Coconut oil can replace most of your medicine cabinet, energize you, and make you slimmer. It has ALWAYS been part of a healthy tropical diet.
Originally published 2004
Coconut oil and, to only a slightly lesser extent, palm kernel oil is far better for us than we have generally been led to believe.
Coconut oil consists almost entirely of saturated fat — about 92% — which sounds pretty bad on the surface. But not all saturated fats are created equal. As the old saying goes, “some are more equal than others”. Coconut oil actually helps you lose weight and stay healthy in ways that no other fat can match.
In particular, note that:
- Coconut oil is good for cooking, because saturated fat is not harmed by heat — unlike unsaturated oils, as explained in What’s Wrong with Partially Hydrogenated Oils?
- Coconut oil does not contain the trans fats that produce insulin-resistance, diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune diseases, as described in in Trans Fats: Metabolic Poisons.
- Coconut oil does not contain the oxidized cholesterol (produced by hydrogenation and high-heat processing) that are responsible for heart disease and stroke, as explained in The Cholesterol Scam.
- Coconut oil consists primarily of medium-chain fatty acids, which are metabolized very differently, so they’re burned as fuel rather than stored as fat.
- Perhaps even more importantly, medium-chain fatty acids are potent anti-microbial agents.
- Coconut oil was used in food products for centuries. It was only replaced by partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (most often by hydrogenated soybean oil) in recent decades, during which time levels of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity have reached epidemic proportions.
- Coconut oil and fractionated palm kernel oil are very similar, and come from different parts of the same plant. They are stable at room temperature, so they don’t need to be refrigerated.
- Throughout this article, “coconut oil” means virgin coconut oil — oil that has not been refined, bleached, or deodorized. Although none of that processing is necessary, some manufacturers do it anyway, which produces the same problems as those associated with hydrogenated oils. (The 8% of unsaturated fats that coconut oil contains can be damaged by such high-heat processing.) So when you shop, look for virgin coconut oil — oil that isn’t bleached, refined, or deodorized.
Coconut oil becomes a liquid at 76-degrees Fahrenheit. So on a warm day, it’s liquid in the jar. On cool days, however, it’s a white solid. When it’s solid, it looks like one of those hard-to-digest fats that might clog up your arteries and end up around your middle.
But the difference becomes apparent when you pick up a little and rub it between your fingers. The fat “solid” turns into an oily liquid almost immediately. That reaction hints at how quickly it metabolizes — how quickly it breaks down to produce energy in your even warmer interior.
It turns out that coconut oil is so effective at providing energy and at protecting the body from disease-causing microbes that it’s used in baby formulas, intravenous fluids, and sports endurance snacks. Those uses, along with centuries of use by healthy indigenous cultures, are major clues as to just how good it is for you.
Coconut oil turns out to be great for your hair, as well as for your skin and general health. It bonds with the hair follicles, making them stronger and darker. And some of it gets to the scalp, where it helps to keep the skin healthy.
One reader wrote in that she mixes it with her shampoo. She puts a bit in the palm of her hand and adds shampoo before rubbing it into her scalp. I modified the idea by mixing it with moisturizer, and use it on my skin after the shower. (For my hair, I use a small amount of coconut oil directly — but then, my hair is relatively short.)
Coconut oil is metabolized from other fats. It breaks down quickly and is burned for fuel long before it can be stored as fat. That process makes all the difference in the world, not only to your weight.
When we think about saturated fat, we generally think of the 18-carbon long-chain fatty acids found in meat and dairy products. But medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) are different. They contain 8, 10, or 12 carbons, and they are metabolized in radically different ways. Approximately 64% of coconut oil consists of medium chain fatty acids, so the difference is important.
Since MCFAs are shorter, they contain less energy. So instead of containing 9 calories per gram like longer saturated fats, they contain a little over 6 calories per gram. That’s a bargain, right there. For the same satisfying taste, you save 1/3 the calories over meat and dairy products.
But that’s just the beginning, because the medium-chain fatty acids tend to be converted into energy, rather than stored as fat. To understand how, see the sidebar, What Happens to Fat. (Or skip it to save yourself the gory details.)
A large portion of the medium-chain fats are broken down by saliva. They are then packed off to the liver by way of the portal vein the moment they arrive in the upper intestine. Many of the free fatty acids are then converted into energy packets called Acetyl-CoA (Acetylcoenzyme A) in the liver and in the cells. (Converting those free fatty acids into energy packets is actually slightly simpler the conversion of glucose![Guyton, 22]) Mitochondria in the cells then convert those packets into energy.
