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Coconut oil is a popular nutritional oil derived from the meat of matured coconuts. Coconut has long been a primary source of food throughout the tropics. Its various industrial and cosmetic applications have made it a very viable commodity. Coconut oil is heat stable, making it suitable for cooking at high temperatures. It is slow to oxidize, resists rancidity and has a shelf life of approximately two years or more; virgin coco creme created through a wet-milling process has an indefinite shelf life.
The composition of coconut oil
The coconut possesses a wide variety of health benefits due to its fiber and nutritional content, but it is the oil that makes it a remarkable source of food and medicine. It has definitely earned its reputation as the healthiest oil in the world despite the fact that its high saturated fat content was once falsely claimed to be unhealthy.
What makes coconut oil different?
Oils and fats are composed of molecules known as fatty acids. They are classified either according to saturation or based on molecular length and size of the carbon chain within each fatty acid. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are an example of the first class.
The second classification is based on molecular size or length of the fatty acid's carbon chain. Long chains of carbon atoms consist of each fatty acid with an attached hydrogen atom. There are short chain fatty acids known as SCFA, medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) such as coconut oil and long chain fatty acids (LCFA). Whether unsaturated or saturated, the majority of fats and oils in our diet are composed of long chain fatty acids. In fact, a majority of the fatty acids commonly consumed are LCFA.
Coconut oil is predominantly medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA) and the effects of the MCFA in coconut oil are distinctly different from the LCFA found in other foods. In fact, the saturated and unsaturated fat in milk, eggs,meat and even in plants and most vegetable oils are made of LCFA. Why is this relevant? It is important because our bodies respond and metabolize each fatty acid differently. It is the MCFA found in coconut oil that makes it special because these fatty acids do not have a negative effect on cholesterol. In fact, they are known to lower the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis. There are only few dietary sources of MCFA, and one of the best sources by far is coconut oil.
Theliver and gall bladder do not need to digest and emulsify MCFA, resulting in instant energy, increased metabolic rate and subsequently more heat production as well as increased circulation. Anyone with an impaired fat digestion or removed gallbladder will benefit from coconut oil as this oil is easily digested.
Coconut oil has many health benefits which are attributed to the presence of lauric acid. When it is present in the body, lauric acid is converted into monolaurin, a compound that is highly toxic to viruses, bacteria, funguses and other microorganisms because of its ability to disrupt their lipid membranes and virtually destroy them.
Monolaurin is effective for treating candida albicans, fungal infections and athlete's foot. It also targets bacterial infections and viruses like measles, influenza, hepatitis C and even HIV. In fact, researchers from the Philippines are studying the effectiveness of lauric acid against HIV/AIDS due to its strong anti-viral properties. Moreover, lauric acid is non-toxic, making it a better alternative to modern drugs that are typically prescribed for viruses as well as fungal and bacterial infections.
Without lauric acid, monolaurin cannot be produced by the body. Breast milk is the only other source of lauric acid, which must explain the lesser incidents of infections with breast-fed infants. It has also been observed that regular consumption of coconut oil boosts immunity and reduces incidences of sickness.
The health benefits of coconut oil
Hair care - The unique fatty acids in coconut oil have a small molecular structure and pass freely into the hair's cell membrane, allowing for the oil to penetrate the hair's shaft; thisliterally brings out the deep conditioning from within compared to other conditioners that work from the outside in.
Massaging the oil into the scalp can offer relief from dandruff. Dandruff is caused by dry skin or an internal fungal condition that reached the scalp. With regular use, coconut oil can kill the fungus and eliminate dandruff issues. For deep hair conditioning, a teaspoon or two on damp hair left for as long as possible can give an ultra-nice shine. Leave it on overnight and see startling results.
Skin care - Coconut oil is an excellent skin conditioner containing medium-chain triglycerides, naturally occurring fats which deeply penetrate, moisturize and acts as a protective barrier against environmental and free radical damage. The oil also provides sun protection by screening 20 percent of ultraviolet exposure.
