No longer consigned to health food markets and obscure ethnic grocery stores, coconut oil has become a favorite amongst today’s health-conscious population. Lots of hype exists about this wonderful “superfood,” but is all of it really true? Does coconut oil have the health benefits claimed by its supporters?
Let’s take a look and see.
Claim #1 – Coconut Oil Helps You Burn More Fat
Coconut oil is made up of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). What this means in simple terms is that the fat in coconut oil is sent straight to the liver and burned up as instant fuel. As long as you are eating in moderation (which is always the key to losing weight), then your body will burn off the calories more quickly and efficiently than it would with other fats. (1)
It is interesting to note that another source of medium-chain triglycerides is human breast milk. Apparently, the human body was designed to process the type of fat found in coconut milk; however, keep in mind that babies grow quickly and get very fat on breast milk.
Does coconut milk help you burn more fat? No, it doesn’t burn more fat, but it does burn more efficiently in the body, and therefore might be a good source of fuel for athletes.
Claim #2 – Coconut Oil Kills Germs
Lauric Acid makes up over 50% of the total composition of coconut oil, and it is true that Lauric Acid has strong antiviral and antibacterial properties when it is applied directly to a contaminated surface. The question is: can Lauric Acid kill pathogens in the human body?
If you consider the digestive process, you can safely assume that eating coconut oil means that it will touch the inside of the mouth, the esophagus, the stomach, and the intestines. If there are bacteria (good or bad) or viruses in any of those areas, then the possibility exists that the Lauric Acid in the coconut oil will destroy them. That could mean that with overuse, you destroy good bacteria along with the bad bacteria.
Furthermore, there is no conclusive evidence that Lauric Acid has any effect on widespread viral or bacterial infections in the body. (2) So if it doesn’t actively touch it, the likelihood is that it won’t do you much good as a germ killer.
Does coconut oil kill germs? Yes, it kills both viruses and bacteria when directly applied to the infected area. No, there is no evidence to support coconut oil as a cure-all for human disease.
Claim #3 – Coconut Oil Reverses Sun Damage
Many cosmetic products include coconut oil as an ingredient, often touting it as a miracle worker. The labels say things like “reduces wrinkles,” and “repairs damage done by harmful sun.” Is this true?
Coconut oil provides a protective layer across the skin, sealing in moisture and killing bacteria on the skin. As an acne preventative, it works. The infection associated with blemishes is destroyed and the protective layer of oil keeps dirt from clogging the pores. The coconut oil prevents dry skin, and hydrated skin is plumper, reducing fine lines and wrinkles.
Coconut oil has also been shown to block about 20% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, preventing further sun damage. (3) This means, with application, it will reduce the chance of a sunburn; however, coconut oil is not as effective as most commercial sunscreens and should not be used as a replacement for them, especially on babies or small children.
Does it reverse sun damage? No. It prevents additional damage, and it improves the looks of your skin, but once damage is done on a cellular level, coconut oil cannot fix the problem.
Coconut Oil, Miracle Food?
Of all the choices out there, coconut oil has a lot going for it. It is a good source of fuel for athletes, it prevents infection when applied topically, and it makes a good low-level sunscreen for daily use. There are many nutrients in coconut oil, and some other benefits not covered in this article, but is it a miracle food? No. Just a good one.