Long-chain saturated fats, on the other hand, move into the intestines, where they are slowly broken down, absorbed, and synthesized into triglycerides (3-part fats). The triglycerides are then passed to the lymph system. From there, they move to the heart and are distributed throughout the body.[Guyton, 20, 842-843]
Of course, the liver synthesizes triglycerides as well, along with the phospholipids that are a necessary part of cell membranes.[Guyton, 885] But since coconut oil contains mostly medium-chain fats, the synthesized triglycerides are shorter — that’s why that have a little over 6 calories per gram, instead of 9 calories per gram like other fats. (Actually, medium-chain fats contain 6.8 calories per gram. But I think of it as “a little over 6” to simplify the math.)
However they are created, some triglycerides (generally too many!) go to the fat cells, where they are stored. Some go to internal cells, where they are used for energy. Others go to surface cells where they are emitted as skin oil and other forms of sebum (for example, in the sinuses). And some, when they return to the liver, are converted into phospholipids, lipoproteins, cholesterol, and Acetyl-CoA, all of which are necessary for your body to function.
When the medium-chain fats that aren’t immediately used for energy are stored as fat, they only contain 2/3 the energy of the long-chain variety — so when they’re burned, they burn more quickly. You’ll learn more about that beneficial side effect in a moment.
Meanwhile, the medium-chain fats that go to the surface cells in the skin, sinuses, digestive tract, and vaginal tract create an extremely potent defensive barrier against microbial invaders. You’ll see how that process works later on.
The bottom line with respect to fat metabolism is that long-chain fats take longer to digest, and they tend to be stored as that “stubborn fat” you can’t get rid of. Medium-chain fats, on the other hand, are immediately broken down into fatty acids, and tend to be burned for energy.
Those who combat fatigue on a daily basis may therefore notice an increase in body temperature (and blood pressure) when they consume coconut oil. It’s the result of the increased metabolic rate as the medium-chain fatty acids are burned. Since you’re more energetic, you feel more like working and exercising, which burns even more fat.
- If are under treatment for hypertension (high blood pressure), you should use coconut oil sparingly — and you may want to discuss it with your doctor first.
- The increased endurance and energy levels that MCFAs provide is the reason that coconut oil is included in sports snacks. It’s most effective over the long term, however, as your body’s hormones adapt to use the free fatty acids as an energy supply. So a single serving won’t do much good, but a steady supply will do wonders.
- Sports drinks often contain medium-chain triglycerides in the form of MCT. They’re effective for generating energy, but they contain only 2 of the 3 medium-chain fats. The one they’re missing is the critical medium-chain fatty acid for health — lauric acid. You’ll learn more about lauric acid in a moment. For now, the take-home message is that coconut oil in a sports drink is vastly superior to MCT.
Replacing other fats with coconut oil means that the rate at which your body stores fat slows down, because more of your dietary fat is metabolized for energy. But beyond that, coconut oil actually increases the rate at which you burn stored fat, even beyond the extra fat you burn simply because you exercise more and work harder.
As you grow accustomed to your new energy levels, you’ll tend to eat less sugary and starchy foods, because you don’t have as much need for them. It’s not something you’ll have to try to do, either. Your body will make the adaptation naturally. (For an example, see the sidebar, How Your Appetite Can Change.)
Once upon a time, I fell into the habit of running every day — generally for half an hour, often for an hour or more. After two months of that, I walked into my regular steak house, and I vividly remember passing the salad bar and salivating at all those luscious red and green vegetables. Then I walked up to the grill, where the steaks and baked potatoes, previously so enticing, no held no interest for me at all. The smells weren’t even exciting! I simply could not wait to get through the line and get to the salad bar.
I relate that story, because it showed me in clear detail how the body’s desire for food — and the foods it has an appetite for — result from what we’re doing and what we’re eating. If we exercise a lot and eat decent foods, the appetite doesn’t just go down, it changes to prefer things that are healthy.
In my case, my diet hadn’t changed during the previous two months. I had been eating my normal assortment of salads, meat, potatoes, and cookies, with the occasional vegetable thrown in. Somehow, my body knew which of those foods it really needed, and it took control of my taste buds to get them!
The Standard American Diet (SAD) generally defeats the body’s wisdom, because the nutrients it needs are nowhere to be found. So the body is just generally hungry for anything and everything it can find, in hopes of finding the nutrients it needs. When you give it the right stuff, it will quickly adapt and make it your favorite food.
When you eat less sugar and starch — especially refined starch like white flour and white rice — you’ll have less glucose (blood sugar) in your blood stream. The brain runs on glucose exclusively (except when fasting), but the rest of your cells will tend to alter their hormonal balance to metabolize the additional fatty acids that are arriving for energy, instead of sugar.
