The Skinny on Fats: Benefits of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil may be one of the most misunderstood of the more readily available dietary fats/oils.
Saturated fat counts for over 90% of its contents, therefore consumers assume it is bad. And many look for other seemingly less offensive alternatives.
Coconut oil distinguishes itself from other forms of saturated fats and triglycerides by its much shorter fatty acid chain.
Coconut oil is actually a medium chain triglyceride (MCT). It is only 6 to 12 carbon lengths long. As opposed to long chain triglycerides which are over 12 carbon lengths long. Note that Western diets use predominantly the longer triglycerides as fat source.
Coconut oil smaller chains make it much easier for the body to absorb, digest and process. Indeed its breakdown requires less energy and less enzymes than are necessary for the longer chain triglycerides.
As for long chain triglycerides, they break down into medium chain fatty acids. Then the body absorbs and deliver the MCFA to the liver. At this point they act as a primary source of energy. And this leads to an increase in metabolism.
Ultimately it results in an improvement in blood lipid profiles. Indeed, in eastern Asian cultures where coconut oil is a significant source of fat, rates of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease are lower than their western counterparts.
Wide array of clinical uses
Clinically and therapeutically, coconut oil appears to possess a variety of useful properties. Provided it is used appropriately, consuming it on a daily basis should be a no-brainer.
As part of a weight loss protocol, coconut oil helps improve anthropomorphic profiles in overweight and obese men and women.
Alzheimer’s patients’ ability to use glucose (the brain’s preferred form of fuel) is therefore impaired. Fortunately, the brain can use ketone bodies, which are by-products of fatty acid metabolism, as an alternative fuel source. MCTs are an excellent source of ketone bodies and it is this property that Alzheimer’s patients find beneficial. Indeed they experience improvements in cognition and memory when consuming it.
Coconut oil is chock full of antioxidative compounds which helps protect it from oxidation and degradation. An interesting study evaluated this property by looking at the antioxidative properties of various oils and their effects on rodent testes. The rodents who fed on coconut oil had higher levels of testicular antioxidants, thus suggesting a protective role in reproductive health. Of particular significance, the coconut oil-fed rats also showed increased levels of testosterone. Furthermore, components of coconut oil contain fatty acids such as lauric and myristic acids which also act as 5α-reductase inhibitors. These help block testosterone from metabolizing to the more potent and possibly proliferative dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
Who would have thought that coconut oil could have a positive effect on osteoporosis? Supplementation of the oil in mouse models of osteoporosis demonstrated a significant improvement in bone density, volume, and bone microarchitecture, structure and trabecular number as well.
Antimicrobial and antifungal
Finally, lauric acid is a powerful antimicrobial and antifungal compound. Indeed it is active against a variety of candida strains, including albicans. It has also, as well as medium chain triglycerides in general, shown activity against oral pathogens and skin pathogens that are associated with acne development.
Coconut oil, with its medium chain triglycerides and plethora of therapeutic benefits, may make it a sensible choice use in a variety of clinical applications.