Coconut offers numerous benefits for brain, skin, hair and oral health. It may also contribute to weight loss, possess antimicrobial and antifungal properties and enhance exercise endurance.

Brain-protective benefits

Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and some other neurodegenerative conditions are linked to impaired glucose utilization by brain cells.

When blood glucose is scarce or not usable, the body muscles, heart and liver can utilize fats (free fatty acids) in the blood to generate energy. However, free fatty acids cannot easily cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) to reach the brain cells. Starved for nutrition, the brain nerve cells malfunction and eventually die.

Coconut oil, when consumed, is converted by the liver into a different type of fuel – ketones. They can pass through the BBB and provide energy to brain cells that cannot process glucose. Coconut oil is believed to protect against many brain disorders by providing an alternate energy source for starving brain cells.

  • Coconut oil may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

  • It may aid in reducing the frequency of epileptic seizures.

Skin health benefits

  • Coconut oil has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making it effective for soothing burnt, irritated, infected or inflamed skin.

  • Applying coconut oil to the skin can prevent moisture loss and dryness.

  • Damaged skin loses its protective barrier function, but coconut oil aids in repairing and restoring this function.

  • It can improve wound healing when applied topically.

Hair health benefits

Coconut oil has been a trusted hair care remedy for centuries.

  • It penetrates the hair better than most oils, reducing water absorption and preventing cycles of hair swelling and drying, which can lead to breakage.

  • Coconut oil prevents protein loss from hair during washing.

  • The oil can also help control dandruff due to its antifungal (restricting the fungus growth) and anti-inflammatory (soothing scalp irritation) properties.

Antimicrobial benefits

Coconut oil, powered by lauric acid, offers various antimicrobial benefits:

  • When applied to the skin, it can combat yeast infections like ringworm.

  • For vaginal fungal infections, a tampon coated with coconut oil can be inserted to apply to the infected area. Candida, a common fungus, often causes such infections, leading to inflammation, intense itchiness and white discharge from the vagina. Because of the area’s hard-to-reach nature, regular applicators might not be effective, necessitating the tampon method.

  • In cases of oral fungal infection, you can try “oil pulling”, a process that involves swishing about 1 tbsp (15 ml) of coconut oil in the mouth for 15 minutes before spitting it out. Use a teaspoon (5 ml) for children over five. Oil pulling with coconut oil can improve oral health, and can also be as effective as a conventional mouthwash.

While coconut oil has antibacterial properties, it is not an antibiotic. It cannot replace prescribed medications for killing pathogens. Always follow your doctor’s advice for treatment.

How much to consume

Given the debate surrounding the consumption of saturated fats from coconut, here are three options:

  • If you follow a modern, highly processed diet or are watching your cholesterol intake and blood levels, have up to 30 g of fresh coconut flesh meat or 1 tbsp (15 ml) of coconut oil daily, through food or otherwise. Most readers of this book will fall into this category.

  • If you live in a traditional culture, with a diet full of vegetables, fruits and other unprocessed food, you may have up to 100 g of fresh coconut meat or 3 tbsp (45 ml) of coconut oil a day.

  • One glass (250 ml) of coconut water a day. You can exceed this if you are unwell or have engaged in an exhausting physical activity.

How much is too much

  • Do not exceed 100 g of fresh coconut flesh or 3 tbsp (45 ml) of coconut oil a day.

  • Do not exceed two glasses (500 ml) of coconut water a day except when advised by a doctor.

Who should avoid

  • People who have high cholesterol should consult their doctor before increasing their coconut flesh consumption.

  • People allergic to coconut palm pollen or coconut oil should avoid it.

  • Anyone who feels nauseated on consuming coconut oil.

Excerpted with permission from Superfoods, Super Life: 20 Indian Ingredients to Prevent Disease and Uplift Your Health, Madhur Kotharay, Pan Macmillan India.