Coconut Oil: 5 Surprising Ways It Can Improve Your Wellbeing

Have you gone coconuts for coconut oil yet? Chances are, you have!

Over the past five years, people in the United States and other parts of the Western world have started to embrace coconut oil with a sincere passion. Countless celebrities are swishing it around like mouthwash, rubbing it on wounds, spreading it on toast, pouring it in coffee, slathering it on hair, and even taking spoonfuls of it after workout sessions. It’s almost difficult to scan through social media or shelves at the grocery store without seeing it — especially virgin coconut oil (VCO). Online, you can find over a hundred uses for the sweet-smelling oil: it’s everything from a makeup remover to a natural deodorant. So is coconut oil really the superfood everyone claims it to be? Short answer: It can be.

Read on below and find out all the evidence-based ways you can use coconut oil at home to naturally improve your health!

Is coconut oil a superfood?

The term ‘superfood’ is a fairly new term that generally refers to foods that offer maximum nutritional benefit for a minimal amount of calories, though there is no formal standard criteria or legal definition to date. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the simplest way to think about superfoods (1) is that they offer benefits above and beyond their basic nutrient content.

For example, berries are often called superfoods because of their antioxidants, while avocados and nuts fall in the category because they have healthy fats. Coconut oil is a healthy source of saturated fats that has a laundry list of proven health benefits — making it a hard contender for superfood status.

Did you know?
Superfoods are often packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and are also plant-based.

What is coconut oil?

Nutritionally, coconut oil is made up of about 90% saturated fats and 9% unsaturated fats. Over 50% of the saturated fats are medium chain fatty acids, such as lauric acid, which are GOOD fats. This is because medium chain fatty acids are directly used in the body to produce energy. (2)

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are types of medium chain fatty acids, are made by processing coconut oil. MCTs are widely used in infant formulas, promoted in the keto diet, found in nutritional drinks for athletes, and mixed into intravenous lipid infusions. (3)

Types of coconut oil: unrefined vs. refined

When it comes to different types of coconut oil, not all are created equal. There are two main types of coconut oil: refined and unrefined.

Unrefined coconut oil

Sometimes labeled as “pure,” “virgin,” or “raw” coconut oil, unrefined coconut oil is made from fresh, dried coconut meat. It isn’t deodorized, bleached, or refined. The VCO is extracted either by a quick-dry method or through a wet-mill process. Because this process does not require additives, it retains more coconut flavor. But virgin, the smell, and taste should not be overpowering and strong. When compared, VCO is more nutritionally superior to refined coconut oil and has been used in the majority of research studies to date. (4)

whole coconut next to a half coconut surrounded by coconut extract in solid and liquid form

At room temperature coconut oil is solid, but when heated, it softens and melts. Quality coconut oil should be white when it’s solid and colorless when liquid. Signs of coconut oil spoilage include mold, a yellow tint, or “off” odors or flavors.

Did you know?
Coconut oil (CO) should be stored in a cool dark location in a sealed container or in the refrigerator. The shelf life of CO varies depending on the type of processing and how it is stored. Refined coconut oil usually is good for just a few months, while virgin coconut oil may last for 2-3 years if appropriately stored away from heat and light. (5)

Refined coconut oil

Refined coconut oil is exclusively made from dried coconut meat, which is also known as copra. Because the drying process produces contaminants in the copra, the meat is bleached and treated. Usually, sodium hydroxide is added to increase shelf life, although this isn’t the case with all refined coconut oils. Refined CO is also sometimes partially hydrogenated, which produces trans fats.

Did you know?
CO has been shown to be an effective natural insect repellent. (6)

What should I look for when choosing a coconut oil?

A good rule of thumb is to avoid chemically processed “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” versions of CO. Hydrogenating any oil, not just necessarily coconut oil, creates “trans fats,” which are High LDL cholesterol and can increase your risk of developing type-2 diabetes, heart disease, or risk of having a stroke.

Look for organic, virgin, (unrefined) coconut oil that is grown without pesticides and has never been processed with chemicals. According to studies, this will often be the healthiest choice. (7)

Did you know?
The Philippines is the most significant worldwide producer of coconut oil. Indonesia and India are the next largest producers. Also, the Philippines, European Union, United States, and India are the most significant consumers of coconut oil.

Ways coconut oil can improve your wellbeing

According to the latest medical research, coconut oil can act as an aid in specific bodily functions in the following ways. Coconut oil has been shown to improve dental, skin, hair, muscle, heart, gut, brain, and immune system health.

Dental health

Ever tried using coconut oil as a natural mouthwash? Multiple studies have shown that when you swish coconut oil in your mouth (i.e. oil pulling) it can improve your dental health. (8)

You can use coconut oil for oil pulling to prevent plaque buildup & cavities, as well as to help relieve inflamed gums and gingivitis. (9)

whole coconut on a table next to toothbrush and a jar of solid coconut extract

Oil pulling or oil swishing is an ancient natural healing practice that originated in India. Don’t have 20 minutes? Even just 3-5 minutes of oil pulling has been shown to have benefits. (10)

What is coconut oil pulling?

