THE HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF COCONUT OIL
In the first of a series of articles on health and wellness, we highlight today some of the benefits and uses of coconut oil. This tropical oil is one of the most versatile and healthy substances on the planet. It is freely available in India, especially in Goa, and has such a wide range of health benefits that one can easily make it a way of life.
Coconut oil is considered a superfood is because of its unique nutritional profile. It had a bad name for years because of its 92% saturated fat content but recent research has shown that its reputation was needlessly tarnished.
• Virgin coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, which is a proven antibacterial and antiviral agent. Lauric acid is also found in human breast milk, which makes coconut milk the best alternative to milk-formula foods.
• The anti-parasitic property of coconut oil is particularly helpful for those suffering from infestation with intestinal parasites and Candida albicans. Coconut oil has been known for many centuries to prevent yeast infections as well.
• It also greatly aids in digestion by keeping the intestinal tract clean. It cleanses the colon by gently softening and loosening old accumulated fecal matter, and helping to remove it safely and naturally. It is easily digested, by the young and old, even by weak and compromised digestive systems. It is one of the healthiest and safest oils for consumption. It helps with most digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease, IBS, stomach ulcers and ulcerative colitis.
• Coconut oil lends a delicious flavour to food. Unlike most oils, coconut oil will not oxidise upon heating. It is a great cooking oil with a high smoking point, making this the ideal cooking oil.
• It has a strongly alkalising effect in the body, which is beneficial for every disease process. This tropical oil contains a substance that has been shown to raise HDL cholesterol levels (the good cholesterol), thereby lowering the risk of heart attack.
• It is shown to improve memory function, and so it is used in the treatment and prevention of diseases such as Alzheimer’s; it is also known to improve antioxidant levels and can slow ageing.
• Other diseases and disorders that are alleviated by the use of coconut oil are HIV+, hypertension, UTI, kidney infections, cancer, inflammation, arthritis, type II diabetes, osteoporosis, gallbladder disease and pancreatitis, gum disease and tooth decay, skin problems, insomnia, thyroid function, and a host of others.
• Coconut oil improves energy, endurance and increases metabolism. When we consume it, its MCFAs are sent directly to the liver to be converted into energy. This is precisely why many athletes today use coconut oil as their source of fuel during triathlon training and events.
• This oil also helps in dissolving and eliminating toxins that are trapped in fatty deposits, thereby making fat accumulation increasingly unnecessary. This is how coconut oil helps to build lean muscle. A lot of body builders, personal trainers, sports persons and others use it for building lean body mass.
• Coconut oil helps in weight loss. It is made up of medium-chain fatty acids, which are easy to digest and therefore speed up metabolism whereas long-chain fatty acids (in polyunsaturated oils) take much longer to break down and get stored as fat in the body. Coconut oil slows down digestion and keeps us feeling full for a longer time; this discourages snacking. Coconut oil is a detox agent and cleanses the body of toxins, keeps the digestive tract healthy, and nourishes the cells. All of this is essential for restoring the body’s optimal weight.
• Using coconut oil benefits the hormones as well. It helps naturally balance hormones because it’s a great source of saturated fat. Research indicates that coconut oil may be an excellent fat to consume during menopause and also may regulate oestrogen levels.
All these beneficial properties of coconut oil make it a superfood and a powerhouse of health. It adapts well in cooking, beauty recipes, natural remedies and can be used extensively around the home.
Coconut oil in food and cooking
Use it for everyday cooking instead of other vegetable oils, in baking, stir-fried foods, or as a dairy-free replacement to butter.
Add to foods or smoothies for energy.
Use in sandwich and salad spreads instead of high PUFA vegetable oils.
Use in kids’ brain-boosting snacks.
Adding coconut oil to a drink in the morning can help improve mental performance all day.
You can sprinkle a tablespoon of grated coconut over your food to improve its taste and add to its nutritional value.
The antimicrobial and antibacterial properties make it helpful topically to kill yeast or yeast infections and heal minor cuts and bruises. This is why it can be effectively used anywhere on the skin, scalp and hair.
Use on the skin as a basic lotion. Coconut oil is a natural moisturiser. Its antioxidant properties help prevent formation of wrinkles and improves skin tone.
Totally safe for infants and children, coconut oil can be rubbed on a baby’s bottom as a diaper cream. Dip a cotton ear bud in this oil to speed up ear infection healing in children. Lactating mothers can use it to soothe sore nipples. It’s great for relieving skin problems in pets too.
Use as lip balm, a natural personal lubricant, shaving cream or after-shave lotion. It helps soothe an itch of chicken pox or a bug bite, and can be safely used to remove delicate eye makeup.
Apply it on cuticles to help nails grow, and to soften in-growing toenails. Rub into elbows daily to help alleviate dry, flaky elbows. Use as a natural hand lotion to avoid dry skin, use it to get relief from cracked heels, use as a natural sunscreen lotion, to heal sunburn, and to reduce chlorine exposure while swimming.
Coconut oil is a great tanning oil too. To make a relaxing massage oil, add a few drops of a fragrant essential oil to warm coconut oil. It can be used with other oils or whipped with shea butter for a soothing body balm. It’s a salve for cracked heels. Its antibacterial properties make it suitable for use as a natural deodorant.
When used consistently on the skin, it can resolve acne, help fight cellulite, lighten age spots, and help avoid stretch marks during pregnancy. Its anti- inflammatoryproperties can help lessen arthritis, and reduce the pain of haemorrhoids and varicose veins when used topically.
Apply on the hair and scalp to treat dry hair and dandruff. Coconut oil has the perfect fatty acids to help improve these conditions. Coconut oil application or massage greatly nourishes the hair. This oil is a wonderful natural conditioner – rub into dry hair and leave it overnight before shampooing off. It can be rubbed into the scalp daily to stimulate hair growth.
Some natural remedies using Coconut Oil
• Use coconut oil for oil pulling for oral health and to check gum disease and tooth decay.
• Ingesting this oil can boost blood circulation and help those who often feel cold.
• Coconut oil application on the skin can help soothe eczema and psoriasis.
• Coconut oil and apple cider vinegar, when rubbed into the hair and scalp, even helps keep head lice away.
• When rubbed on the inside of the nose, coconut oil may help alleviate allergy symptoms.
• A tablespoon of this oil melted into a cup of hot water can help soothe a sore throat and hasten recovery from cold or flu.
• Remove dry skin on feet and ankles by rubbing sea salt mixed with coconut oil.
Household uses of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil can be used as a base in making homemade natural products such as soap and deodorant, sunscreen lotion, toothpaste, insect repellent, lip balm, body butter and baby lotion. A little coconut oil is even sometimes used to soften leather articles.
— Sunita Kripalani
(Sunita Kripalani is a Goa-based writer and book editor who has helped authors structure books on subjects of health, wellness, Ayurveda and natural healing.)