People living in tropical regions have been drinking and eating coconut oil for centuries, but many people have recently refrained from using coconut oil because it is a saturated fat, which have been linked to many serious health conditions. Recent studies, however, demonstrate potential health benefits from consuming coconut oil.
There are many brands of coconut oil in today’s marketplace with varying nutritional levels, and different brands offer varying degrees of potential health benefits, states Michael Murray, doctor of naturopathic medicine, in the book “The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods.” The healthiest coconut oil is non-hydrogenated and odorless, and although it does not need to be refrigerated, it is best to use it within a month after opening the container, recommends Murray. Coconut oil will solidify at temperatures below 76 degrees F
The composition of coconut oil differs greatly from the more common types of oil in the typical American diet, like vegetable, canola and olive oils. Coconut oil is described as a medium-chain fatty acid, while the fats found in meat, dairy and plant products are generally long-chain fatty acids. According to the Coconut Research Center website, medium-chain fatty acids do not negatively affect cholesterol levels or cause the clogging of arteries.
Coconut oil contains lauric acid, a compound that is noted for its immune-boosting properties. According to Dr. Jon J. Kobara, emeritus professor at Michigan State University, lauric acid also is found in breast milk and results in the compound monolaurin, which is known to defend babies from viral and bacterial protozoal infections, states Mary G. Enig, Ph.D., director of the Nutritional Sciences Division of Enig Associates.
Coconut oil also contains capric acid, which changes into a compound called monocaprin once ingested. Monocaprin has strong antiviral properties. According to Murray's book, moncaprin might have an antiviral effect against some sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia, herpes simplex 1 and 2 and gonorrhea. Studies also are underway to test the effectiveness of coconut oil in combating the virus responsible for HIV/AIDS.
According to the American College of Chest Physicians website, a clinical study conducted by the Philippines Children’s Medical Center found virgin coconut oil to be an effective adjunct therapy for children suffering from acquired pneumonia. The use of virgin coconut oil will not cure pediatric-acquired pneumonia, but the results of this study suggest that taking it might help to accelerate the normalization of the respiratory rate and reduce the existence of crackles in the lungs.