Everyone has their favorite scent: lavender, rose, balsam and many others, but for me it is definitely coconut. Maybe this particular scent conjures up the tropical vision of swaying palm trees and turquoise waters and immediately, I am feeling more relaxed. Whether the scent is coming from some type of beauty product or from something yummy cooking in the oven, coconut based products and edibles are abundant today. Aside from its soothing qualities, its health benefits are rapidly being documented in research studies, so let’s take a look at some of those first. I was curious about what was being studied in regard to coconut oil.
In a cursory perusal of PubMed abstracts, a number used rats as the subjects. In a study by Rahim et al (2017), virgin coconut oil (VCO) was associated with increased antioxidative, cholinergic activities along with reduced oxidative stress that produced enhanced memory in the groups treated with the VCO. Another study by Alves et al (2016) showed that intravenous doses of lauric acid, the most abundant medium chain fatty acid in VCO, reduced blood pressure and oxidative stress in hypertensive rats. In another study on lauric acid, Lekshmi et al (2016) found that animals fed lauric acid had lowered cholesterol levels. In a different type study by Famurewa et al (2017) VCO attenuated the toxic effects of the anticancer drug methotrexate on the liver by reducing oxidative stress in rats.
In the studies on humans, research focused on the antibacterial efficacy of VCO, particularly on the effect of Streptococcus mutans in the mouth (Peedkayil et al, 2016). An ayurvedic practice for oral hygiene is to swish VCO in the mouth for 20 minutes in the morning. Other studies examined effects on cardiovascular risk factors. Cardoso et al, 2015, found that a diet rich in VCO increased HDL cholesterol, the “good cholesterol ,” and decreased waist circumference and body mass in coronary artery disease patients. Another study by Vijayakumar et al, 2016 showed that the use of coconut oil as a cooking oil for two years did not alter the lipid profile of patients with stable coronary heart disease receiving standard medical care.
I did not find any studies on diabetes and VCO but there was one on Alzheimer’s disease that discovered that subjects who received 40mg/day of VCO had an improvement in their cognitive status as measured on their test scores, particularly in women and those without diabetes type II. (Hu et al 2015). There was an additional study looking at the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic effects of an ayurvedic formula, kerabala, which is partially comprised of VCO. There was a beneficial effect on inflammation, tissue damage and the pain associated with arthritis.(Ratheesh et al, 2016).
There is certainly more positive data than not but VCO should still be used in moderation. Botanically the coconut fruit is a drupe, not a true nut. A drupe is a fruit that has an outer fleshy part surrounded by a pit of hardened endocarp with a seed inside. Allergic reactions to coconuts are very rare and it is thought that those with tree nut allergies are safe eating coconuts. Although it does not contain any cholesterol, it is a saturated fat, although approximately 75% is in medium chain fatty acids that produce ketones that can serve as an energy source for the brain. The best VCO is the pure natural oil, which is hardened at room temperature and has a higher heating point than olive oil, making it preferable for frying and baking.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, there are several ways that VCO can add to your enjoyment. The first is with a sweet treat that will be featured with its recipe. The other is with a hot VCO massage that can be shared with your sweetheart. It is also beneficial to give yourself a weekly VCO massage to keep your skin and hair supple and moist. Heat up about 8 to 10 tablespoons of VCO in a small saucepan( half that for one person) until it melts. The best way to use it is to pour it into a glass container that has a pump on top. For couples, spread out a large towel on a bed and begin at the head. If you are standing, spread out a towel on the floor because the oil will spatter and collect on everything around it. Slowly massage the oil through the hair and scalp and face. Proceed downwards all the way to the feet but avoid the bottom of the feet if you will shower afterwards. Vigorous rubbing is good for the extremities where often the skin tends to be dryer and rougher. Use long strokes on the limbs and a circular motion on the joints. One of my daughters, who attends the Ayurvedic Institute, likes to put a small heater in the bathroom and break out into a sweat during the self massage. When finished, you can then shower but only use soap on the areas that need it, avoiding most of the body. The oil running off the body makes for slippery footing so be very careful and either have something you can grab onto or a mat to prevent a fall. After drying off, your skin will be silky smooth. The VCO also helps to prevent razor burn if you are shaving and you can apply some extra to shaven areas after the shower as well. You will be glowing which makes for a nice Valentine’s present. Enjoy!