Monday, September 1, 2014


Homemade Coconut Macaroons 
View recipe here: Coconut Macaroons
Credit: Jenny

Coconut products (water, milk, oil, creams) are becoming increasingly popular due to their supposed health benefits. There are in fact many potential health benefits of coconut consumption, but the research does not support the idea that these coconut products are a cure-all as some claim. Surprisingly, very little new research regarding coconut consumption has been published in the past year. First, let’s summarize some of the earlier research and recommendations regarding coconuts.

If there’s one thing you’ve heard about coconut milk or coconut oil, it’s probably the high fat content. Numerous national and global health organizations advise against consuming large quantities of coconut oil due to its high levels of saturated fat. However, not all fats are created equal!

Lauric acid is one of the primary saturated fats found in coconut oil and milk and has been shown to increase “good” cholesterol (HDL).[1] Therefore, some believe coconut oil is a healthier alternative to vegetable oil.

Virgin coconut oil is believed to be safe to consume since it mainly consists of medium-chain triglycerides which don’t necessarily impose the same negative effects as other types of saturated fats. In other words, virgin coconut oil is generally believed to be better for your health than partially hydrogenated coconut oil.

Compared to many other beverages, coconut water is rich in potassium, antioxidants, and contains dietary fiber.

New Research within the Past Year

Healthy participants who consumed coconut milk porridge for 5 days per week for 8 weeks saw significantly decreased LDL levels (“bad” cholesterol) and significantly increased HDL levels. The authors believe that coconut fat from coconut milk has no major negative effects on the lipid profile of the general population and is likely beneficial due to its ability to increase HDL and lower LDL.[2]

However, it’s important to note that the porridge used in this study was 200 mL and contained approximately 260 dietary calories. Therefore, it’s difficult to say how these lipid profiles would have turned out if the patients consumed much higher amounts of coconut milk. In other words, it may be healthy to consume a moderate amount of coconut milk daily, but there’s no evidence to suggest that it is equally healthy to consumer large quantities of coconut milk.

Studies have shown virgin coconut oil to possess antimicrobial properties. A recent study demonstrated virgin coconut oil’s ability to inhibit the growth of Clostridium difficile (leading cause of hospital-acquired diarrhea). Although the coconut oil alone did not significantly inhibit bacteria growth, the fatty acids (as a result of hydrolysis of the fats in coconut oil) did inhibit the growth of Clostridium difficile, particularly lauric acid. Therefore, coconut oil consumption may possibly influence the recovery from a bout with this diarrhea-causing bacterium, though much more research would need to be performed to confirm this.[3]

Also, it’s important to note here that coconut oil can actually cause diarrhea due to the loosening of stool, so consumption of coconut oil would only protect you against some bacteria that cause diarrhea, not prevent diarrhea altogether.

A study published in August 2014 demonstrated the ability of coconut water concentrate and its primary phytochemical (shikimic acid) to protect hepatocytes (liver cells) from oxidative damage.[4]

Also in 2014, scientists demonstrated that polyphenols from virgin coconut oils were able to inhibit the onset of arthritis in rats due to antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.[5]

These studies add to the growing evidence that coconut products possess antioxidant properties, though more clinical data is required before dietary recommendations can be implemented with certainty.

Breast cancer
In August 2014, a study was published which investigated the effects of virgin coconut oil on the quality of life for patients with breast cancer. The sample population consisted of sixty patients in Malaysia with stage III or IV breast cancer. Consumption of virgin coconut oil improved symptoms including fatigue, sleep difficulties, and lack of appetite, breast symptoms, future perspective, body image, and sexual function. Overall, consumption of virgin coconut oil during chemotherapy helped reduce the side-effects of chemotherapy as well as improving the functional status and outlook of patients with breast cancer.[6]

In 2014, a clinical trial was published regarding the usefulness of topical virgin coconut oil in treating atopic dermatitis. Patients with mild to moderate atopic dermatitis had overall better improvement (based on transepidermal water loss and skin capacitance) after eight weeks of treatment with topical virgin coconut oil compared to mineral oil.[7]

A study consisting of a relatively small sample size (12 healthy volunteers) randomly consumed one of four beverages after dehydration through exercise on four different days: water, sports drink, a potassium-rich drink, or coconut water. After analyzing fluid retention measurements and self-reported satisfaction, it was concluded that coconut water and potassium-rich drinks were no better than conventional sports drinks with sodium for rehydrating after exercise.[8]

Interesting finding
Alcoholic extracts of the coconut husk were found to be highly effective against numerous oral bacteria.[9] So the next time you’re without a toothbrush, but you for some reason have a coconut and some alcohol handy, soak the husk in the alcohol to make an antimicrobial mouthwash. I suppose you could brush your teeth with the husk itself also, though I’m not sure I would recommend trying that one.

[1] Mensink et al. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 77 (5): 1146–55.
[2] Ekanayaka et al. J Nutr Metab. 2013;2013:481068. Epub 2013 Oct 24.
[3] Shilling et al. J Med Food. 2013 Dec;16(12):1079-85.
[4] Manna et al. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014 Aug 8;155(1):132-46. Epub 2014 May 14.
[5] Vysakh et al. Int Immunopharmacol. 2014 May;20(1):124-30. Epub 2014 Mar 6.
[6] Law et al. Lipids Health Dis. 2014 Aug 27;13(1):139. [Epub ahead of print]
[7] Evangelista et al. Int J Dermatol. 2014 Jan;53(1):100-8. Epub 2013 Dec 10.
[8] Pérez-Idárraga et al. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2014 May 9:1-8. [Epub ahead of print]
[9] Jose et al. J Nat Sci Biol Med. 2014 Jul;5(2):359-64.

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