Top 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Coconut Oil (2024)

Coconut oil may help reduce hunger, improve oral health, possibly reduce seizures, and more. However, coconut oil may not be great for your heart health.

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Coconut oil is an increasingly popular cooking oil.

Many people praise it for its health benefits, including antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, improved skin and oral health, and weight loss potential.

Here are 10 evidence-based health benefits of coconut oil, plus some special considerations to keep in mind if you want to include it in your diet.

Coconut oil is a rich source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a type of saturated fat.

In general, saturated fats are divided into three subgroups, each of which has different effects in your body. These subgroups are:

  • long-chain
  • medium-chain
  • short-chain

Scientists are studying medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), including those found in coconut oil, for their potential health benefits.

For instance, a 2023 study found that MCT supplementation, when used during a low-calorie ketogenic diet, significantly decreased body weight, BMI, and waist circumference.

Since the fats in coconut oil are 65% MCT, it may have fat-burning properties that are similar to pure MCT oil.

However, there’s currently no good evidence to say that eating coconut oil by itself will increase the number of calories you burn. More studies on MCT’s weight loss potential are needed.

It’s also important to keep in mind that coconut oil is very high in calories and can easily lead to weight gain if you consume it in large amounts.

Summary

Researchers have found that consuming a type of saturated fat in coconut oil, called MCTs, may increase the number of calories you burn. However, it’s still unclear if coconut oil itself has this effect.

2. May work as a quick source of energy

The MCTs in coconut oil provide a quick supply of energy.

When you eat long-chain triglycerides (LCTs), they’re packaged into molecules called chylomicrons that are transported into your blood via the lymphatic system. Once chylomicrons exit your lymphatic system, they’re taken to your liver and other tissues to be stored or broken down for energy. So getting energy from LCTs take some time.

On the other hand, MCTs are absorbed intact from the small intestine into the blood and can be immediately used for energy, in much the same way as carbs — your body’s preferred source of energy.

In fact, MCTs have been long used in sports nutrition products for athletes who need a source of energy their body can absorb and use fast.

Summary

Coconut oil is high in MCTs, which your body metabolizes differently than LCTs. MCTs provide a rapid energy source that your body can absorb and use faster than other types of saturated fat.

Coconut oil has antimicrobial and antifungal properties due to its MCT content — specifically, lauric acid.

Lauric acid is a fatty acid that makes up about 50% of the MCTs in coconut oil.

Research suggests it may have antimicrobial effects against disease-causing microorganisms, such as:

  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Streptococcus mutans
  • Streptococcus pyogenes
  • Escherichia coli
  • Helicobacter pylori

Studies show that lauric acid may act as a bacteriostatic agent. This is a substance that prevents bacteria from multiplying without killing the bacteria.

It may also act as a bacteriocidal agent, which destroys some bacteria. In addition, it may also inhibit the growth of microorganisms that are harmful to plants.

Summary

Lauric acid in coconut oil may have antimicrobial properties against a variety of harmful microorganisms.

One interesting feature of MCTs is that they may increase feelings of fullness (satiety) and help reduce food intake.

This may be related to how the body breaks them down. A proportion of MCTs you eat are broken down in a process that produces molecules called ketones.

Ketones reduce appetite by either acting directly on the brain’s chemical messengers or altering the levels of hunger-inducing hormones, such as ghrelin.

You may be familiar with ketones in the context of ketogenic diets, which are quite popular these days. People who are on keto diets don’t eat many carbs, but they do often eat lots of fat. For this reason, their bodies tend to use ketones for fuel.

However, though coconut oil is one of the richest natural sources of MCTs, there’s no evidence that coconut oil itself reduces appetite more than other oils. In fact, a 2017 study reports that coconut oil is less filling than MCT oil.

Summary

MCTs may help reduce food intake by decreasing hunger. However, evidence suggests that coconut oil doesn’t necessarily offer the same effect.

People have long used keto diets, which are very low in carbs and high in fats, to treat various disorders, including drug-resistant epilepsy in children. They have been shown to help reduce how often seizures happen.

Researchers believe that the lack of available glucose to fuel brain cells is a possible explanation for the reduction in seizure frequency in people with epilepsy on ketogenic diets.

However, overall, there’s a lack of evidence for the use of keto diets in adults with epilepsy, so more research is needed.

Reducing your carb intake reduces the glucose in your blood, and increasing your fat intake leads to significantly increased concentrations of ketones. Your brain can use ketones as an energy source instead of glucose.

Recently, adults have found they may treat epilepsy by following modified keto diets that include MCTs and a more generous carb allowance to induce ketosis.

Research shows that the MCTs in coconut oil get transported to your liver and turned into ketones.

