Coconut Oil 101: Uses and Facts

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On our recent trip to Mexico, on more than one occasion we found ourselves drinking straight from a coconut with a straw. No matter how hot or tired we were, the coconut water always gave us a second wind. And that got me thinking. With all the hype now about coconut oil from fellow organic and natural bloggers/hippies like myself, I decided to do my own research on what it is about the coconut that makes it so dang helpful in virtually any form. Here, I will focus mainly on the oil, but really each part of the coconut from the water, milk, oil, and meat all have their uses and benefits!

Disclaimer, I am not a doctor, nor am I a dermatologist. This article is for informational purposes only. Always consult your doctor if you have any questions. 

Coconut oil is said to do just about everything. I’ve heard it said that coconut oil can fix skin, hair, and dental problems, serve as a makeup remover, prevent or treat Alzheimer’s, aide in digestion, helps prevent heart disease, relieve stress, aid in weight loss, and even fight yeast infections. Sound a bit like it is too good to be true to you? Yeah, me too. When I set out on this research journey, I set out to poke holes I at least SOME of all that hype! I assumed I would find that some percentage of the hype was baseless. However…I actually came out the other side of this research project as a believer. I even found a scholarly paper where someone designed a diesel fuel based on coconut oil! Not sure if that will catch on, but it was an interesting read.

The Makeup of Coconut Oil

Coconuts are grown on trees which are extremely resilient. They mostly grow in tropical climates but can survive in almost any warm/hot climate, provided they get enough water. They fruit all year round, making them great for sustainability. The oil has many saturated as well as some unsaturated fats and fatty acids. Since there is so much information readily available, I won’t get too deep into the makeup of the oil itself other than to say that the way it is harvest makes a big difference in the quality and content of the oil. For more information, check out this article.

Topical Uses for Coconut Oil

So how is coconut oil best used? And is it really better to use coconut oil instead of something else? Short answer, if you like natural, DIY remedies, yes. This is actually really beneficial, not just hype. For those not into the natural, you probably will notice that many of your commercial hair products claim to use coconut in them, or use coconut oil as the base of the product.

Hair Care

Let’s start with hair care. Coconut oil has been used for generations in coastal and tropical regions, and in recent history, it has been used in many commercial conditioners. Why? Turns out, coconut oil is extremely effective at fighting the loss of natural protein in your hair. Loss or stripping of natural proteins is the main cause of main hair problems, including (but DEFINITELY not limited to) brittle or damaged hair (even the extreme damage from coloring your hair is due to protein loss). Not only does this oil have the protein necessary to help heal damaged and broken hair, but it also stimulates your scalp and promotes healthy hair growth.

It also has the added benefit of fighting dandruff. Dandruff is essentially dry skin, and the innate moisturizing properties of coconut oil can help to fight this problem as well. Just massage into your scalp, and pull gently down through the ends of your hair before hopping in the shower. Do this as often as you like, there is no harm in doing this daily, in fact quite the opposite. The only caution is if you have fine hair like me, make sure you do it BEFORE you shower. Some of you can do it after you shower and leave it in your hair all day like a leave-in conditioner, but on my fine hair, it just looks greasy and flat.

Skin Care

It follows then, that coconut oil is also good for your skin. I use it as a hand lotion in the winter when my skin is dry, as I dislike buying lotion with chemical fragrances, and I always have this on hand in the kitchen. It also works great as a massage oil. Add a drop of lavender for extra relaxation. Coconut oil used on your face can delay the formation of wrinkles due to its antioxidant properties. It can also be used in the treatment of various skin problems including psoriasis, dermatitis, and eczema, among others. For more great information about hair and skin applications of coconut oil, see this great article!

Internal Uses for Coconut Oil

Coconut is actually a what is called a “true superfood”, due to the exact type of natural fatty acids and good cholesterol content. Actually, not only does it have the good cholesterol, but helps to covert the bad kind into that good kind. The secret? Three “medium-chain fatty acids” called Caprylic acid, Lauric acid, and Capric acid. For more information, see this super helpful article.

But what do these fancy fatty acids help with exactly? Well, according to that same article linked to above (as well as many other studies), coconut oil taken internally can: function as an Alzheimer’s treatment, prevent and treat heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney infections and arthritis, prevent cancer, boost the immune system, improve brain function as well as energy and endurance, prevent osteoporosis and diabetes II, and balance hormones, among other things. Moral of the story? You should DEFINITELY incorporate this into your diet one way or another!

Coconut oil can be used as a substitute for any cooking oil. I prefer the taste of it actually, and use coconut oil almost exclusively for cooking on the skillet and for baking etc. Coconut oil is also known to help with weight loss, heart health, etc. in part because you are swapping it out in all the right places in foods you make at home. Drinking coconut water or milk is also good. I find it is an energy boost.

What about dental health? Yup! I like to use coconut oil when I make toothepaste, but more commonly it is used in what is called “oil pulling”. Essentially oil pulling is like using coconut oil as a mouthwashe. It can treat/prevent cavities, help with bad breath by removing the bacteria causing the bad breath, whiten teeth, heal gums, etc. For more information on oil pulling and other dental uses of coconut oil, check out this article.


What to avoid?

Ok so coconut oil is a miracle worker, we get it. But anything we should be wary of? Well, yes. Make sure you are getting good quality coconut oil. According to this article by Dr. Axe, “refined or processed coconut oil can be bleached, overheated past the preferred melt point and chemically processed to increase its shelf life. Processing the oil changes the chemical makeup, and the fats are no longer good for you, so avoid hydrogenated oils whenever possible.”

So, to avoid all that, make sure you get extra virgin coconut oil. There are several production types of coconut oil, including wet milled, virgin, and refined. Any organic brand worth its salt will say on the label which of these it is. If the label doesn’t say, opt for a different brand that does tell you.

So that is the basics. Honestly, I struggled to write this article just because there is SO much information out there, so many scholarly studies! And as I was reading through all of them, there was just too much to include in one post. Do you have any questions about this superfood? If so drop it in the comments section below!

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