Coconut Oil

A perfect food and body oil

All across the world all across the world coconut as well as being a popular food yields its oil that is used extensively for cooking, in confectionery and as a food in its own right. Interestingly in a recent BBC documentary, Doctor Michael Mosley conducted an experiment with saturated fats and found that those who consumed a modest amount of coconut oil on a daily basis actually had reduced levels of the bad cholesterol that some people go on about.

There is no doubt that coconut oil is a healthy food and it's also ideal for skincare as a moisturiser and massage oil.

Coconut trees have traditionally been grown as a semi wild crop and are often organic by default. To produce the oil, coconuts are harvested, the flesh of the nut (copra) is removed from the shell, dried and pressed to extract the oil. Virgin coconut oil is produced from less dried copra or from fresh coconuts.

Cold Pressed Coconut Oil is produced by cold extraction whereas some oils are produced with heat extraction which gives the producer a slightly higher yield of oil for the same volume of copra. The differences between Cold Pressed Coconut Oil and heat extracted oil is that heat extraction reduces the nutritive qualities slightly, and for massage, cold pressed is preferable and generally referred to with 'virgin' being the oil from younger coconuts.

Over the years of my massage practise, Coconut Oil  became more available and I preferred it for a variety of reasons as it:

  • applies well
  • smells good
  • is mildly antiseptic
  • is nice to work with
  • stores solid and is less likely to spill
  • has a long shelf life.

Physical Properties:

  • Colourless at or above 30 degrees C. White when solid.
  • Typical smell of Coconut (if not refined, bleached & deodorized).
  • Melts at 25 degrees C and stores well in it's solid state.
  • Smoking Point: 177o C
  • Forms a white homogenous mixture when beaten well in little hot water. Otherwise insoluble in water at room temperature.
  • Density: 924.27 Kg/Meter3

Antibacterial and Anti-Fungal Properties

One of the lesser known benefits of massaging with coconut oil is its ability to neutralize bacteria and other potentially harmful germs.

Coconut oil contains medium chained triglycerides (MCTs), such as 12-carbon Lauric Acid and Capric Acid, which kills germs on contact. Several studies have found that these same compounds effectively kill bacteria and fungi.

Chemical Properties:
Coconut Oil is predominantly composed of saturated fatty acids, (about 94%), with a good percentage (above 62%) of Medium Chain Fatty Acids among them.

Chemical Composition: 

  1. Fatty Acids:
    Acid Name,             Percentage,               Acid Type,                          Fat Type
    Lauric Acid                 45% to 52%          Medium Chain Fatty Acid       Saturated Fat
    Myristic Acid              16% to 21%           Medium Chain Fatty Acid      Saturated Fat
    Caprylic Acid               5% to 10%          Medium Chain Fatty Acid        Saturated Fat
    Capric Acid                 4% to 8%             Medium Chain Fatty Acid          Saturated Fat
    Caproic Acid                0.5% to 1%         Medium Chain Fatty Acid        Saturated Fat
    Palmitic Acid               7% to 10%                                                                      Saturated Fat
    Oleic Acid                   5% to 8%                                                                            Unsaturated Fat
    Palmitoleic Acid             trace                                                                             Saturated Fat
    Linoleic Acid               1% to 3%                                                                          Unsaturated Fat
    Linolenic Acid              Up to 0.2%                                                                    Unsaturated Fat
    Stearic Acid                2% to 4%                                                                           Saturated Fat
  2. Vitamin-E: good for silky hair and a smooth and young skin.
  3. Moisture: The amount of moisture present in Coconut Oil vary greatly depending upon the moisture content of the source, i.e. Copra or Fresh Coconut; method of extraction and also on the processing done on it. But obvious, coconut derived from well dried copra will have less moisture than that from less dried copra or from fresh coconuts (virgin coconut oil). Similarly, the oil subjected to heat will have less moisture than that which was not.
  4. Other Suspensions: In crude coconut oil, you will find suspensions of protein and other organic particles, which obscures its clarity. They are almost in refined coconut oil.
  5. Reactivity: Shows oxidation and reaction with acids and bases.The proportion of various fatty acids, vitamin, moisture and other nutrient may vary with quality of coconuts, method of extraction, role of heat, pre processing and post processing etc.

Nutritional Properties:

  1. Medium Chain Fatty Acids:
    These saturated fats are the best things coconut oil has to offer. These saturated fats are actually medium chain fatty acids like Capric Acid, Caprylic Acid, Caproic Acid & Lauric Acid can do wonders for you. They increase the rate of metabolism in your body, thereby aiding weight loss, increase level of good cholesterol (High Density Lipoproteins) and lower the level of bad cholesterol (Low Density Lipoproteins). They are great sources of energy.
  2. Vitamin-E:
    This keeps your hair & skin healthy, besides keeping your organic system functioning smoothly, as is done by all vitamins.

