Very few products have made such a large impact on the health industry as coconut oil has. Over the last decade, it has gone from being considered a somewhat obscure alternative to olive oil to a genuine panacea, where it is advocated to impact nearly all facets of health in an extremely positive manner.
Its recommended applications vary significantly, with people suggesting it can enhance skin health, improve hair quality, promote weight loss, increase immune system function, and maximize practically all aspects of health and function.
But is this really the case?
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What Is Coconut Oil?
In the simplest sense, coconut oil is just that – oil derived from coconuts.
With this in mind, coconut oil provides to us one of the richest sources of saturated fats on the planet, with a whopping 90% of the energy it contains derived entirely from saturated fatty acids.
Interestingly, for a long time, saturated fat was thought to be the main dietary driver of heart disease, where it was also suggested to contribute to a number of other cardiovascular and metabolic illnesses.
But this is no longer thought to be the case.
You see, there has been a vast amount of recent research demonstrating that there is no association between dietary saturated fat intake and heart disease. In fact, there is research to suggest that consuming the correct types of saturated fat can actually impact your body in a positive manner.
This is exactly where coconut oil enters the discussion.
What’s in Coconut Oil?
We have already mentioned that coconut oil is absolutely full of saturated fat, but it is important to note that it is actually the type of saturated fat found in coconut oil that provides its potent health-boosting properties.
You see, whereas the fat found in most foods typically consists of long chain fatty acids (or LCFAs for short), the majority of fat found in coconut oil is comprised of medium chain fatty acids (or MCFAs for short).
MCFAs are a unique type of fatty acid that only contains between 6 and 12 carbon atoms (whereas LCFAs contain 12 to 21 carbon atoms). Because of their length, MCFAs are broken down and absorbed into the body extremely quickly after ingestion – where they are transported almost immediately to the liver.
Once these MCFAs are in the liver, they are immediately metabolized for energy. During this process, these unique little compounds known as ketones are produced as a by-product. We should note that this digestive process is significantly different from that of LCFAs, which are digested slowly and then stored within the body as fat after consumption.
It is actually this difference that is suggested to drive the health benefits of coconut oil.
Benefits of Coconut Oil - What Properties of Coconut Oil Make it Useful?
This process is quite unique for two different reasons.
Firstly, the fact that MCFAs break down and metabolize for energy immediately after consumption means that they are not stored for energy. This both causes an increase in metabolic rate and positively impacts various markers of metabolic health, essentially affecting the body in a very positive manner.
Secondly, the ketones produced during this process of metabolism actually interact with the cells of the brain, in which they are broken down within the brain to provide energy. This has been hypothesized to enhance cognitive function while also improving mental health and delaying the onset of age-related declines in cognition.
These two mechanisms are essentially what provide coconut oil with its health benefits when it’s consumed.
But interestingly, coconut oil has also been shown to have an impact on health when applied topically to the skin and hair.
You see, the MCFAs found in coconut oil have been shown to alter the lipid profile of the skin, causing subsequent improvements in skin health and quality. This interaction is very similar when applied to the hair, in that it causes a simultaneous increase in hair quality.
In conjunction with this, coconut oil also exhibits potent antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. With this in mind, when applied to the skin it has been suggested to stave off infection and even enhance the healing of wounds.
Types of Coconut Oil
Given its popularity, there are actually a number of different types of coconut oil available on the market, each with their own unique set of suggested health benefits.
Refined Coconut Oil
Refined coconut oil is pretty much what most people would consider regular coconut oil.
Refined coconut oil is made entirely from dried coconut meat, which is commonly known as copra. During the refining operation, this copra undergoes a very mild process of bleaching, which is performed to assist in eradicating any potential bacteria found in the coconut meat. While this activity may not sound all that pleasant, it is somewhat essential, as during the drying procedure copra is exposed to a number of undesirable contaminants that can impact health in a negative manner.
Once the coconut oil has been extracted from the dried coconut meat, it is treated with high heat to extract both the flavor and the smell of coconut from the oil – essentially ensuring that it contains the natural coconut scent that coconut oil is so very well renowned for.
