Coconut (Cocos nucifera), is highly valued and spoken of with great respect by people not because as a source of food and medicine but for its cultural significance, economic importance and many uses. It is named as “The Tree of Life”, "Kapruka", in Sri Lanka and "Kalparuksha" in Sanskrit. It is a part of the peoples’ diet and livelihood of many peoples in the tropical countries in Asia and the Pacific for over a period of thousand years. The various products of coconut include tender coconut water, copra, coconut oil, raw kernel, coconut cake, coconut toddy, coconut shell wood based products, coconut leaves and coir pith etc. Coconut oil is the most important commercial product among all the other products derived from the coconut palm. It is extensively used for edible and inedible purposes. While coconut possesses many health benefits due to its kernel, fibre and nutritional content, it’s the oil that makes it a truly remarkable food and a medicine which is called as functional food. Coconut oil is obtained by direct processing of wet kernel or by crushing good quality copra.
Historical data has proved that the coconut oil is a natural remedy for many common illnesses and is good for health. Over a period of thousand year's people used to take it to cure many illnesses. It holds a high place of respect in the Ayurvedic medicine. In Ayurvedic medicine coconut oil has been used as it is or it has been used as the base to prepare many other medicines by mixing with various herbs. According to traditional Ayurvedic classics coconut oil nourishes the body and increases the strength. In Central America and East Africa, people drink it by the cup whenever they are sick. In the Philippines it has a long history of use as an all purpose medicine and topical ointment. In traditional medicine around the world, coconut is used to treat a wide variety of health problems such as : abscesses, asthma, baldness, bronchitis, bruises, burns, colds, constipation, cough, dropsy, dysentery, earache, fever, flu, gingivitis, gonorrhea, irregular or painful menstruation, jaundice, kidney stones, lice, malnutrition, nausea, rash, scabies, scurvy, skin infections, sore throat, swelling, syphilis, toothache, tuberculosis, tumors, typhoid, ulcers, stomach diseases, weakness and wounds. Recently modern medical science has unlocked the secrets to coconut’s amazing healing powers.
Most of the vegetable oils used in cooking and food preparation are composed entirely of long chain triglycerides. These include corn, sunflower, soybean, canola and other typical cooking and salad oils. The only significant natural source of medium chain triglycerides is coconut and palm kernel oils.
Coconut oil contains about 92% saturated fatty acids, among which medium chain triglycerides contribute 60-70% of the total fatty acids. The remaining 6% fatty acids consist as monounsaturated fatty acids, and 2% as polyunsaturated fatty acids. Among the saturated fatty acids, coconut oil primarily contains 48% lauric acid, 20% myristic acid, 8% palmitic acid and 7% caprylic acid. Therefore coconut oil is belongs to the lauric group. Lauric has its own specific and precious benefits which are very good for our health.
The medium chain fats in coconut oil are similar to fats in mother’s milk and have similar nutritional effects. The lauric acid in coconut oil is used by the body to make disease fighting fatty acid derivative monolaurin that babies make from the lauric acid they get from their mothers’ milk. The monoglyceridemonolaurin is the substance that keeps infacnts away from getting viral or bacterial or protozoal infections.
Fresh lauric oil is wholesome to heart and relieves skin troubles. It is emphasized that the fats that cause heart disease immediately are saturated fats with long chain. Long chain fatty acids (of other oils) are incorporated into lipoproteins for transportation, which eventually deposit in various organs, including heart vessels but not the medium chain fatty acids of coconut oil. On the other hand, total blood cholesterol levels may fluctuate either up or down slightly, but in either case their HDL (good) cholesterol increases by the consumption of coconut oil. HDL cholesterol is believed to protect against heart disease and it is better when it is higher. Moreover coconut oil helps to reduce health risks associated with diabetes.
The advantage of coconut oil in weight management is primarily due to its effect on metabolism. Medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil are small than other fats and, therefore, digest very quickly and the body uses them as an immediate source of fuel rather than pack them away in storage inside our fat cells. This feature helps dieters, athletes, individuals who have difficulty in digesting fat and those with impaired immune systems. Medium-chain triglycerides are used to product energy similar to carbohydrates and, therefore, they do not circulate in the blood stream like other fats. For this reason, they do not supply fat to fat cells or contribute to weight gain. Thus, coconut oil is recommended as a means to lose excess body fat, control weight and even treat obesity. Coconut oil improves digestion, absorption of other nutrients including vitamins, minerals and amino acids and bowel function.
Coconut oil is also valued for its antimicrobial properties. The use of the oil mixed with herbs is widespread among the people. Different preparations of coconut oil promote luxurious hair growth, healthy looking hair, and complexion and it protects the skin from bacterial, protozoal, viral infections and from ultraviolet radiations. For some head diseases, such as lice an application of coconut oil medicated to roots of palm is known to be an effective treatment. Also playing coconut oil is a good treatment to get rid from dandruff. Xerosis is a common skin condition characterized by dry, rough, scaly, and itchy skin, associated with a defect in skin barrier functions, and treated with moisturizers. People in the tropics have effectively used coconut oil as a traditional moisturizer for centuries to overcome xerosis like problems. The oil also has been shown to have skin antiseptic effects. Coconut oil should be used in the treatment of fungal infections. It is good for tissue healing and repair. Therefore coconut oil can be used as an ointment for wound healing.
Coconut oil also stabilizes the HIV/AIDS condition in many sufferers. Use of monolaurin is now appearing at an increasing rate showing application in peptic ulcers, benign prostatic hyperplasia, genital herpes, hepatitis C as well as HIV/AIDS. Medium chain fatty acids from coconut oil kill bacteria that cause gastric ulcers, sinus infections, urinary tract infections, dental cavities, pneumonia, gonorrhea and other infections. They also destroy fungus and yeasts that cause ringworm and athlete’s foot. Coconut oil improves calcium and magnesium absorption and supports the development of strong bones and teeth and helps protect against osteoporosis.
Other researchers have demonstrated that coconut oil reduces the risk of cancer. Furthermore it improves the thyroid function; function of immune system; and helps to reduce the symptoms associated with kidney, liver, pancreatitis, problems associated with malabsorption syndrome, cystic fibrosis, crohn’s disease, chronic fatigue syndrome,, ulcerative colitis, and stomach ulcers. Coconut oil contains good antioxidants such as tocopheroils and tocotrienols. Tocopherols and the related tocotrienols are potent anti-oxidants that can help maintain healthy cell structure and function. It helps to get rid from the age spots coming with the aging process and helps to protect the body from harmful free radicals that promote premature aging and degenerative disease.
Now the world is giving more attention about the amazing property of coconut oil for Alzheimer’s disease. Modern medical research is now confirming the use of pure coconut oil to prevent Alzheimer’s disease for a normal healthy life. Coconut oil does not form harmful by-products when heated to normal cooking temperature like other vegetable oils do. Therefore it has no harmful or discomforting side effects. Coconut is the perfect health nut which can help to avoid obesity, boost immunity, protect from bacteria, fungus and viruses while keeping heart healthy and moisturizing skin to a natural glow and beauty, even treating acne, and providing beneficial antiseptic, tumor protecting, and antioxidant effects. Coconut oil in amounts up to 60% of daily calories has shown to have no adverse side effects. Therefore coconut oil is considered as a valuable functional food with a vast range of health benefits.
Coconut Research Institute