Medicinal Properties:
Coconut Oil is useful in a number of medicinal complications and shown to help prevent liver, kidney and gall bladder disease. It improves our ability to absorb important minerals needed by our bones, thus warding off osteoporosis. With its ability to increase insulin production and control blood sugar, coconut oil helps prevent and treat diabetes.

  • Fatigue:
    The saturated fats present in coconut oil, being great source of energy, effectively cure fatigue and energy malnutrition.
  • Oxidation/Ageing:
    The anti oxidizing properties of coconut oil come from its saturated fats like Capric Acid, Caprylic Acid, Caproic Acid and Myristic Acid. They counter adverse effects of ageing, macular degeneration, whitening of hair, sagging of skin etc.
  • A 2004 study published in the journal Neurobiology of Ageing found that the administration of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), the primary fat type found in coconut oil, almost immediately improved cognitive function in older adults with memory disorders.
    The study involved 20 subjects with Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment who, on separate days, were given either emulsified MCTs or a placebo.  The researchers observed a significant increase in blood plasma levels of the ketone body beta-hydroxylutyrate (beta-OHB) after only 90 minutes of treatment, and depending on the apolipoprotein E genotype of the subject tested, beta-OHB levels either continued to rise or held constant between the 90 and 120 minute blood draws in the treatment condition. Remarkably, cognitive testing revealed that this brief MCT treatment facilitated improved performance on the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive Subscale (ADAS-cog) in 4 subjects within the study group. Moreover, “higher ketone values were associated with greater improvement in paragraph recall with MCT treatment relative to placebo across all subjects. (P=0.02).”[i]
  • Infections/Microbial or Fungal Actions:
    The acids discussed above convert themselves to great anti microbial & anti fungal agents like monocaprin and monolaurin when acted upon by certain enzymes. These derivatives protect our body, internally and externally, from conditions like Athlete’s Foot, rashes, itches, ringworm, dermatitis etc.
  • Hair Loss:
    This property of coconut oil is the most famous, at least in India and Indian Subcontinent. It keeps hair black, prevent whitening and hair fall.
  • Candida:
    The anti microbial properties of coconut oil, discussed above, have been found effective against Candida.
  • Vermifuge:
    Coconut oil can be used against intestinal round worms, tape worms etc.
  • Dandruff:
    It prevents peeling away of skin on scalp and conditions like dandruff by keeping the skin moist and smooth.
  • Digestive disorders:
    This oil, taken regularly in proper quantity, can help cure chronic digestive problems.
  • Cancer:
    The saturated fatty acids, discussed above, help protect against many types of cancer. These are the same fatty acids that are found in Mother’s milk.
  • HIV:
    Quite recently, some rays of hope have been seen while using Coconut Oil against HIV, again due to presence of those fatty acids.
  • Blockage in Arteries:
    The Medium Chain Triglycerides present in Coconut Oil lowers the level of bad cholesterol; helps clear blockages and thus cut down the risk of heart attack. Thus, despite all odd comments against coconut oil due to its saturated fats, it is cardiac friendly.  Comprised of about 50% lauric acid, coconut oil helps control high cholesterol, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. The saturated fats in coconut oil do not have harmful properties of those contained in other vegetable oils.
  • Cracking of Skin:
    Coconut oil is undoubtedly the best skin care agent you can have (very few people, those who are allergenic to coconut oil, can show irritations). Its stability, anti microbial properties, moisture retaining capacity and property to solidify below 24oC makes it an ideal protection against cracking of skin. Vitamin-E aids to it.
  • Obesity:
    Coconut Oil speeds up metabolic activities and thus burning of fats in the body, resulting in weight loss.
  • May Protect Against STD’s:
    As 6-7% of the fatty acids in coconut fat are a MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) called capric acid. Capric acid is formed into monocaprin in the human body which has been shown to have antiviral effects and is being tested for effects against herpes, chlamydia and other sexually transmitted bacteria.

Other Properties: 
Coconut Oil is found to help absorption of fat soluble vitamins, glucose etc. in the body, aids proper secretion of insulin, improves circulation and fight tumours, colitis, ulcers in stomach and food pipe, renal infections, reduce inflammations due to rashes or contact with foreign substances.  It is also very effective in speeding the healing of bruises and small cuts.

[i] Mark A Reger, Samuel T Henderson, Cathy Hale, Brenna Cholerton, Laura D Baker, G S Watson, Karen Hyde, Darla Chapman, Suzanne Craft. Effects of beta-hydroxybutyrate on cognition in memory-impaired adults. Neurobiol Aging. 2004 Mar;25(3):311-4. PMID: 15123336
[ii] Anonymous: Medium chain triglycerides.  Alt Med Rev 2002, 7:418-420.[iii]  Lauren C Costantini, Linda J Barr, Janet L Vogel, Samuel T Henderson. Hypometabolism as a therapeutic target in Alzheimer’s disease. BMC Neurosci. 2008 ;9 Suppl 2:S16. Epub 2008 Dec 3. PMID: 1909098


Leave a Reply