tube studies show that these substances help kill the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, which causes staph infections, and yeast Candida albicans , a common source of yeast infections in humans .
There is also evidence that using coconut oil as a mouthwash - a process called oil extraction - is beneficial for oral hygiene, although researchers consider the evidence to be weak .
There is no evidence that coconut oil reduces your risk of colds or other internal infections.
An interesting feature of MCTs is that they can reduce hunger.
This may be related to how your body metabolizes fat , as ketones can reduce a person's appetite .
In one study, 6 healthy men ate varying amounts of MCTs and LCTs. Those who ate the most MCTs ate fewer calories per day.
Another study in 14 healthy men reported that those who ate the most MCTs at breakfast ate fewer calories at lunch .
These studies were of very short duration. If this effect persisted over the long term, it could lead to a reduction in body weight over several years.
Although coconut oil is one of the richest natural sources of MCTs, there is no evidence that consuming coconut oil reduces appetite more than other oils.
In fact, one study reports that coconut oil is less satiating than MCT oil .
Researchers are currently studying the ketogenic diet , which is very low in carbohydrates and high in fat, to treat various disorders.
The most well-known therapeutic use of this diet is the treatment of drug-resistant epilepsy in children .
The diet significantly reduces the rate of seizures in children with epilepsy, even those who have not had success with multiple types of medication. Researchers don't know why.
Reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing fat intake leads to a dramatic increase in blood ketone levels.
Since the MCTs in coconut oil are transported to your liver and converted into ketones, medical professionals can use a modified keto diet that includes MCTs and a more generous carbohydrate allowance to induce ketosis. and help treat epilepsy .
Coconut oil contains natural saturated fats which increase the levels of HDL (good cholesterol) in your body. They can also help convert (bad LDL) cholesterol to a less harmful form.
By increasing HDL, many experts believe that coconut oil may improve heart health compared to many other fats.
In a study of 40 women, coconut oil reduced total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol) while increasing HDL, compared to soybean oil .
Another study in 116 adults showed that following a diet program that included coconut oil increased levels of HDL (good) cholesterol in people with coronary artery disease .
Coconut oil has many uses which have nothing to do with consumption.
Many people use it for cosmetic purposes to improve the health and appearance of their skin and hair.
Studies show that coconut oil can improve the moisture content of dry skin and reduce symptoms of eczema .
Coconut oil may also protect against hair damage. A study shows that it can work as a weak sunscreen, blocking about 20% of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays .
Oil pulling, which involves gargling coconut oil in the mouth like a mouthwash, can kill some of the harmful bacteria in the mouth. It may improve dental health and reduce bad breath, although more research is needed .
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia . It usually affects older people .
This condition reduces your brain's ability to use glucose for energy.
Researchers have suggested that ketones may provide an alternative source of energy for these faulty brain cells to reduce symptoms of Alzheimer's disease .
The authors of a 2006 study reported that MCTs improved brain function in people with mild forms of Alzheimer's disease .
Yet research is still preliminary and there is no evidence to suggest that coconut oil itself fights this disease.
As certain fatty acids in coconut oil can reduce appetite and increase fat burning , it can also help you lose weight .
Abdominal fat , or visceral fat, lodges in the abdominal cavity and around your organs. MCTs appear to be particularly effective in reduce belly fat compared to LCTs .
Abdominal fat, the most harmful type, is linked to many chronic diseases.
The waist circumference is an easy and accurate marker of the amount of fat in the abdominal cavity.
In a 12-week study of 40 women with abdominal obesity, those who took 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of coconut oil daily had a significant reduction in body mass index ( BMI) and waist circumference .
Meanwhile, a 4-week study in 20 obese men noted a reduction in waist circumference of 2.86 cm after taking 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of coconut oil daily .
Coconut oil is still high in calories , so you should use it sparingly. Replacing some of your other cooking fats with coconut oil might have a small benefit for weight loss , but the evidence is mostly inconsistent .
Coconut-derived oil has a number of emerging benefits for your health.
In order to get the most out of it, be sure to choose organic virgin coconut oil over refined versions.