The lack of glucose, in turn, causes fat cells to release fatty acids instead of storing them.[Guyton, 866] It’s an interesting mechanism. When sugar is present in the blood, fat cells tend to store fat. But when it’s absent, fat cells tend to release fat. They’re simply optimizing things in attempt to keep your energy levels constant. The fats are then burned, in a process known as hydrolysis.
The prefix hydro- means “water”. The process requires water, so be sure to drink plenty of it.
So one interesting and useful effect of replacing other fats in your diet with coconut oil, over time, is to increase the amount of fat that is released as result of the lowered glucose levels — even though your energy level is still high from the medium chain fatty acids you’re burning for energy. In essence, your body is reacting to the low-sugar state that triggers it to burn fat, only you aren’t experiencing the fatigue and hunger you normally associate with low blood sugar.
But wait. There’s more!
When you’ve been consuming coconut oil for a while, most of the fat you’ve stored only contains 2/3 the energy of long-chain fats, because you’ve been storing medium-chain triglycerides. So whenever your body goes into fat-burning mode as a result of exercise or waiting to eat, it has to burn 1/3 more stored fat to deliver the same amount of energy! It’s like getting 60 minutes of exercise for the price of only 40 — another great bargain.
The process might take less time, than you think, too. Fat stores are actually dynamic. Fat doesn’t just sit there like a lump. Every day, your body releases the fatty acids it contains and replaces it with new fatty acids it receives. So the fat in your body actually turns over every 2-3 weeks![Guyton, 867]
Of course, most of us tend to keep putting on a little more than we’re taking off, but that has a lot more to do with the partially hydrogenated soybean oils in our diet than it has to do with saturated fat. Just eliminating the trans fats tends to stabilize your weight. But when the majority of your fat comes from coconut oil, your body will tend to take off more than it puts on.
The process will be slow at first, because most of your stored fat will probably be of the long-chain variety (and worse, ugly trans fats). But it will speed up over time, as more and more of your stored fat becomes medium-chain triglycerides. People have reported losing 20 lbs. in 6 months without making any other changes in their diet or exercise regimen.[Fife, Eat Fat, 9, 147, Miracles, 130-132; Hopzapfel, 40-42] With a healthy diet and exercise, of course, your changes will come that much faster.
What is MCT Oil? Health Benefits of MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil is a very well-written article that claims a bigger energy boost and improved fat-burning for MCT Oil. In my estimation, that article overlooks the enormous benefits of lauric acid, which constitute 50% of coconut oils medium-chain fats. I’ve explained those benefits in this article, but it is at least possible that MCT oil does provide a superior source of energy and fat-burning. It is at least worth experimenting with, to see. (If so, then perhaps a combination of coconut oil and MCT oil would be ideal, to cover all of the bases when it comes to your health.)
The origins of the American obesity epidemic can be traced to the 1970’s when a concerted campaign against “harmful tropical oils” by the American Soybean Association led to the elimination of coconut oil in virtually all commercial cooking.[Fife, Miracles, 26-30]
The coconut oil was in the main replaced by partially hydrogenated oil, which interferes with insulin activity and causes other health problems, as explained in What’s Wrong with Partially Hydrogenated Oils?. But “partially hydrogenated oil” on a food label generally means soybean oil, and soybean oil adds an additional problem of its own — it inhibits the thyroid’s ability to produce the hormones we need to burn fat, generate energy, and carry on the processes of life.[Fife, Eat Fat, 130-131]
When the thyroid isn’t operating properly, your body’s metabolism is lowered, so you store fat instead of burning it. And you don’t want to exercise, because you don’t have the energy. So you just naturally gain weight.
To sum it all up, coconut oil reduces your fat calories by a third, tends to be burned for energy rather than stored as fat, promotes the metabolism of stored fat, and keeps your thyroid firing on all cylinders. And since you’re more energetic, you tend to exercise more and work harder, so you burn even more fat. See Coconut Diet Diary for a personal account of energizing weight loss using coconut oil and natural, fiber-rich foods.
In a word, coconut oil is dynamite for weight loss. But as you’ll see in the next section, it’s dynamite for your general health, as well, because it blows up microbial invaders!
Of course, some saturated fat is necessary in the diet. As it is absorbed in the intestines, it carries the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Without that fat, vitamin deficiency results. Saturated fats and cholesterol are also built into cell membranes, strengthening cell walls so they keep their shape. And saturated fat is used by the liver to construct cholesterol — to the tune of 1,000 mg per day. (Sunshine converts cholesterol to Vitamin D, and cholesterol is the first step in manufacturing testosterone and estrogen). So you definitely don’t want to eliminate saturated fats entirely. If you did, you would be in a world of hurt.
