What Are the Benefits of Using Coconut Oil?

Coconut oil has been used by people in tropical climates for centuries for cooking, flavoring and preparing foods as well as for treating ailments. Like other tropical oils, including palm oil, cocoa oil and shea nut oil, coconut oil may be taken internally or applied topically. Few scientific studies have been done to support the effectiveness of coconut oil’s anecdotal uses, but there are a few benefits that have been supported by research.

Beauty Benefits

Coconut oil is more effective than mineral oil or sunflower oil for repairing damaged hair and preventing future damage, according to research published in 2003 in the Journal of Cosmetic Science. The researchers from the Research and Development Department of Marico Industries who conducted the study, theorized that the low molecular weight and linear structure of coconut oil molecules allow it to penetrate the hair shaft, where the coconut oil restores the protein structures that keep your hair healthy.

Disease-Fighting Benefits

The lauric acid in coconut oil has microbial properties that may help aid in fighting infections. Children who had community-acquired pneumonia recovered more quickly when their recovery regimen included a combination of prescription antibiotics and coconut oil than when they relied on antibiotics alone, according to research presented at the 2008 American College of Chest Physicians. Coconut oil appeared to make the antibiotics work more effectively, the study’s lead author Gilda Sapphire Erguiza, M.D., pediatric pulmonologist at the Philippine Children’s Medical Center, told U.S. News & World Report. Though the study was a small one and therefore not definitive, it suggests that coconut oil holds promise for treating infections.

Digestive Benefits

Coconut oil may be easier for many people to digest than other oils, says Bruce Fife, Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine, in an article published by the Coconut Research Center on its website. Fife says that the smaller molecules in coconut oil are simple enough to be broken down by saliva and gastric juices so that very young or older people who have trouble generating pancreatic enzymes can easily digest them. Combining coconut oil with other foods that are harder to digest may make it easier for people to get the nutritional benefits of those harder-to-digest foods. Keep in mind, though, that coconut oil is high in saturated fat–something most people need to limit in their diets.

About this Author

Holly Roberts is an award-winning health and fitness writer whose work has appeared in health, lifestyle and fitness magazines. Roberts has also worked as an editor for health association publications and medical journals. She has been a professional writer for more than 10 years and holds a B.A. in English and an M.A. in literature.