Tag Archives: coconut oil

The Real Benefits of Coconut Oil

Enjoy all the benefits for coconut oil, but don’t assume all the claims about it are true. I love coconut oil, and there is a huge list of the possible benefits to be gained from adding coconut oil to the diet. Some of these are supported by studies and others are just theoretical. Many of the studies only look at the short-term benefits, and one on palm oil (similar fat composition to coconut oil) showed excess consumption contributed to fatty liver while sunflower oil didn’t.

Most oils contain long chain fatty acids, while the ones in coconut oil are known as medium chain, hence the term medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). The shorter size of these fats in coconut oil does have several implications for our health. Coconut oil can be absorbed easier by the digestive tract, making it beneficial for many people with poor absorption of fats. These medium chain fats can also rapidly burn for energy in the body.

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Let’s look at the better-supported benefits of coconut oil:

Antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal benefits- Yes, the high lauric acid content of coconut oil can be useful internally or topically to help us fight certain infections.

Brain benefits- Loved ones of people suffering from dementia have told me about impressive improvements in symptoms from adding coconut oil. On small study from 2004 also showed cognitive improvement when Alzheimer’s disease patients were given MCT oils, but the amount of improvement was affected by certain genetic markers. For a great way to support brain health with coconut oil, try my bulletproof turmeric tea.

Weight loss- Studies have shown both reduction in calorie consumption and a mild increase in calorie burning. I have gotten reports from friends that eating coconut oil about a half hour before meals does reduce their appetite.

Energy- MCT oil is a preferred calorie source for some athletes, and several studies have shown that MCTs can enhance athletic performance. Some people notice coconut oil can reduce their sugar cravings possibly because their bodies are happy to use another quick energy source.

Unanswered questions about coconut oil:

Oil pulling– This process where coconut or sesame oil is swished in the mouth like a mouthwash has been show to improve oral health in several ways. Most of the studies have used sesame oil, so we are not sure if coconut oil is equally beneficial other than from anecdotal report. I like the taste of coconut oil over sesame.

Heart health- A 2009 study showed a reduction in total cholesterol and an increase in good HDL cholesterol in obese women given coconut oil along with overall calorie restriction and exercise advice. The control group was given soybean oil and didn’t see the cholesterol changes. This was only a 12-week study so we don’t know what the longer-term effects will be or if these cholesterol changes will affect heart health in any real way.

Diabetes- Some coconut oil proponents say it can improve blood sugar related issues. In a study using rats, coconut oil led to decreased insulin resistance compared to the control group that was given lard. But the rats fed coconut oil also developed fatty liver. So…humans aren’t rats, but the tendency toward fatty liver reflects the palm oil study showing the same issue in humans.

In the study I mentioned where the palm oil contributed to fatty liver, the subjects were eating too many calories as well as too much fat. Let’s not make that mistake. Remember there are individual variations in what foods “agree” with us. And as with nearly every dietary consideration, we need moderation and diversity in our choice of fats.

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Fight the Sugar Monster

Sugar is pretty much the worst food we can eat. On top of that, it is addictive and extremely prevalent. We are hardwired to crave sweet foods for the quick energy they provide, but this is a throwback to ancient times when sweets were very rare. Now, nearly every breakroom in this country has sugary temptations on a regular basis. Not to mention the entire grocery store aisles dedicated to cookies and sodas. With all of this abundance of sweets, the average American ends up eating 22 teaspoons of sugar daily, which represents 355 calories.

How is sugar bad for us? In addition to the obvious concerns like diabetes, sugar consumption can throw off our cholesterol. People who eat more sugar have higher triglycerides and lower HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol. Eating sweets can dramatically affect our dental health and may suppress our immune system. Some researchers are also linking excess sugar consumption with dementia, describing dementia as diabetes of the brain. Finally, sugar can feed harmful bacteria and yeast, such as candida, in our digestive tracts. This imbalance of gut bacteria can have tremendous negative consequences on our health including reduced ability to get rid of toxins.

So how do we fight the sugar monster? First, I try to figure out if there are any health issues contributing to sugar cravings. These can be things like insomnia, hormone changes, unstable blood sugar, stress, and brain chemistry imbalance. In addition if we have harmful bacteria and yeast overgrowing in our gut, they can release compounds to make us crave their favorite food: sugar.