The long-chain saturated fats that make up 20% of coconut oil fill meet the body’s requirements nicely — it’s enough long-chain saturated fat to be healthy, but not enough to make you fat.
Myristic acid, a 14-carbon fatty acid, makes up 18% of coconut oil. According to Mary Enig, some writers call it a medium-chain saturated fat, while others consider it a long-chain saturated fat.[Enig, 261] I have included it in the long-chain category, as she does, but it’s not clear why others classify it differently. The correct classification obviously depends on whether it tends to be absorbed through the portal vein or the lymph, but so far I haven’t found any definitive statement. Given Enig’s expertise, one suspects that it must be through the lymph, since she classifies it as a long-chain fat. On the other hand, it’s interesting to speculate that myristic acid might be an “in-betweener” that can function as either a short-chain fatty acid metabolized for energy, or as a long chain fatty acid. It wouldn’t surprise me if that were so, but I have no evidence for that conjecture either.
The remaining 8% of coconut oil is unsaturated fat (6% omega-9 and 2% omega-6), which is useful as well — and it’s present in the small amounts you need, rather than in excess.
The fatty acid composition of coconut oil and palm kernel oil is so perfectly suited for human consumption that it’s almost as if we evolved in some tropical climate where it was readily available…
Hold on… Come to think of it, we did!
The only thing missing is the small amounts of the polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids that you need for optimum health. Those fats come from fish, borage seeds, kukui nuts, and flax seeds. Of those, the kukui nut (the new state nut of Hawaii) is worth closer inspection. It contains 20% omega-9 fatty acids (like olive oil), 42% omega-6 (like sesame oil) and 21% omega-3 (like flax seed).[Analysis] With that much unsaturated fat, the oil would have to be /Templates/health.dwted very carefully and refrigerated constantly (unless, like sesame oil, it contains anti-oxidation agents). But for a nut, that sure is one impressive resume. Only small amounts would be needed to ensure optimum health. And it is indicative, I think, that kukui nuts also grow in the tropics!
Coconut oil energizes you for most of the same reasons that it promotes weight loss. It has even been effective in treating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).[Fife, Miracles, 72-73, 103-106]
The increased energy induced by coconut oil occurs for a variety of reasons:
- Coconut oil’s MCFAs are converted to energy packets in the liver, and burned for fuel.
- Because it provides a richer, longer-lasting source of energy, it relatively easy to reduce or eliminate sugar dependence.
- When you remove the sugary snacks and refined flour products from your diet:
- You eliminate the sudden drops of energy that make you hungry enough to eat a horse and tired enough to go to sleep wherever you’re standing.
- You burn fat stores more readily, which evens out your metabolism.
- You stop using up insulin and minerals like chromium that are needed to process the sugar and starch, so you don’t create a deficiency that incapacitates your energy-production systems.
Finally, coconut oil offloads the immune system in ways you’ll read about in the next section. Since the immune system needs less fuel, more energy is available for your brain and muscular activity.
So far, coconut oil keeps you thin, gives you energy, and you can cook with it. But it gets better. Coconut oil is uniquely effective at protecting your health, primarily because of its high concentration (48-50%) of lauric acid. Lauric acid is a very important triglyceride (3-part fat) that breaks down into monolaurin, which kills bacteria and viruses.
Coconut oil also contains caprylic acid (8%) which kills fungus (for example, athlete’s foot fungus) and yeast (candida, as well as vaginal yeast). One or more of coconut oil’s medium chain fats also kill a wide variety of intestinal parasites.[Fife, Miracles, 69-76]
Coconut oil contains other medium chain fatty acids as well, including capric acid (7%), caproic acid (0.5%), and the “in-betweener”, myristic acid (18%). So far, I haven’t seen any discussions of specific benefits they provide. But it’s likely that they are lethal to some kind of undesirable microorganism since, as Fife says, “different fatty acids…are more effective at killing certain kinds of germs than others.”[Fife, Eat Fat, 28]
Because of its composition and high MFCA content, coconut oil is effective for treating and preventing heart disease,[Fife, Miracles, 77-87] as well as AIDs, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, osteoporous, gallbladder disease, diabetes, liver disease, Crohn’s disease, prostate enlargement, and cancer.[Fife, Miracles, 99-120] That’s a lot of protection for an inexpensive food that until recently was a standard part of our diet!