Virgin Coconut Oil
A key alternative to refined coconut oil is virgin coconut oil (also described as ‘unrefined’ or ‘pure’ coconut oil).
In stark contrast to refined coconut oil, virgin coconut oil is made from fresh coconut meat, in which the coconut oil is extracted from the flesh by one of two processes – either through the quick-dry method or through a wet-mill process.
Quick drying, as its name suggests, is a process in which the coconut meat is dried rapidly through mechanical means. The oil is then pressed out of this dried coconut flesh using a mechanical press, creating a potent form of coconut oil.
Alternatively, to successfully undertake wet milling, the coconut meat is first processed into coconut milk. This milk is then boiled, strained, and entered into a centrifuge, which separates the milk from the oil, thus creating our final product.
Both of these processes are extremely quick, so the coconut oil does not need to undergo any bleaching. It also tends to retain more coconut flavor, as it is not exposed to any high temperatures during its production.
Fractionated Coconut Oil
Fractionated coconut oil is a somewhat unique type of coconut oil that is made from certain components found in regular coconut oil. As its name suggests, fractionated coconut oil is essentially a mere fraction of regular coconut oil, which has had all the LCFAs removed.
With this in mind, fractionated coconut oil contains strictly MCFAs – which as we know, are what essentially provide coconut oil with its suggested health benefits.
If we want to be a little more specific, once everything has been removed, fractionated coconut oil consists almost entirely of two specific MCFAs known as caprylic acid and carpic acid.
It may also be worth noting that as a result of this process fractionated coconut oil becomes completely liquid at room temperature, whereas normal coconut oil is solid at room temperature.
And finally, we have MCT oil.
MCT oil is essentially fractionated coconut oil, but during the production process, it receives the addition of another key MCFA know as lauric acid. Lauric acid is a key MCFA that has been shown to exhibit potent health-boosting effects on the human body.
With this in mind, MCT oil is often recommended to be optimal for consumption, whereas fractionated coconut oil is thought to offer us more benefits in topical applications.
What Coconut Oil is Best for External Uses?
When it comes to the application of coconut oil to the skin or hair, we have some immediate options.
Virgin coconut oil should be our first point of call as it offers some unique properties not observed within the other types of coconut oil due to the fact that it does not undergo any real process of refinement. As a result, it is full of potent antibacterial, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory compounds.
With this in mind, its application onto the skin offers the perfect way to not only enhance skin health and quality, but also to stave off skin-related disease, reduce the risk of infection, and even help treat a variety of wounds.
Within this, it also offers an excellent way to enhance hair health and quality.
Building on this a little further, our second point of call should be regular old refined coconut oil. While this type of coconut oil doesn’t contain some of the same health-boosting compounds that are unique to virgin coconut oil, it still provides us with a full array of natural fatty acids.
As a result, it offers the next best option for enhancing the health of both our skin and hair – although it is important to note that it may not offer some of the same skin healing benefits as virgin coconut oil
What Coconut Oil is Best for Internal Uses?
Alternate to our external use options, we would suggest that the best choices for internal uses are both fractionated coconut oil and MCT oil.
Each of these fantastic options contains only MCFAs – and as it is these compounds that have been shown to have the most profound impact on health specifically, it stands to reason that these two types of coconut oil offer us the most merit when consumed orally.
Out of these two options, MCT oil may have a slight advantage as it also contains lauric acid, which as we previously mentioned, offers us some additional health benefits (with a specific emphasis on cardiovascular health).
Alternatively, if these two options are unavailable to you, refined coconut oil is unquestionably your next best option. It contains an abundance of MCFAs, and therefore has the capacity to enhance health, but does so in a manner that will not introduce any nasty compounds into the body, as they have been removed completely during production.
Best Coconut Oil Product Reviews
Given the positive application of coconut oil in a variety of settings, we wanted to give you some great options that you can implement immediately. With this in mind, we have provided what we believe to be the best of each type of coconut oil product on the market at the moment.
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