Coconut oil is rich in anti-oxidants and bursting with the natural microbial and antibacterial agents caphrylic and capric acids. . Its ability to smooth the skin while infusing with anti-oxidants makes it a perfect anti-aging moisturizer. Moreover, it contains vitamin E, another antioxidant popular for hastening the recovery of skin abrasions, burns and other trauma.
Weight loss - Medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil can speed up metabolism faster than long-chain fatty acids because they are easily digested and converted into energy. In fact, a study reported medium-chain fatty acids to be three times more effective in raising metabolism than long-chain fatty acids, leading researchers to conclude that effective weight loss can be achieved by replacing long-chain fatty acids with medium- chain fatty acids.
Natural remedy for pneumonia - In a study presented before The American College of Chest Physicians on October 29, 2008, coconut oil was found to offer pneumonia patients faster and more complete relief from symptoms. This could be a welcome development for many as this means a reduced stay in the hospital, lower medical expenses and lower exposure for the patient to a hospital environment. Moreover, it is an inexpensive addition to traditional antibiotics and has no known side effects.
Lowers risk of diabetes, heart disease and improves cholesterol levels - In a study made on women subjects ranging from 20 to 40 years old, half of the subjects were instructed to take a 30 ml soybean oil supplement while the other half were instructed to take a 30ml coconut oil supplement while maintaining moderate exercise routine over a 12-week period. Results of the study showed that although both group of women had a decrease in body mass index (BMI), only the women who were taking coconut oil showed a notable decease in waist circumference significantly lowering the risk of conditions like type II diabetes and heart disease.
Furthermore, the study also showed that the subjects who experienced an improvement in their cholesterol profile along with higher HDL levels and higher HDL: LDL ratio were the ones taking coconut oil. Those taking soybean oil did not receive the same benefits but reflected a higher total cholesterol as well as higher LDL cholesterol lower, lower HDL cholesterol and a lower HDL: LDL ratio.
Assists in bone health and chronic fatigue - Research has found coconut oil to help prevent osteoporosis because it helps in the nutrient absorption of minerals such as calcium and magnesium - important minerals that fight osteoporosis.
Moreover, the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil produce energy rather than body fat, thereby improving metabolism and preventing fatigue. The oil has also been shown to destroy organisms in the body that sap its strength and contribute to the condition of fatigue.
Alzheimer's Disease - Dr. Mary Newport, after failing to get treatment for her husband's dementia, discovered that coconut oil contained natural medium-chain triglyceride (MCT). The same substance was used in a drug trial her husband failed to qualify for. So, she gave her husband 1 tbsp. of coconut oil twice a day for a month and a half and saw him almost completely recovered.
Others - aside from the health benefits mentioned earlier the following health benefits have been attributed to the beneficial use of coconut oil:
Protects against cancer and HIV and other infectious diseases
Kills bacteria and parasites like tape worm and liver flukes
Eases acid reflux, aids in proper bowel function
Lowers incidence of hemorrhoids
Heals and relieves intestinal problems
Deals with symptoms connected with prostate enlargement
Strengthens the liver and protects against degeneration
Reduces incidence of epileptic seizures
Reduces joint and muscle inflammation
Eases neuropathies and itching from diabetes.
How much oil should be taken in to enjoy its benefits?
According to researchers, an adult should consume around 3 1/2 tbsp. of coconut oil daily: an amount equal to the MCFA a nursing infant would receive in one day. The benefits of coconut oil are derived from the nutritional value of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA's), and the best comparison in nature as to the percentage of MCFA consumed in a diet is in human breast milk. For those who are not used to having coconut oil in their diet, it is best to start out with a lesser amount and see how the body reacts before following the recommended amount.
Does coconut oil have any adverse side effects?
Coconut oil has no known side effects. However, if you are used to a low-fat diet, a common adverse reaction would be diarrhea. It is probably not advisable to start with a large amount right away. Spreading the recommended amount over the course of one day and building up to a larger dosecan help to avoid unwanted effects.
In coconut-producing countries, it is considered beneficial for pregnant and lactating women to enjoy coconut oil;Westerners used to a low-fat diet, however, are cautioned not to experiment with coconut oil while pregnant if the body is not used to it. If you have been consuming coconut oil regularly with no adverse reactions, there is no reason to discontinue consumption.