Coconut oil has both advocates and detractors when it comes to health and nutrition; on one hand, its proponents claim that it can dramatically benefit the skin, hair, cardiac system, thyroid and digestive system, as well as seek out and inhibit free radicals that cause premature aging. Others argue that the medicinal benefits of coconut oil have not been proven to clinical standards, and that its saturated fat content may lead to health problems. There are also potential negative side effects that may only affect certain people.
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Experts do not fully agree on whether or not consumption of coconut oil raises "bad" cholesterol, but according to MSN Health, both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Medical Association recommend that coconut oil be avoided. The American Heart Association also states that the primary dietary cause of high cholesterol is the ingestion of saturated fat, and it singles out coconuts and coconut oil as examples of plant-based foods that are high in saturated fat.
Though everyone agrees that coconut oil qualifies as a saturated fat, there are others who argue that it has special properties that set it apart from other fatty oils. According to a US News and World Report article, some nutritional experts note that coconut oil's fatty acids are mostly medium-chain triglycerides, making them more easily metabolized than the long-chain triglycerides that are common to other saturated fat sources. The article also cites evidence that this different triglyceride structure may only raise "good" cholesterol, or that it may not raise cholesterol at all. Other sources, like Kasma Loha-Unchit's Thai Food and Travel, allege that misconceptions about coconut oil's cholesterol effects can be traced back to a faulty 1940s study that inappropriately ascribed properties of hydrogenated coconut oil, which is less healthy, to all coconut oil. Loha-Unchit also suggests that this status quo has been upheld due to studies funded by competitors of the coconut oil industry and a pattern of FDA staffers coming from within the vegetable oil industry.
According to Dr. Bruce Fife's "Virgin Coconut Oil: Nature's Miracle Medicine," coconut oil can be taken orally as an internal antibacterial infection-and-germ fighter. While this is generally considered to be a benefit, the process of inhibiting or killing internal bacteria, viruses and other harmful organisms can produce some short-term side effects of its own. Notably, according to Coconut-connections.com, ingestion of coconut oil may cause diarrhea and other symptoms related to intestinal distress. In order to avoid or minimize these effects, you may want to begin taking coconut oil in smaller amounts and gradually work your way up to a full dose as recommended by your physician or dietitian.
Though considered rare, some people are allergic to coconuts and coconut oil. According to All Allergy, typical mild allergic reactions consist of skin sensitivity and hives, and serious reactions may induce a potentially deadly anaphylactic reaction. Documented examples of reactions cited by All Allergy include a man who experienced a severe anaphylactic reaction after eating coconut ice cream and two people with tree nut allergies who also developed life-threatening reactions. A case documented by the National Institutes of Health describes an infant who developed a severe gastro-intestinal disorder after ingesting formula that contained coconut oil. Your doctor can test you for coconut oil allergies if you think you may be allergic, but considering the mild nature of topical reactions, you may also test by simply rubbing a single drop onto an area of nonsensitive skin and monitoring it for the next 24 hours for signs of itching or swelling.