Oil pulling, which is a traditional Indian healing practice, is the act of holding or swishing a comfortable quantity of oil in the mouth for 10–20 minutes and then spitting it out without swallowing. (11) In one oil pulling study where coconut oil was used, subjects performed oil pulling early in the morning on an empty stomach in addition to their normal oral hygiene routine. (i.e. brushing and flossing) After seven days participants had decreased plaque formation and plaque-induced gingivitis. (12)

According to research, pulling is safe for anyone above the age of 5. It can also be practiced during pregnancy. Try adding coconut oil pulling to your daily dental hygiene routine for at least a week to start seeing results!

Did you know?
There is a lot of buzz on the web about coconut oil being a natural teeth whitener, but a recent study has shown there is zero evidence to suggest that coconut oil has any effect on the whitening of teeth. (13)

Skin health

Chances are you have probably heard coconut oil has a slew of different beauty benefits. And multiple studies have shown coconut oil can be used in a variety of ways to improve skin health. You can use it to:

  • Moisturize your dry, sensitive skin: In a 2004 study, patients randomly applied either coconut oil or mineral oil on their legs twice a day for 2 weeks. All participants reported a notable improvement in their sensitive skin and did not experience any adverse reactions. (14)
  • Help heal wounds and avoid infections: The medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil possess antimicrobial properties that can help protect the skin from harmful bacteria. In one study using mice, rubbing 0.5 and 1.0 ml of VCO on a wound for 10 days following injury sped up healing. (15, 16, 17)
  • Treat acne: Studies have shown ingesting coconut oil can help the treatment of acne. (18, 19)
  • Use it topically on newborns: It strengthens preterm babies’ fragile skin. (20)
  • Provide a little UV protection: Researchers have found that some plant oils like coconut contain natural sunscreen: Coconut oil resists 20% of UV rays and has been found to have an SPF value of 7. (21)
  • Treat skin conditions: Coconut oils antimicrobial properties can be useful with things like acne, xerosis, eczema, psoriasis, and staph infections. (22)

Did you know?
In the Philippines, T330 million coconut bearing trees produce an average of 15.207 billion nuts per year according to the Philippine Statistics Authority—Bureau of Agricultural Statistics.

Hair health

VCO can also have a range of ways it can be used for hair health. Studies have shown that damaged, as well as undamaged hair, benefit most from the application of coconut oil as a pre-wash conditioner. You can use it to:

  • Moisturize dry hair. Coconut oil is rich in medium chain fatty acids which are ultra moisturizing for hair and soothing for the scalp. (23)
  • Stimulate new hair growth: Coconut oil products are deeply penetrating and can stimulate damaged hair. CO can bring back hair growth that’s been lost due to harsh hair care and/or ultraviolet (UV) exposure. (24)
  • Add shine to dull looking hair, and repair split ends.
  • Treat head lice: A study found that coconut oil on the scalp for at least 4 hours is the most effective home remedy out there for treating head lice. (25)

How to use coconut oil on hair:

For the oil application, apply 0.2 ml of oil hair before bed and leave on for at least 14 hrs for an intensive mask, or try applying it 15-30 minutes before you wash your hair as a pre-wash conditioner two to three times per week. (24)

Did you know?
Over a hundred women experiencing hair loss who took omega-3 and omega-6 along with antioxidants in oral supplement form for 6 months experienced an improvement in hair density and new hair growth. (26)

Muscle health

How about having a spoonful of coconut oil before breaking your next sweat? Coconut oil has been shown to have the potential to enhance your overall exercise performance when taken orally before and after exercising. (27)

When taken before training, it has the potential to help enhance athletic performance, as the body uses medium chain fatty acids in addition to carbohydrates to power workouts. Because coconut oil is sent straight to your liver, it is used immediately while exercising.

Did you know?
A 2017 study by the American Heart Association labeled coconut oil as an unhealthy fat, but the majority of recent studies on coconut oil have shown an impressive range of evidence-based health benefits. (28)

MCT oil, which is made up of medium chain fatty acids extracted from coconut oil, has been shown to be particularly effective at boosting athletic performance in hot environments. (29)

Did you know?
A 2015 study found combining daily coconut oil intake and exercise may lower blood pressure and even bring it back to average values. (30)

Immune system health

Coconut oil can help with both insulin secretion and immune function. (31) Lauric acid, which is a medium chain fatty acid found in the oil, is believed to have antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. Coconut oil can also be used when taken orally to:

  • Improve gut health: There is a lot of interaction between the body’s immune system and bacteria in the gut. One 2012 study’s findings suggest human consumption of VCO may inhibit the growth of C. difficile (i.e., what can cause diarrhea) within the gastrointestinal tract. (32)
  • Treat yeast infections: CO’s antibacterial and antifungal properties make it helpful in treating various types of infections, such as yeast infections. (source) Experts have suggested coconut oil be used in the treatment of fungal infections given the emerging drug-resistant Candida species. (33)

Did you know?
Using coconut oil topically may help soothe dry and strained eyes. (34)

The bottom line when it comes to coconut oil?

So, rather than driving to the pharmacy the moment you feel your skin breaking out or need a pick me up before the gym, why not try an all-natural, delicious tablespoon of coconut oil? When it comes to promoting overall health and wellbeing, we think it’s a good idea to join the craze, and get a little coconut over coconut oil!