By Dr. Mercola
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step," said the ancient philosopher Lao Tzu. And this is certainly true when it comes to your health. Making a series of small, manageable lifestyle changes can significantly change your life for the better, and one such option to strongly consider is the use of coconut oil.
Stash a jar of coconut oil in your kitchen pantry and one under your bathroom sink – and then read up on the many ways this rich and creamy oil can be used to benefit your health.
Coconut oil is one of the best, most stable oils to use for your cooking. It's also wonderful added to smoothies. You can use coconut oil as a natural moisturizer, as part of your hair care routine or as a deodorant. It can even help remove soap scum from your shower.
But, its uses don't end there. From enhancing your digestive health to improving your teeth and gum care and fighting off candida yeast, coconut oil is one health tool you won't want to be without.
Coconut Oil Wages War Against Candida
Yeast known as candida albicans (C. albicans) normally live in your digestive tract. But if your digestive tract is imbalanced or "sick," candida can grow out of control, break down the wall of your intestine, and enter your bloodstream, causing systemic health effects including potentially deadly infection.
Candida overgrowth is very common in people with digestive complaints, and coconut oil, which has anti-microbial properties, is an effective solution. Recent research published in mSphere found that mice fed coconut oil had a 10-fold drop in the colonization of C. albicans in their gut compared to those fed beef tallow or soybean oil.1
When the beef tallow mice were switched over to a coconut oil diet, it took just four days for their C. albicans in their guts to drop significantly. According to the researchers, coconut oil might provide an effective alternative to antifungal drugs and likely could help control the growth of C. albicans simply by being added to a patient's regular diet.
They are hoping to conduct a clinical trial on using coconut oil to help hospitalized infants at high risk of systemic candidiasis. They continued:2
"Using a mouse model, we showed that adding coconut oil to the diet could become the first drug-free way to reduce C. albicans in the gut. More broadly, this model lets us study the interactions between our diet and the microbes in our body and the reasons why some of those microbes, under certain conditions, cause disease."
Coconut Oil for Your Digestive Health
Coconut oil is easy on your digestive system and does not produce an insulin spike in your bloodstream, so for a quick energy boost, you could simply eat a spoonful of coconut oil or add it to your food.
Its medium-chain fatty acids (MCTs) also impart a number of health benefits, including raising your body's metabolism and fighting off pathogens. Its MCTs are also easily absorbed in your digestive tract than the longer chain fatty acids found in other fats, such as polyunsaturated vegetable oils (corn, soy, etc.).
In the case of Crohn's disease, for instance, it's been shown that adding long-chain fatty acids to patients' feeding tubes worsens the condition, "whereas no deleterious effects of additional medium-chain triglyceride have been identified."3
Other evidence of coconut oil's digestive benefits can be found in a Gut study, which found MCTs improve fat absorption in patients who have had their colon fully or partially removed.4 And in a study on mice, when dietary sunflower oil was partially replaced with coconut oil, the mice had reduced colitis and less intestinal inflammation.5
MCTs also help your body absorb other nutrients. Among patients receiving total parenteral nutrition, those who received MCTs in addition to long-chain fatty acids had double the absorption of vitamin E compared to patients receiving only long-chain fatty acids.6
Another animal study compared the effects of feeding coconut oil (a saturated fat) versus safflower oil (a polyunsaturated fat) on the absorption of carotenoids from tomatoes.
Coconut oil enhanced tissue uptake of tomato carotenoids to a greater degree than safflower oil, a benefit the researchers also suggested may be due to coconut oil's MCTs.7 And as reported by the Weston A. Price Foundation:8
"Coconut oil is so beneficial for digestive health that years ago a person suffering from Crohn's disease wrote to 'Dear Abby' insisting that eating macaroons eliminated symptoms of the disease.
The macaroons contained sugar, white flour, bad oils, and guess what… six to eight grams of fats from coconut! Even amidst the bad ingredients, the fatty acids in coconut oil helped this person with Crohn's!"
Coconut Oil for Weight Loss and Metabolism
MCTs are smaller than LCTs (long-chain triglycerides found in most vegetable oils), which means they permeate cell membranes easily and do not require lipoproteins or special enzymes to be utilized effectively by your body. Further:
- MCTs are easily digested, thus putting less strain on your digestive system. This is especially important for those of you with digestive or metabolic concerns
- MCTs are sent directly to your liver, where they are immediately converted into energy rather than being stored as fat
- MCTs in coconut oil can actually help stimulate your body's metabolism, leading to weight loss
There are numerous studies showing that MCTs promote weight loss, including one study that showed rats fed LCTs stored body fat, while rats fed MCTs reduced body fat and improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.9
Yet another study found that overweight men who ate a diet rich in MCTs lost more fat tissue compared to those eating a high-LCT diet, presumably due to increased energy expenditure and fat oxidation from the MCT intake. Researchers concluded:10
"Thus, MCTs may be considered as agents that aid in the prevention of obesity or potentially stimulate weight loss."
Coconut oil earns even more "points" because it's rich in lauric acid, which converts in your body to monolaurin – a compound also found in breast milk that strengthens immunity. Caprylic acid, another coconut fatty acid present in smaller amounts, is another beneficial antimicrobial component.
Coconut Oil for Healthy Teeth and Gums
Coconut oil is a safe, natural, and inexpensive tool to improve your oral health. Coconut oil has antibacterial and anti-viral activity that makes it especially well suited for oral health.
Research even shows that massaging coconut oil into your gums for about 10 minutes daily (continued for three weeks) significantly reduces decay-causing Streptococcus mutans as well as plaque.11
In another study to test coconut oil's biocidal properties, the antibacterial action of coconut oil was tested in its natural state and after being treated with enzymes, in a process similar to digestion. The oils were tested against strains of Streptococcus bacteria, which are common inhabitants of your mouth.
