Coconut oil is one of the few foods that can be classified as a "super food."
Its unique combination of fatty acids can have positive effects on your health.
This includes fat loss, better brain function, and several other impressive benefits.
Here are the top 10 evidence-based health benefits of coconut oil.
1. Coconut oil contains fatty acids with powerful medicinal properties
Coconut oil is high in healthy saturated fats that have different effects than most other fats in your diet.
These fats can increase fat burning and provide energy and energy to your body and brain. They also increase the good HDL cholesterol in your blood, which is linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
Most of the fats in the diet are called long-chain triglycerides, but the fats in coconut oil are known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). What this means is that fatty acids are shorter than most other fats (1Trust Source).
When you eat these types of fats, they go directly to the liver, where they are used as a quick source of energy or converted into ketones.
Ketones can have powerful benefits for the brain and are being studied as a treatment for epilepsy, Alzheimer's, and other conditions.
Coconut oil is high in fats called medium chain triglycerides, which are metabolized differently from most other fats. These special fats are responsible for many of the health benefits of coconut oil.
2. Populations that eat a lot of coconut oil are healthy
Coconut is an exotic food in the western world, mainly consumed by health conscious people.
However, in some parts of the world, coconut (loaded with coconut oil) is a staple that people have thrived on for many generations.
The best example of such a population are the Tokelauans, who live in the South Pacific.
They used to eat more than 60% of their calories from coconuts. When studied, they were found to be in excellent health, with very low rates of heart disease (2 trusted source).
Another example of a population that ate a lot of coconut and remained in excellent health are the Kitavans (3Trusted Source).
Various populations around the world have thrived for multiple generations by eating large amounts of coconut.
3. Coconut oil can increase fat burning
Obesity is one of the biggest health problems in the world.
While some people think obesity is just a matter of calories, others (myself included) believe that the sources of those calories are also important.
It is a fact that different foods affect our bodies and hormones in different ways. In this sense, a calorie is not a calorie.
The medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) in coconut oil can increase the number of calories you burn compared to the same number of calories from longer chain fats (4 from trusted source).
One study found that 15-30 grams of MCT per day increased 24-hour energy expenditure by 5%, totaling approximately 120 calories per day (5 from reliable source).
Medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil have been shown to increase calories burned over 24 hours by up to 5%.
4. Coconut oil can kill harmful microorganisms
The 12-carbon lauric acid makes up about 50% of the fatty acids in coconut oil.
When lauric acid is digested, it also forms a substance called monolaurin.
Both lauric acid and monolaurin can kill harmful pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi (reliable source).
For example, these substances have been shown to help kill Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (a very dangerous pathogen) and the yeast Candida albicans, a common source of yeast infections in humans (7 Trust Source, 8 Trust Trust).
The fatty acids in coconut oil can kill harmful pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. This could potentially help prevent infection.
5. Coconut oil can reduce your hunger, helping you eat less
An interesting feature of the fatty acids in coconut oil is that they can reduce your appetite.
This may be related to the way fat is metabolized, as ketones can have an appetite-reducing effect (9Trusted Source).
In one study, 6 healthy men were given varying amounts of medium and long chain triglycerides.
The men who consumed the most MCTs consumed 256 fewer calories per day, on average (10 from reliable sources).
Another study in 14 healthy men found that those who ate more MCTs for breakfast ate fewer calories for lunch (11 from reliable source).
These studies were small and only conducted for short periods of time. If this effect persists in the long term, it could help reduce body weight over a period of several years.
The fatty acids in coconut oil can significantly reduce appetite, which can lead to long-term reduction in body weight.
6. Fatty acids in coconuts can reduce seizures
A diet called ketogenic (very low in carbohydrates, very high in fat) is currently being studied to treat various disorders.
The best-known therapeutic application of this diet is the treatment of drug-resistant epilepsy in children (12 to be trusted).
This diet consists of eating very few carbohydrates and large amounts of fat, leading to much higher concentrations of ketones in the blood.