As well as addressing any of these areas that might be an issue for you, come up with some strategies to help banish the sugar fiend. First, don’t keep sweets in your house or keep them in the garage or somewhere else where they are out of sight, out of mind. I have found it helpful to try to go cold turkey with sugar. The more I avoid it, the less I want it. Of course, I still crave sugar sometimes, often after a meal. Sometimes, brushing my teeth does the trick or I will tell myself wait 30 minutes. The craving will often pass in that time.

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If my sugar cravings persist, I will eat something else like fruit, in moderation. Or I have a small amount of a xylitol or stevia sweetened treat. But don’t choose artificial sweeteners like splenda and nutrasweet, as these cause other problems. Some people notice that a spoonful of coconut oil a few times a day significantly cuts their sugar craving. Others find that amino acids, such as glutamine or tryptophan, help them out, especially if they have mood issues. And if it is time to actually have some sugar, do it in style. Choose a high quality and lower sugar treat such as a part of a very dark chocolate bar.

I feel like I could go on and on about this topic since I tend to have a sweet tooth myself. But the simplest message I could share with you is start cutting back on sugar in any way you can. Small steps are better than no steps.

More on Oil Pulling

When I first heard about oil pulling, I thought it sounded weird. I didn’t try it until my mother in law, who is a dental hygienist, told me that she had seen a patient with particularly healthy gums. When she asked that patient what she was doing to keep her gums in such good shape, the answer was oil pulling.

So now, I’ve been doing it regularly after flossing and before brushing my teeth. I use a heaping teaspoon to a tablespoon of coconut oil and swish it in my mouth for 20 minutes. I take breaks from the swishing where I am just holding the oil in my mouth. I sometimes gargle with the oil before spitting it out. Don’t spit it into your sink or you might clog your pipes.

I chose coconut oil because I like the taste of it, and coconut oil has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral benefits. Other oils to consider using are sesame, olive, grapeseed, and sunflower. Sesame and coconut have both been shown to fight Streptococcus mutans, the main bacteria that can cause cavities. You can boost these benefits by adding a drop or two of an essential oil or essential oil blend to your main oil. Good ones to experiment with are tea tree, eucalyptus, peppermint, and oregano. Since I am putting them in mouth, I make sure to use a brand that makes high quality pure essential oils.

Fresh coconuts

Fresh coconuts

There are a lot of claims out there about the benefits of oil pulling from clearing up sinus problems to psoriasis as well as the obvious improvements in oral health. There are a number of small studies demonstrating that oil pulling can improve breath and reduce plaque and plaque-induced gingivitis. A lot of people are also reporting that their teeth are whiter from oil pulling.

Now for the other claims, we only have anecdotes to support them, but there is a possible logical underpinning. Nearly every chronic condition is driving by inflammation, whether it is heart disease or dementia or acne or psoriasis. When we have gum disease, we add another source of inflammation that fuel theses other disease process. By improving oral health, we remove part of the obstacle that is in the way of our healing.

And there might be some additional benefit from having to breath through your nose for 20 minutes. I find oil pulling to be a soothing activity.

Some of the things I have heard about oil pulling I can’t substantial. Some people claim it will cure a hangover. I haven’t done that experiment and can’t figure out how it would help but would love to hear about other people’s experiences.

I have also heard that it is better to do it in the morning. A friend of mine said that her teeth started getting whiter when she switched to doing oil pulling in the morning. If you have any ideas on why this would be the case, let me know.

Why Try Oil Pulling?

Why is oil pulling is popular right now? I think it is because it catches people’s attention because it is a little usual, but when they try it they start seeing results right away, often within a week.

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Here is a link to a story I did for the local news on oil pulling yesterday:

http://www.nwahomepage.com/fulltext-news/d/story/latest-trend-oil-pulling/12915/9zffTSRACUCCB0H7g3-9NQ

Look for a longer blog later in the week for more details on oil pulling, but in the mean time give it a try. Grab a spoonful of coconut, sesame, olive, or grapeseed oil and swish it in your mouth for 20 minutes.