Coconut Oil: Health Benefits & Risks

Coconut Oil: Health Benefits & Risks

What Is Coconut Oil?

Coconut oil is edible oil made from pressing the meat inside coconuts. It’s solid at room temperature and liquid when heated. There are two types: virgin and refined. Virgin coconut oil uses fresh meat, while refined oil uses dried coconut meat, also called copra.

This plant-based oil is used as a cooking fat. It’s also a common and effective moisturizing ingredient in lotions and hair care products.

As a food ingredient, coconut oil has been marketed as having several health benefits, including helping with weight loss and preventing dementia. But many scientists say there’s not enough scientific evidence for these claims. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, which the American Heart Association says can raise your cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease.

If you include coconut oil in your diet, it’s best to do so in moderation.

Coconut Oil Nutrition

Coconut oil has no cholesterol or fiber. It does have some nutrients, though in very small amounts:

  • Lauric acid (C12)
  • Myristic acid
  • Palmitic acid
  • Monounsaturated fats
  • Polyunsaturated fats
  • Plant sterols
  • Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs)

Coconut Oil Benefits

A few early studies have reported that coconut oil might have certain health benefits. But experts say we need much more research to confirm these findings.

Also, some research into the dietary benefits of coconut oil has used a type that you can’t buy in the store. It’s much higher in MCTs, a type of fat your body can absorb rapidly.

Coconut oil for weight loss

The MCTs in coconut oil are easily converted to energy instead of being stored in your body as fat. In theory, this could help you feel full and aid in weight loss. But we need more research into whether it can help you lose weight. So far, results have been mixed. Also, ordinary coconut oil contains mostly C12, a fatty acid that your body metabolizes more slowly.

Coconut oil and brain function

Scientists think that the brain cells of people with Alzheimer’s disease can’t properly use glucose for energy. When you digest coconut oil and other fats, your liver produces chemicals called ketones. These ketones could provide an alternative source of energy for your brain, which might help reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. But we need more studies to find out whether this is true.

Coconut oil as lube

Coconut oil can work well as a sexual lubricant, especially if you have allergies or sensitive skin. It’s not likely to cause irritation or infection.

Coconut oil for teeth

Oil pulling is when you swish coconut oil in your mouth for 10-15 minutes and then spit it out. You can do it daily, but don’t stop brushing your teeth. Some research has indicated that coconut oil pulling may help with dental hygiene.

Coconut Oil for Hair

Using coconut oil may improve your hair by adding moisture. This helps reduce dandruff, soften frizz, and restore dry hair. You can use it as a conditioner, styling aid, or leave-in hair mask.

Damaged or dry hair

Coconut oil may be better at repairing dry hair than some other oils because it contains a high concentration of C12, the primary fatty acid in coconut oil. Just add a small amount about 15 minutes before you wash your hair, focusing on the ends. You also can use it in place of conditioner, or add a tiny bit to damp hair to tame frizz.

Coconut oil for dandruff

Lots of things can cause dandruff, including dry scalp, dermatitis (skin inflammation), and fungi. Research shows that applying coconut oil to your scalp can raise good bacteria there, especially when compared with using shampoo alone. Coconut oil might also help reduce inflammation and prevent dermatitis. But we need more research to know for sure.

Coconut oil hair mask

A hair mask can add moisture to dry hair and scalp from styling damage. Just rub about 2 tablespoons of warm coconut oil into your hair. Leave it on for several hours or overnight and then rinse it out.

Coconut Oil for Skin

Using coconut oil on your skin helps prevent water loss, which leads to dry skin.

The C12 it contains has antimicrobial properties, so it’s also good for soothing skin irritation such as razor burn.

When using coconut oil on your skin, just apply it like lotion. It will act like a natural barrier, preventing water loss from your skin.

Coconut oil clogs your pores. So while it’s good for hydrating your skin, it definitely won’t help prevent acne. It can even cause blackheads and whiteheads, which are signs of inflammatory acne. So avoid using it on your face or any other areas that are prone to acne.

Coconut Oil Side Effects

Coconut oil is good for moisturizing your skin and taming frizzy hair. But there are health risks you should know if you consume it. Here are some of them:

Increased risk of heart disease and stroke

Coconut oil is full of saturated fat, which can raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol and your chances of cardiovascular disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends you to eat low-saturated fat foods and use healthier oils when you cook.

Does coconut oil go bad?

How long coconut oil lasts depends on what kind it is. Refined coconut oil lasts only a few months when stored in the refrigerator or a dark place like the pantry. Virgin coconut oil could last up to 3 years in your fridge. If it has mold, smells or tastes rancid, or starts to turn yellow, it’s time to toss it.

Cooking With Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a plant-based oil you can use for cooking and baking in place of other oils and butter. It’s solid at room temperature and liquid when heated. One tablespoon has about 13.5 grams of fat and 120 calories, which is about the same as most other cooking oils.

Unrefined coconut oil, sometimes called virgin coconut oil, has a distinct coconut flavor and aroma. It has a smoke point of 350 F (the temperature at which the oil will smoke). So it’s best for baking and dishes where a hint of coconut will complement the food, like pies, cookies, or curries.

Refined coconut oil is better for cooking because it goes through more processing. It’s flavorless and odorless and has a higher smoke point (400-450 F). It’s more suitable for stir frying, sautéing, and roasting at high heat.

Keep in mind that coconut oil is 100% fat and nearly 90% of that is saturated fat.

Coconut oil substitutes

You can find many healthy oils that are low in saturated fats to use in place of coconut oil.

  • Canola oil
  • Corn oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Olive oil
  • Almond oil
  • Avocado oil

How to take coconut oil

While coconut oil may be best known as a cooking ingredient or moisturizer, you can also buy it as a supplement. Some studies on coconut oil have used these supplements, but their alleged health benefits are unproven. The FDA doesn’t review dietary supplements for safety or efficiency.

What Is Fractionated Coconut Oil?

Fractionated coconut oil is processed from regular or virgin coconut oil. Both standard and fractionated coconut oils contain MCTs that provide fatty acids. But the types of fatty acids in each oil differ.

Fractionated Coconut Oil vs. Regular Coconut Oil

Regular coconut oil is made up of mostly long-chain fatty acids (LCFA) and contains C12. C12 and LCFA are removed from fractionated coconut oil. Instead, it contains two medium-chain fatty acids:

  • C8-caprylic acid or octanoic acid
  • C10-decanoic acid or capric acid

Fractionated coconut oil is a saturated fat that’s tasteless, odorless, and liquid at room temperature. It’s not suitable for use in cooking and is best used as a moisturizer, hair oil, or massage oil.

We need much more research, but some studies indicate MCTs might have health benefits such as:

  • Helping with weight loss
  • Reducing insulin resistance
  • Improving brain function and reducing the risk of dementia


Coconut oil is plant-based oil made from the meat of coconuts. It’s solid at room temperature and liquid when heated. It’s commonly used as a moisturizing ingredient in lotions and hair care products. It’s also used as cooking oil, but it’s very high in saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends using oils that have healthier, polyunsaturated fats.

Coconut Oil FAQs

  • Does coconut oil raise LDL?

Yes. Research over decades has shown that coconut oil is high in saturated fats. Consuming coconut oil and other foods high in saturated fats can raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol.

  • Is coconut oil good for healing wounds?

Several studies on animals have shown that coconut oil may help accelerate the healing of burns and raise collagen when it’s applied to the skin. But we need more research to know if this translates to humans.


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