Summary

MCTs in coconut oil can increase blood ketone concentrations, which may help reduce seizure frequency.

Coconut oil has many uses that have little to do with eating. Many people use it for cosmetic purposes to improve the health and appearance of their skin.

Studies show that coconut oil can boost the moisture content of dry skin. It may also improve the function of the skin, helping prevent excessive water loss and protecting you from external factors, such as infectious agents, chemicals, and allergens.

In fact, a 2021 study determined that applying 6–8 drops of virgin coconut oil on your hands and leaving it overnight may be an effective way to prevent dry skin caused by frequent use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

It may also reduce the severity of mild to moderate symptoms of atopic dermatitis, a chronic skin disease characterized by skin inflammation and defects in skin barrier function.

Summary

Coconut oil may help moisturize your skin and improve skin barrier function.

Coconut oil can also protect against hair damage.

For instance, a 2021 study determined that, since coconut oil deeply penetrates hair strands, it makes them more flexible and increases their strength to prevent them from breaking under tension.

Similarly, another study found that coconut oil nourishes hair strands and reduces breakage, which further strengthens the hair.

Summary

Coconut oil may help strengthen your hair by increasing flexibility and reducing the breakage of hair strands.

A 2020 study found that using coconut oil as a mouthwash — a process called oil pulling — benefits oral hygiene in a cost-effective way.

Oil pulling involves swishing coconut oil in your mouth like mouthwash. It may significantly reduce the count of harmful bacteria in the mouth — namely S. mutans — compared with a regular mouthwash.

This is thought to be due to the antibacterial properties of lauric acid.

Additionally, lauric acid in coconut oil reacts with saliva to form a soap-like substance that prevents cavities and helps reduce dental plaque buildup and gum inflammation.

However, studies on this topic also note that oil pulling doesn’t replace dental therapy, and more research is needed.

Summary

Coconut oil may be a cost-effective way to improve oral health due to its lauric acid content.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.

This condition reduces your brain’s ability to use glucose for energy. However, researchers believe that ketones can offset early signs of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease by providing an alternative energy source for brain cells.

For this reason, individual foods like coconut oil have been investigated for their potential role in managing Alzheimer’s disease.

Yet, larger studies in humans are needed.

Summary

Since coconut oil is rich in MCTs, which significantly increase blood levels of ketones, it may potentially help with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. However, further studies are needed.

Coconut oil is a good source of antioxidants, which help neutralize damaging molecules called free radicals. This, in turn, helps reduce the risk of several chronic and degenerative diseases.

Some of the main types of antioxidants in the oil are:

  • tocopherols
  • tocotrienols
  • phytosterols
  • flavonoids
  • polyphenols

Antioxidants in coconut oil confer it with potential anti-inflammatory and brain-protective effects.

A 2017 animal study also suggests the possible role of coconut oil, particularly the MCT lauric acid, in reducing secondary diabetic complications.

Summary

Coconut oil is a good source of antioxidants, which provide anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and brain-protective effects.

In recent years, coconut oil has been touted as beneficial for heart health. That’s because some evidence suggests it may lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

However, evidence on the effects of coconut oil on blood cholesterol levels is conflicting.

A 2020 study found that coconut oil may actually significantly increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels — which increases the risk of heart disease.

One possible explanation for the contradictory results could be differing methods between studies. For example, some studies compare the effects of coconut oil with other sources of unsaturated vegetable fats, while others compare it with saturated animal fats — such as butter.

Compared with vegetable fats, coconut oil increases both LDL (bad) and total cholesterol levels to a greater extent. However, this increase is smaller compared with that of butter.

An increase in HDL (good) cholesterol levels actually reduces the risk of heart disease, so you might think that the increase in HDL from coconut oil could be beneficial.

However, the American Heart Association (AHA) has determined that increases in HDL caused by diet or drug therapy do not appear to be directly linked to changes in the risk of heart disease.

So, the increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol levels outshines the benefits. That’s why the AHA advises against using it for heart health.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should avoid coconut oil altogether. Simply try to limit its intake within the current recommendations for saturated fat intake, which is less than 10% of your total calories per day.

Summary

There’s conflicting evidence on the benefits of coconut oil for heart health. However, the AHA advises against consuming it to reduce your risk of heart disease. Try to limit your intake of all saturated fats, including coconut oil, to less than 10% of your daily calorie intake.

Is a spoonful of coconut oil a day good for you?

Coconut oil has many benefits and can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet. However, it’s also high in saturated fats so it’s best to moderate your intake. That means consuming no more than 2 tablespoons or less per day.

Is coconut oil healthier than olive oil?

Olive oil is healthier than coconut oil. That’s because olive oil is much lower in saturated fats than coconut oil and contains more nutrients.

Which is better, coconut or palm oil?