For whatever reason, the diet dramatically reduces the rate of seizures in epileptic children, even those who have not had success with multiple types of medications.
Because the fatty acids in coconut oil are sent to the liver and converted to ketones, they are often used in epileptic patients to induce ketosis, while allowing slightly more carbohydrates in the diet (13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source).
The MCTs in coconut oil can increase the concentration of ketone bodies in the blood, which can help reduce seizures in epileptic children.
7. Coconut oil can increase good HDL cholesterol
Coconut oil contains natural saturated fats that increase the good HDL cholesterol in your body. They can also help convert bad LDL cholesterol into a less harmful form.
By increasing HDL, many experts believe that coconut oil could be good for heart health compared to many other fats.
In a study of 40 women, coconut oil lowered total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL compared to soybean oil (15 from reliable source).
Another study in 116 patients showed that a diet program that included coconut oil raised levels of the good HDL cholesterol (16 from a reliable source).
A few studies have shown that coconut oil can raise HDL cholesterol levels in the blood, which is linked to better metabolic health and a lower risk of heart disease.
8. Coconut oil can protect your skin, hair, and dental health
Coconut oil has many uses that have nothing to do with eating it.
Many people use it for cosmetic purposes and to improve the health and appearance of their skin and hair.
Studies in individuals with dry skin show that coconut oil can improve the moisture content of the skin. It can also reduce symptoms of eczema (17Trusted Source, 18Trusted Source).
Coconut oil can also protect against hair damage and a study shows the effectiveness of a weak sunscreen, blocking about 20% of the sun's ultraviolet rays (19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source)
Another application is using it as a mouth rinse in a process called oil extraction, which can kill some of the harmful bacteria in the mouth, improve dental health, and reduce bad breath (21, 22, 23).
Coconut oil can also be applied topically, with studies showing that it is effective as a skin moisturizer and protects against hair damage.
9. Fatty Acids in Coconut Oil May Improve Brain Function in Alzheimer's Patients
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia worldwide and occurs mainly in the elderly.
In Alzheimer's patients, there appears to be a reduced ability to use glucose for energy in certain parts of the brain.
Researchers have speculated that ketones may provide an alternative energy source for these malfunctioning brain cells and reduce Alzheimer's symptoms (24).
In a 2006 study, consumption of medium-chain triglycerides led to an improvement in brain function in patients with milder forms of Alzheimer's (25 from reliable source).
However, keep in mind that the research is still early and there is no evidence to suggest that coconut oil itself helps with Alzheimer's disease.
Preliminary studies suggest that medium-chain triglycerides may increase blood levels of ketones, supplying energy to the brain cells of Alzheimer's patients and relieving symptoms.
10. Coconut oil can help you lose fat, especially harmful belly fat
Since coconut oil can reduce your appetite and increase fat burning, it makes sense that it can also help you lose weight.
Coconut oil appears to be especially effective in reducing belly fat, which lodges in the abdominal cavity and around the organs (4Trusted Source).
This is the most dangerous fat of all and is highly associated with many western chronic diseases.
Waist circumference is easily measured and is a great marker of the amount of fat in the abdominal cavity.
In a study of 40 women with abdominal obesity, supplementation with 30 ml (2 tablespoons) of coconut oil per day led to a significant reduction in both BMI and waist circumference over a 12-week period (15 originally trustworthy).
Another study in 20 obese men observed a reduction in waist circumference of 1.1 inches (2.86 cm) after 4 weeks from 30 ml (2 tablespoons) of coconut oil per day (26 from reliable source).
Coconut oil is still high in calories, so you shouldn't add a ton to your diet. But replacing some of your other cooking fats with coconut oil could have a small weight loss benefit.
11. Anything else?
If you want to buy coconut oil, it is available in most health food stores.
To get the impressive health benefits outlined in the article, be sure to choose organic virgin coconut oil, not the refined stuff.
This is really the tip of the iceberg. People are using coconut oil for all kinds of things with great results.