Written by: Sophia Gartland
The coconut has been called a “miracle food.” The oil that it produces has been labeled “the healthiest oil on earth.” From the Caribbean Islands to the Pacific Islands to many Asian societies, numerous cultures, religions, and traditions have long known about the nutritional benefits and healing properties of the coconut and its components; the meat, juice, milk, and oil.
Although coconut oil has been used for centuries in the treatment of countless ailments; healing infections, the treatment of digestive problems, killing viruses, bacteria, and fungus, reducing symptoms of diabetes, increasing energy and enhancing physical performance, and nutritional supplementation—just to name a few—at some point along the way, coconut oil was given a bad name. This is mainly due to its high saturated fat content. As a society, we have been taught to fear saturated fat. It has been instilled in us that consuming it will clog our arteries and bring on heart disease, obesity, and other illnesses. While this is true, to an extent, the saturated fat in coconut oil is unique in that it is comprised mainly of medium chain fatty acids (MCFA), and not the more common long chain fatty acids (LCFA), which make up the majority of saturated and unsaturated fats in our fat-containing foods like meat, milk, eggs, and vegetable oils.
What’s the Difference?
It is the difference between the MCFA and the LCFA that gives coconut oil its distinct and, some might say, miraculous healing properties and health benefits. Without getting too science-y and chemistry-book-like, here’s a quick look at the difference between MCFA and LCFA.
Whether or not a fat is a MCFA or a LCFA is determined by the size of the fat molecules as well as the length of the carbon chain that makes up the fatty acid. These two factors establish the chemical and physical properties of the fatty acid and influence the ways in which they are metabolized within our bodies. MCFA are smaller than LCFA and therefore require fewer enzymes and less energy to be broken down and digested. Essentially, they are broken down almost immediately by salivary enzymes (digestive enzymes found in our saliva) and gastric juices (digestive fluid found in our stomach), and used for energy right away, as opposed to LCFA which go through a more elaborate process on their journey through the digestive system. This is an important factor for people with digestive and metabolic issues. Since the MCFA are broken down almost instantly, there is less strain on the pancreas–as no pancreatic fat-digesting enzymes are needed–as well as rest of the digestive system.
What makes coconut oil so special?
Most of the fats we eat are made up of LCFA. Coconut oil is one of the very few dietary sources of MCFA, one of the reasons that make it particularly special. The unique way in which MCFA are digested and absorbed in our bodies has made it an important component in the treatment and prevention of many digestive disorders which show up frequently in our society. The following is a list of 5 common ailments for which coconut oil may be an option for treatment.
#1: Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
IBD includes Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, two conditions that cause inflammation in the lining of the colon. The symptoms of both are unpleasant–abdominal cramps and pain, loss of appetite, anemia, weight loss, blood in stool–and severe complications can arise; bleeding ulcers, perforation of the bowel, and obstruction. Fat consumption can often make the symptoms of IBD worse, and as a result, people suffering from IBD frequently develop deficiencies of fat soluble vitamins. Since MCFA are quickly digested and absorbed directly into the bloodstream, they may be a good option for people with IBD. In addition, it was reported in the September 2003 edition of “Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care,” that supplementing with medium chain triglycerides may help to reduce the inflammation in patients with Crohn’s Disease.
#2: Irritable Bowe Syndrome (IBS)
Medically speaking, IBS is less severe than IBD. To those suffering from it; however, the symptoms are no less real or painful. IBS is characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, and alternations between diarrhea and constipation. It is the most common diagnoses given by gastroenterologists. Although the cause of IBS is not clear, a link between IBS and bacteria has been found. After a study conducted at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, researchers have built a case that bacteria may, in fact, be the culprit. Coconut oil has been shown to kill bad bacteria, viruses, and fungi. A person suffering from IBS may benefit from taking coconut oil as it will restore the balance of the intestinal environment.
At one time, excessive stress was blamed for stomach ulcers, but it is now known that the bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori is the culprit (although stress is still a factor, possibly diminishing resistance to infection). Ulcers arise as the bacteria burrows into the lining of the stomach. Coconut oil has been shown to destroy the bacteria in the stomach by breaking down the H. pylori cell membrane while preserving the “good bacteria” that is often destroyed by antibiotics typically prescribed in the treatment of ulcers.
#4: Nutrient Deficiencies
This is especially important for older people as well as those with malabsorption issues. As we age, our entire digestive process slows down. Our pancreas does not produce as many digestive enzymes as it once did, and our intestines don’t absorb nutrients as well.
Malabsorption can be caused by a number of diseases and generally results in nutrient deficiency.
Because of the easy digestibility of the MCFA, adding coconut oil to meals will enhance vitamin and mineral absorption and therefore prevent nutrient deficiencies commonly found with old age and malabsorption.
#5: Gallbladder Disease
Bruce Fife, ND, author of several books including The Coconut Oil Miracle and Coconut Cures, and director of the Coconut Research Center has stated, “Newborn infants, cystic fibrosis sufferers, those with gallbladder problems, and anyone who has difficulty digesting fats can benefit from using coconut oil.” Again, this is due to the fact that the MCFA are easier to digest than other fats. The removal of the gallbladder makes digesting fats difficult, as there is no longer a stored supply of bile (a substance necessary for fat digestion). Coconut oil does not need bile in order to be digested which makes it an ideal fat source for those who have suffered gallbladder disease and the removal of their gallbladder.
5 Additional Ways to Use Coconut Oil:
Note: Make sure to use Virgin Coconut Oil
- Take it by the spoonful 3-4 tablespoons throughout the day is recommended. Try taking a tablespoon with each meal and one with a snack.
- Use it as cooking oil. Use it for baking, frying, and in recipes that call for shortening.
- Add coconut oil to smoothies for a tropical treat. Or add it to a protein shake for extra energy.
- Add coconut oil to your coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.
- Use coconut oil to make your own salad dressings, mayo, dips, and ketchup.