Palm oil is healthier than coconut oil. Palm oil only has about 50% saturated fat, while coconut oil contains about 85%.

Coconut oil has a number of emerging benefits for your health, both when you add it to your diet or use it for cosmetic purposes.

However, be sure to consume it in moderation. Health authorities advise keeping your intake moderate to avoid increasing your risk of heart disease.

Just one thing

Try this today: If you’re not sure whether you should choose refined or unrefined coconut oil, read this article, which compares the two versions and their different properties and uses.

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Top 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Coconut Oil (2024)

FAQs

Is a spoonful of coconut oil a day good for you? ›

That said, as long as you moderate your intake of coconut oil, you can definitely enjoy it as part of a healthy diet. Coconut oil is high in saturated fats and should be treated like any other fat or oil. While it can be part of a nutritious diet, it's best to stick to two tablespoons (28 grams) or less per day.

Why do cardiologists say to avoid coconut oil? ›

Myth: Coconut oil is a heart-healthy cooking alternative.

The reality: Coconut oil has been shown to raise cholesterol levels — the good and the bad kinds — more than other plant-based oils like olive or canola. And in truth, medium-chain triglycerides make up only a small amount of the fatty acids in coconut oil.

What healing properties does coconut oil have? ›

However, coconut oil may be linked to some potential benefits for skin, including reducing inflammation, keeping skin moisturized and helping heal wounds. The medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil also possess antimicrobial properties that can help treat acne and protect the skin from harmful bacteria.

What happens if you put coconut oil on your body everyday? ›

Side effects of using coconut oil on your skin

It's hydrating, yes. But that means it can do its job a little too well and clog pores and cause acne breakouts — especially if your skin is more on the oily side. “If you are prone to acne, you should also avoid putting it on your shoulders, chest or back,” Dr. Wu adds.

Is coconut oil better than olive oil? ›

The clear winner in this matchup is olive oil. That is because it is rich in good fat (polyunsaturated fat) and low in bad fat (saturated fat). Coconut oil contains 80 to 90 percent saturated fat. According to the experts, a tablespoon of coconut oil contains about six times as much saturated fat as olive oil.

Is coconut oil good for your joints? ›

Several studies have shown that virgin coconut oil has anti-inflammatory properties, once again due to the high lauric acid levels. This makes coconut oil a good choice for relieving painful joints and muscles, especially after sport.

Is coconut oil good for your brain? ›

Coconut MCT Oil Benefits for Brain Health

Aside from acting as an energy alternative to glucose, ketones are thought to benefit the brain in several ways. They can stimulate the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the growth and survival of brain cells.

What is negative about coconut oil? ›

Coconut oil is full of saturated fat, which can raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol and your chances of cardiovascular disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends you to eat low-saturated fat foods and use healthier oils when you cook.

What does Mayo Clinic say about coconut oil? ›

How can a plant be worse for you than animal fat? “We know that the coconut oil is a very saturated fat. Even though it does grow from the ground, and nothing that grows from the ground has cholesterol in it. It is a saturated fat that turns into cholesterol.”

Can too much coconut oil clog arteries? ›

Extensive research shows that coconut oil increases your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. That's the “bad” cholesterol that clogs arteries and creates all sorts of cardiac mayhem. High cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease.

Does coconut oil raise LDL? ›

In a meta-analysis of 16 trials, coconut oil consumption significantly increased low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol concentrations as compared with nontropical vegetable oils.

Does coconut oil help hair growth? ›

Coconut oil is an effective hair and scalp treatment and works with all hair types. It is deeply moisturising which makes coconut oil a great oil to use to help with damaged hair and it can also help to encourage hair growth.

Does gargling coconut oil whiten teeth? ›

Some claim coconut oil offers benefits like healthier gums, plaque removal, and even whiter teeth. But before you make oil pulling part of your morning routine, it's important to ask, “Does coconut oil really whiten teeth?” It turns out that oil probably won't offer you significant oral benefits.

What does drinking coconut oil do to the body? ›

Research published in the medical journal Food and Function found that coconut oil improves antioxidant levels and can slow aging. Coconut oil works by reducing stress on the liver and lowering oxidative stress. Also, researchers found that coconut oil may support detoxification because of how it works with the liver.

Is it healthy to eat coconut oil by itself? ›

Still, eating it straight can help you keep from feeling hungry in between meals, and some experts even suggest that doing so might give you a quick and much-needed energy boost. But if you have the time and the tools, cooking with coconut oil is really the way to go.

Can you put coconut oil on your face? ›

While coconut oil shouldn't be used on your face due to being comedogenic, it may be used as a moisturizer for the rest of the body. And thanks to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, coconut oil may benefit wound healing and post-sun exposure.

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