Monolaurin is created when either your saliva or the bacteria on your skin break down the 3-part lauric acid triglyceride into single units, called monolaurin. The beauty of monolaurin is that it kills microbial invaders before they even get in the door, so the immune system doesn’t spend all of its time and energy fighting them. Because the immune system only operates inside the skin, it can be required to do a lot of work to defend against bacterial and viral invaders that could just as easily have been killed by monolaurin on the skin and in the sinuses. Similarly, lauric acid plays a key role in protecting the digestive tract, which is also outside the skin, topologically speaking.
Besides coconut oil, the only other good source of lauric acid is mother’s milk. Lauric acid is critical for infants because it’s the only protection they have until their immune systems develop. When you think about it, that fact speaks volumes about the power of lauric acid — it keeps babies healthy even in the absence of the immune system! That’s why coconut oil is a critical ingredient in healthy milk formulas. And that’s why it is effective at treating and preventing AIDs.[Enig, 214; Fife, Miracles, 58-59; Holzapfel, 61-65].
- According to Dr. Kabara, Mother’s milk has high a percentage of monolaurin because the fats are accompanied by lipase — the enzyme that breaks down fat. It is the fact that the fats are pre-digested, according to Dr. Kabara, which makes the monolaurin available and effective inside the digestive tract. While bacteria residing on the skin breaks up coconut oil to produce a sizeable percentage of monolaurin externally, Dr. Kabara has accumulated scientific evidence that shows monolaurin produced in the digestive tract is rapidly absorbed through the portal vein and recombined into triglycerides in the liver. He feels that ingested coconut oil therefore contains 6% monolaurin at best — with most of that resulting from the manufacturing process, rather than from digestion. In order to make significant quantities of monolaurin available internally, he formulated a product that consists of tablets of 100% monolaurin bound in glycerine. (For more information or to obtain it, visit http://www.lauricidin.com.)
- Another source of lauric acid is the genetically engineered canola plant (a derivative of the highly poisonous rapeseed plant), which was genetically modified a second time to create laurate canola — a substance that also contains lauric acid. You can consider that a source, too, if you want. As for me, I don’t buy genetically engineered canola. The tests show that it consists of less than 1% erucic acid (the highly poisonous oil that makes up 50% of rapeseed), but less than 1% doesn’t necessarily mean 0%. Besides, I don’t knowingly buy from companies that genetically engineer foods. It only encourages them. (And since digested lauric acid appears to be a relatively poor source of monolaurin anyway, it’s difficult to see why anyone would bother with canola oil.)
Monolaurin works, not by attacking an invader directly, but by destroying the invader’s “body armor”. You see, our skin, sinuses, and digestive tract “ain’t a fit place to live” for a harmful bacteria or virus. So they wrap themselves in fatty acids and sneak in that way — the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. In this case, the wolf’s cloak is weaved from multiple fatty acid strands.
Because monolaurin is a fatty acid, it gets weaved in, as well. But monolaurin is so biologically active that it rapidly dissolves, disintegrating the microbe’s protective coating. The microbe must use whatever fatty acids happen to be available to weave it’s body armor, and if monolaurin is in the immediate vicinity, the microbe has to use whatever is available.
But monolaurin isn’t attacking the microbe directly, the way the immune system does. So the microbe doesn’t evolve a defense. Instead, it’s the body’s chemical environment that destroys the invader– and that’s an attack that can’t be defended against.[Fife, Miracles, 101-103] So unlike antibiotics, monolaurin doesn’t produce resistant strains. That’s another reason that monolaurin has proven to be so effective against AIDs, which proliferates by continually and rapidly evolving into new, drug-resistant strains.
Also, since monolaurin doesn’t attack bacteria directly, the healthy bacteria we need to create B-vitamins and perform other functions in the digestive tract are unaffected — again unlike antibiotics, which kill all bacteria indiscriminately.
Monolaurin works its magic in two different ways, depending on whether it is saliva or bacteria that is releasing the monolaurin:
- In the stomach: After the saliva breaks down lauric acid into its monolaurin constituents, it sits in the stomach killing any unfriendly bacteria that reside there — notably, the heliobacter pylorisvirus (aka h. pylori) that is responsible for indigestion and ulcers. Of course, it doesn’t kill any of the friendly bacteria you need in the digestive tract.
- On the skin: Triglycerides that get to the outer layer of cells in the skin, sinuses, digestive tract, and vaginal tract are secreted as part of the body’s natural protective oils. Those oils are then broken down into monolaurin by our friendly bacteria. When the diet contains lauric acid, the result is an extremely effective protective barrier created by monolaurin.
Coconut oil is also effective for skin conditions like rash, eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea. It can be applied topically by rubbing it into the skin. But it is even more effective when significant quantities are in the diet, because it forms a self-renewing protective layer as the oils are released throughout the day, forming a protective barrier that stops microbes dead in their tracks.