They found that enzyme-modified coconut oil strongly inhibits the growth of most strains of Streptococcus bacteria, including symptoms of Streptococcus.12 It is thought that the breaking down of the fatty coconut oil by the enzymes turns it into acids, which are toxic to certain bacteria.13
It's actually quite simple to make your own coconut oil toothpaste at home. The first recipe that follows, from MindBodyGreen, makes a little more than one cup of toothpaste, which should last about three months. It can be stored in your fridge for up to four months or at room temperature for seven to 14 days.14
Homemade Peppermint and Coconut Oil Toothpaste
- 1/2 cup bentonite clay
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- 2/3 cup water
- 1/4 cup coconut oil
- 1 tsp. stevia (optional)
- 1 to 4 drops peppermint essential oil
Mix the clay and salt in a bowl. Add the water. Mix well. Add the rest of ingredients. Mix well again until it forms a paste. Store it in a jar with a lid. Every time you go to use it, spoon some onto your toothbrush. Dampen the paste by putting your brush under some gently running water. Brush as usual.
Have You Tried Oil Pulling?
Oil pulling involves "rinsing" your mouth with coconut oil, much like you would with a mouthwash (except you shouldn't attempt to gargle with it). The oil is "worked" around your mouth by pushing, pulling, and drawing it through your teeth for a period of about 20 minutes. When you're first starting out, you may want to try it for just five minutes at a time, or, if you have more time and want even better results, you can go for 30 to 45 minutes.
This process allows the oil to "pull out" bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other debris from your mouth. Once the oil turns thin and milky white, you'll know it's time to spit it out. As reported by the Indian Journal of Dental Research:15
"Oil pulling has been used extensively as a traditional Indian folk remedy without scientific proof for many years for strengthening teeth, gums, and jaws and to prevent decay, oral malodor, bleeding gums, and dryness of throat and cracked lips."
However, oil pulling does appear to have a significant cleansing and healing effect, which is backed up by science:
- Oil pulling reduced counts of Streptococcus mutans bacteria – a significant contributor to tooth decay – in the plaque and saliva of children.16 Researchers concluded, "Oil pulling can be used as an effective preventive adjunct in maintaining and improving oral health."
- Oil pulling significantly reduced plaque, improved gum health, and reduced aerobic microorganisms in plaque among adolescent boys with plaque-induced gingivitis17
- Oil pulling is as effective as mouthwash at improving bad breath and reducing the microorganisms that may cause it18
- Oil pulling benefits your mouth, in part, via its mechanical cleaning action.19 Researchers noted:
"The myth that the effect of oil-pulling therapy on oral health was just a placebo effect has been broken and there are clear indications of possible saponification and emulsification process, which enhances its mechanical cleaning action."
It's worth noting that the above studies used sesame oil, which is traditionally recommended. However, coconut oil is likely far superior due to its antibacterial and anti-viral activity. Many find that it tastes better, too.
How to Add Coconut Oil to Your Beauty Routine
Coconut oil is excellent when used in cooking or for oral care (you can even take a tablespoon or two a day as a health "supplement"), however it's equally useful when used topically. Coconut oil can easily replace many of the personal care products under your bathroom sink. Delicious Obsessions listed no less than 122 creative uses for this household staple, including 21 DIY coconut oil skin care recipes.20 For example:
Makeup remover: Swipe on with a moist cotton ball. Wipe off with clean cotton ball or wet washcloth. Facial cleanser: Massage a dollop of coconut oil onto face and neck. Wash off with wet washcloth and pat dry. Body scrub: Mix equal parts coconut oil with organic cane sugar in a glass jar. Use the scrub on dry skin prior to your shower or bath. Facial scrub: Instead of sugar, mix coconut oil with baking soda, or oatmeal with a dash of cinnamon, for a gentle facial scrub. Shaving lotion: Apply a thin layer of coconut oil on area to be shaved and shave as usual. The lauric acid in the coconut oil will also serve as an antiseptic for cuts that result from shaving. Face and body moisturizer: You can use it either by itself or add your favorite essential oil. (Make sure you're using a high-quality essential oil that is safe for topical application.) You can also whip the coconut oil with an electric mixer to produce a fluffy moisturizer that stays soft and spreadable even in cooler temperatures.
When applied topically, coconut oil helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by helping to keep your connective tissues strong and supple, and aids in exfoliating the outer layer of dead skin cells, making your skin smoother.
Eye cream: Apply a thin layer of coconut oil around your eyes to soften wrinkles and counteract thinning, sagging skin. Cuticle cream: Simply rub a small amount of coconut oil around your cuticles to soften dry areas. Deodorant: Applying a small amount of coconut oil directly onto your armpits can help keep odors at bay, courtesy of the oil's antibacterial properties. If you prefer, you can add a small amount of baking soda, or make a homemade deodorant using coconut oil, baking soda, and arrowroot powder. Bath soak: Adding coconut oil to your bath can help moisturize dry itchy skin (Make sure to scrub your tub afterward to prevent slipping!). Make sure the water is warmer than 76 degrees Fahrenheit though; otherwise the oil will turn to a solid. Soap: Coconut oil is one of the base ingredients in many homemade soap recipes. Lip balm: You can either apply a small amount of coconut oil as is, or make your own lip balm using coconut oil as one of the base ingredients. You can find all sorts of recipes online. Insect repellent: Mixing coconut oil with high-quality essential oils may help keep biting insects at bay when applied to exposed skin. Effective choices include: peppermint, lemon balm, rosemary, tea tree oil, neem, citronella (Java Citronella), geraniol, catnip oil, and/or clear vanilla oil.