The coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) is native to all the tropical regions of the world, and the benefits of coconut oil are just one aspect of this abundantly life-enhancing plant. Historically the peoples of Africa, South and Central America, India, much of Asia and the Pacific Islands have harvested the various parts of this beautiful tree for a myriad of material, medicinal and culinary uses.
The fruit of the coconut palm is a generous provider of tasty flesh, water, milk and oil. As such, it’s been a staple food of many of these populations for thousands of years, providing their main source of essential dietary fats. Coconut is an important part of the economy of almost a third of the world’s population, and valued by them for its role in traditional medicine.
The medicinal properties and health benefits of just one product of the coconut palm, organic virgin coconut oil, is the focus of this article. In recent decades coconut oil has received unjustified bad press regarding its fat content. At a time when all fats were lumped together as ‘bad for your heart’, the high fat content of coconut oil was seen as a negative.
Modern research shows that in fact the opposite is true. Science has only recently identified the high content of healthy fats in coconut oil, showing what the wise traditions of local medicine have known for millennia. The coconut palm is called the ‘Tree of Life’ by Pacific Islanders who look on it as a medicinal cure-all.
Unusually, the fats in coconut oil are mostly medium chain triglyceride fatty acids (MCT fats), unlike most dietary fats and oils which are long chain triglycerides. MCT fats are more easily absorbed and metabolised by the human body into an available source of energy.
It’s important to differentiate between virgin coconut oil and mass produced commercial grade coconut oil. Commercial grade coconut oil is produced from copra, the dried flesh of the coconut. The oil extracted is then refined using high heat, clay filters and sodium hydroxide as a preservative. Other methods use chemical solvents to extract the oil. The end product is known as RBD coconut oil, or Refined, Bleached and Deodorised. RBD oil may also be hydrogenated and therefore contain unhealthy trans fatty acids.
In contrast, only fresh coconut flesh is used to extract virgin coconut oil. This is either quick dried using minimal heat and mechanical oil pressing; or a wet-milling method is used which presses coconut milk from the fresh flesh first, then separates the oil from the water.
Virgin coconut oil’s role in maintaining cardiovascular function is significant. Studies show healthy cholesterol levels are maintained and improved with regular intake of good quality coconut oil.
Other benefits include boosting energy and endurance, improving digestion and absorption of all nutrients, assisting elimination, relieving symptoms of inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s, UC and gastric ulcers, antioxidant and anti-cancer effects, supporting pancreatic, kidney, liver and thyroid function, assisting weight loss by increasing metabolic rate and supporting healthy skin and hair.
Coconut oil’s high level of saturated fat makes it much more heat stable than other oils, so it’s one of your healthiest options for cooking, even at high temperatures as in frying. It is resistant to oxidation and doesn’t go rancid quickly, therefore won’t generate free radicals.
Coconut oil is also a rich source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. It has high lauric acid content, giving it strong antimicrobial and immune supportive actions. It can be used as a spread, in dressings, in smoothies and applied topically as a nourishing skin treatment. Your pets can also benefit from coconut oil. Use it on skin rashes as a safe and effective product that will help rather than harm them if they lick it off.
Another interesting application is coconut oil pulling. Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic cleansing practice, used to draw impurities out of the body. Coconut oil offers a pleasant tasting option for oil pulling. The method is to hold about a tablespoon of coconut oil in the mouth and gently swish it around for 20 minutes, and then spit it out. It’s important not to swallow the oil because by this time it has absorbed many toxins from your tissues that you won’t want to take back into the body. It’s recommended that you do this cleansing practice once a day to improve the health of not only your mouth and sinuses but your entire immune system.
Emerging research is confirming coconut oil’s efficacy in strengthening the immune system and protecting against viral, bacterial, fungal and other pathogenic invasion. Studies are supporting previous anecdotal evidence that people with AIDS, SARS, Hepatitis C and other infectious diseases have shown positive results using coconut oil.
By Carolyn Simon ND, DipMedHerb
Want to try some coconut oil? Shop online for premium quality virgin coconut oil at www.healthpost.co.nz: NZ’s favourite for fast, affordable natural health.
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