Since it is the 8% caprylic acid in coconut oil that is effective against fungus, stronger solutions used in conjunction with coconut oil are even more effective on skin conditions like planter’s warts and athlete’s foot.[Fife, Miracles, 68]
Since I added coconut oil to my diet and using it on my skin (about two weeks ago) a rosacea problem (red skin on the face and neck) of more than 15 year’s duration has all but entirely cleared up. [Note: It came back, unfortunately. It turned out that a moisturizing lotion like CeraVe l worked even better. But it is worth noting that the coconut oil did make a difference.]
The problem started when I moved to dry climate in California’s San Jose peninsula. So it’s possible that dehydration was the cause. Or maybe it’s a fungus. Or a bacteria. No one really knows — including the dermatologist I visited, looking for a solution. The ointment she gave me seemed effective where I applied it, but caused it to spread to surrounding areas. When I spread it even wider to cover clear skin as well, the rosacea simply spread wider and stayed on the edges. When I returned to her office, I wanted to know what I was up against! She told me that the didn’t know what caused it, and if the antibiotic ointment she gave me didn’t work, she’d try something stronger and suggest something to take internally.
By that time, I had had enough of that kind of “try it and see what happens” approach. And I had begun to blame my skin condition on the cortisone injections and creams that doctors used to give me to “cure” poison oak and poison ivy — until I discovered a simple little soap that takes care of the problem quite nicely — a soap called tecnu (see Curing Poison Oak and Poison Ivy). If the doctors could be so wrong about that, I figured they could be wrong about this, too — especially since they didn’t even know what caused the problem!
So I said goodbye to the doctor. But it would be years before I found out about coconut oil’s healing properties. But, once I did, results came quickly. After two weeks, my neck and face are nearly normal. You have to look closely to see the last remnants of the problem. And the deep crevices that had formed to either side of my nose have smoothed over. One is almost completely gone. The other is half as long and deep as it used to be. In a word, I’ve taken another 10 years or so off my appearance.
I’m getting more sun, too. I’ve noticed that sunlight caused minor improvements in the past. The coconut helps thre, too. It keeps the skin from drying out and protects against free radical damage, so I can get more sunlight.
Of course, the problem may never entirely disappear. The story is that once you have it, it stays forever. There is always the possibility that it will disappear altogether. If the problem really is caused by a fungus or bacteria, and the coconut oil is killing it, then the problem could well be eradicated completely. Not even the high-priced skin conditioning regimens on the infomercials can say that — and coconut oil is a whole lot less expensive than those remedies. [Note: If it does turn out to be a fungus or bacteria, then it is living below the skin, and coconut oil doesn’t penetrate quite well enough on its own to be effective. But in that case, using it in conjunction with DMSO might work, since DMSO apparently carries anything it is in contact with through the skin and into the body. It’s not something I’ve tried, though.]
The fact that coconut oil is so effective is less surprising when you consider that it is the oils and fats in soap that kills germs![Fife, Eat Fat, 28] (In the past, though, soaps were made from natural fats that contained a mixture of fatty acids, so they killed a wider variety of germs.) Think of coconut oil as basically a particularly effective antibiotic soap that’s secreted from your pores every hour of the day, 24-7.
- The one place that coconut oil can’t be of much help by itself is on an open wound, because the skin bacteria that break down the lauric acid only exist around the edges. Garlic oil kills pretty much everything, so a mixture of garlic oil and coconut oil has been used for ointment.[Fife, Miracles, 148] Garlic oil on an open wound by itself would be pretty painful, so perhaps the coconut oil makes the ointment more soothing. It still sounds pretty painful, though. A kinder, gentler approach might be to forgo the garlic oil and mix the coconut oil with saliva, since the saliva breaks down the lauric acid to activate coconut oil’s antiseptic properties. Adding garlic oil would the solution for those who find that approach distasteful.
- Since I’ve begun consuming coconut oil and using it on my skin (without garlic), I’ve noticed that those little sores that never seemed to heal are not only healing faster, they’re healing with no scab. That’s interesting, because my body has basically been a scab factory for years — little cuts would scab over and take forever heal, if for no other reason than the fact that the dry scab always itched like crazy, and I was forever picking it off. (Cuts didn’t seem to take any less to time heal even when I left them alone, however.) When a scab has already formed, the coconut oil seems to soften it and prevent it from itching. When it’s ready to come off, it flakes off instead of peeling away in a single sheet that tears the skin at the edges. When it’s gone, there is slight depression showing bright, pink skin instead of a scab. The skin then closes over it more quickly than I’ve ever experienced before.
