Coconut oil may be one of the most misunderstood of the more readily available dietary fats/oils. As it is predominantly over 90% saturated fat consumers assume it is bad for you and look for other seemingly less offensive alternatives.
The distinguishing feature between coconut oil and other forms of saturated fats and triglycerides is the much shorter length of the fatty acid. Coconut oil is actually a medium chain triglyceride (MCT) 6 to 12 carbon lengths long as opposed to long chain triglycerides which are over 12 carbon lengths long and is the principal form of fat found in western diets. This smaller chain length makes it much easier for the body to absorb digest and process as its breakdown requires less energy and less enzymatic action than what is usually needed for the longer chain triglycerides. Once broken down into medium chain fatty acids and absorbed in the body they are then delivered to the liver where they are used as a primary source of energy. This leads to an increase in metabolism ultimately resulting 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 that may make it when used appropriately a no-brainer as a food item to be consumed on a daily basis for many people.
As part of a weight loss protocol coconut oil has been shown to help improve anthropomorphic profiles in overweight and obese men and women.
Researchers have discovered that Alzheimer's sufferers have pathological brain glucose metabolism possibly due to glucose transporter dysfunction and insulin resistance.
Alzheimer's patients therefore find that their brain's ability to use glucose (the brain's preferred form of fuel) is 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 those with Alzheimer's find beneficial as they experience improvements in cognition and memory.
Coconut oil is chock full of antioxidative compounds which helps protect it from oxidation and degradation. This quality was evaluated in an interesting study which looked at the antioxidative properties of various oils and their effects on rodent testes. The rodents who were fed 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 as well. Furthermore components of coconut oil contain fatty acids such as lauric and myristic acids which also act as 5 reductase inhibitors which help block testosterone from metabolizing to the more potent and possibly proliferative dihydrotestosterone.
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.
Finally lauric acid is a powerful antimicrobial and antifungal compound and has been shown to be 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.
by Michael Fuhrman D.C.