Coconut oil can effectively replace most of your medicine cabinet! In particular, it can replace these:
- Acne Cream: see Skin Cream.
- Antacids: Coconut oil kills the bacteria that cause ulcers and gas, but it’s mostly a long-term remedy. (DGL is good for short-term relief. See Dealing With Anxiety Attacks.)
- Antiseptic Cream: Combine with crushed garlic or saliva for a a powerful antiseptic.
- Anti-fungal Cream for athlete’s foot and jock itch: Coconut oil is anti-fungal. Combined with crushed garlic, it’s even effective against planter’s warts (apply liberally and cover the feet with cotton socks).
- Anti-Dandruff Medication: Rub in coconut oil to keep scalp healthy.
- Body Lotion: see Skin Cream.
- Eczema Cream: see Skin Cream.
- Hair Conditioner: For healthy skin and hair, Put some on your fingertips and massage into your scalp after showering.
- Hair Spray: see Styling Gel.
- Hand Lotion: see Skin Cream.
- Hemorrhoid Cream: Softens and soothes.
- Jock Itch Powder: Coconut oil is anti-fungal.
- KY Jelly: Coconut oil works well as a natural lubricant.
- Lip Balm: Moisturizes the lips, and it’s healthy.
- Massage Oil: Coconut oil is great. And healthy, too.
- Mouthwash: Put a little in your mouth and swish it around. The oil promotes the production of saliva, which is a bacteria fighter by itself. The saliva activates the coconut oil, which pretty much annihilates the bacteria that cause bad breath, plaque, and gingivitis. Do when you eat, and after flossing. Goodbye bleeding gums! Swallow the solution, instead of spitting it out, to deliver the coconut oil to your stomach and intestines. (Sea salt also kills bacteria and gives your body the trace minerals it needs for optimum function — but a mixture of the two doesn’t taste very good. I prefer to use them separately.)
- Psoriasis Cream: see Skin Cream.
- Skin Cream: Rub it into the skin to combat acne, eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, itchy skin, and other skin problems. More importantly, take a tablespoon 3 times a day to combat those problems from the inside.
- Skin Moisturizer: Rub it in after a shower to keep skin soft and smooth. For ultra-soft hands, apply liberally and cover with cotton gloves.
- Styling Gel: Coconut oil works well on short hair, even on warm days. That’s a bit surprising, but it means that working in some coconut oil after a shower styles your coif while at the same time preventing snowflakes.
- Suntan Lotion: Coconut oil is an antioxidant, as well as a skin moisturizer. Use it for protection, and increase exposure gradually, instead of all at once. Result: One great tan, and increased vitamin D and energy from the sunlight.
- Sunburn Ointment: Soothes, protects, and heals. (Aloe works great, too, and may be somewhat better at removing the sting. A mixture of coconut oil and aloe would probably work wonders. (Note: Kukui Nut oil has also been recommended by a Hawaiian friend. If you try it, get the straight oil, rather than a lotion which contains some of it. I haven’t had a chance to try it, yet, but I do note that the ads say it is an unsaturated oil, so it may be necessary to refrigerate it to store it.)
- Vaginal Cream: Coconut oil kills yeast infections.
- Vaseline: Coconut oil works as well or better, most of the time.
These are a few interesting possibilities that need further investigation:
- Anti-Itch Cream for Mosquito Bites: Coconut oil is anti-inflammatory, so it’s possible it would bring some relief from mosquito bites and other bug bites as it promotes healing.
- Healing Balm: Since it’s anti-inflammatory, coconut oil might be useful as a salve to speed healing of bruises, strains, and sore muscles. Generally, I’ve used MSM lotion for that purpose. (I’ve found it to be effective for carpal tunnel and sore muscles.) But coconut oil may be worth a try.
- Mosquito repellent: Recently I was at a park at sunset. The people around me were talking about mosquitoes, but I never noticed any. It could be that the coconut oil I’ve been consuming and using on my skin gave me protection.
- Poison Oak/Poison Ivy After-Effect Lotion: I say after effect, because a wonder-soap called tecnu is the only effective treatment I’ve ever found to remove the plant oil (urishol) that creates the skin problems. For more information, see Curing Poison Oak and Poison Ivy.) But coconut oil might alleviate the minor itching that remains after using tecnu. An even more interesting question for research is how coconut oil interacts with urishol. Very young children frequently don’t react to poison oak, and some people never do. It is entirely possible that medium chain fatty acids on the skin are responsible for providing the protection. It seems plausible that taking coconut oil internally or applying it externally before coming into contact with the plant sap could provide some protection. Whether it would be of any help after coming into contact with the sap is another question. All of this is speculation, though, so I wouldn’t go waltzing through a field of poison oak, just yet — at least, not without stocking up on tecnu first.
- Shaving Cream: I’m on the lookout for a good coconut soap or body wash. And an old-time shaving brush. As long as I shaving, I might as well work up a good lather and put something healthy on the skin.
About 3-1/2 tablespoons of coconut oil per day is recommended for good health. I get it at the natural foods store, where my favorite brand, Garden of Life (www.gardenoflifeusa.com) comes in a medium-size black canister with a label that clearly states: “No trans fats….contains NO HYDROGENATED OILS and is not Refined, Bleached, or Deodorized.” It has a very mild, delicate hint of coconut, but not much. (Personally, I wish it had a stronger flavor. It doesn’t taste enough like coconut for me. But then, my sense of smell isn’t all that great, so maybe I’m just less sensitive it.)
Like olive oil and sesame oil, coconut is stable at room temperature. That makes them ideal for use when traveling or when refrigeration isn’t available (like nuts).
The best way to get the recommended amount is to take a tablespoon with every meal, because it gives you an energy lift that makes coffee unnecessary! (Especially if you use sea salt, which adds the trace minerals you need to keep your metabolism running well — minerals which are missing in many of our foods.)
The simplest way to take coconut oil is to replace dairy products with it in your diet:
- When cooking or baking, use coconut oil whenever the recipe calls for butter, margarine, or shortening.
- Sweetened coconut milk is great for cereal.
Recipe: One 14% can of coconut milk, 1/2 can of water, 2 tablespoons of honey, pinch of sea salt. Mix at room temperature and chill.[Fife, Miracles, 157]
- Use unsweetened coconut milk when a recipe calls for milk, as in soups and sauces.
- Use coconut oil as a dairy substitute in coffee-substitute or herbal tea, where it produces a rich, creamy taste. (If you haven’t kicked the caffeine habit yet, use it in your regular coffee or tea.)
Both Healing Miracles and Coconut Oil (below) contain a collection great recipes. Fife also recommends mixing it with raw milk, cream, fruit smoothie, vegetable juice, cottage cheese, or yogurt.[Fife, Eat Fat, 211]
Some open questions about the possibilities for using coconut milk:
- Does sweetened coconut milk work in recipes that call for milk?
- Does it work better or worse than unsweetened coconut milk?
- Does unsweetened coconut milk work as well as coconut oil as a dairy substitute?
Thanks to Steve Sauder for pointing out that coconut oil can raise blood pressure.
These books are listed in suggested reading order. They’re available at Amazon.com.
- Cynthia and Laura Holzapfel. Coconut Oil for Health and Beauty. Healthy Living Publications, 2003.
A short, quick read that includes a wonderful introduction to the science of fats and explains the health benefits of coconut oil.
- Bruce Fife, ND. The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil. Piccadilly Books, 2003.
Like Coconut Oil for Health and Beauty, this slim volume contains a wealth of information on coconut oil and how it works to keep you thin, energetic, healthy, and good looking.
- Bruce Fife, ND. Eat Fat, Look Thin. HealthWise, 2002.
A nicely written book that tells how to get thin happily, with nourishing, satisfying foods that taste good. But it has a wealth of other information besides, including the truth about cholesterol and a history of how natural fats came to be replaced by petroleum derivatives, as well as valuable information on coconut oil that didn’t make it into Miracles.
- Dr. Joel Fuhrman, MD. Eat to Live. Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 2003.
Superb book on the power of natural green foods to promote health.
- Bruce Fife, ND. Detox. HealthWise, 2001.
The best discussion I’ve seen of the techniques and methods for removing the poisons that have accumulated in the body, sprinkled with inspiring stories of people who have overcome major health problems like cancer and heart disease by changing their diet and cleaning their insides.
- Dr. Mary Enig. Know Your Fats. Bethesda Press, 2000.
An essential introduction to the science of fatty acids. A readable reference guide to that describes the types of fats, their sources, and their metabolism.
- Guyton and Hall. Textbook of Medical Physiology. W B Saunders, 10th edition 2000.
A large, expensive, but wonderfully readable textbook that explains how your body works.
These references are available online:
- What’s Wrong with Partially Hydrogenated Oils?
- Trans Fats: Metabolic Poisons
- The Cholesterol Scam
- Why You Want MSM
- Dealing With Anxiety Attacks
- Curing Poison Oak and Poison Ivy
- Coconut Diet Diary
- Kukui Nut Oil Certificate of Analysis
- What is MCT Oil? Health Benefits of MCT Oil vs. Coconut Oil
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