I’ve been looking back at my blog in 2013 and thinking about what I want to change or do differently and it occurred to me that I haven’t really been writing about life. My blog’s motto is, after all, “food, travel, life.” So I’ve decided to change that and write about things affecting my life or my friends’ lives and life in Switzerland.
My first post is about coconut oil. It seems like everybody everywhere has been saying how great coconut oil is, how it will cure [insert medical condition or disease here], and how awesome it is as a beauty product. Fox News has an article listing coconut oil as one of the oils which can improve your health if you consume it (source) and the Today Show had a segment on “5 Best Skin Foods: Eat Your Way to Beautiful” where they claim coconut oil may speed up your metabolism (source). But its not just news articles, but also famous celebrities like Dr. Oz.
You can also easily find a multitude of pins on Pinterest claiming coconut oil can: help with weight loss, boost immunity, improve heart health, fight infections, aid digestion, and practically cure diabetes.
My big question about all of this was “Is any of this true?”!
Can Coconut Oil Cure Diseases and Help with Weight-Loss?
I started my search for the truth with Web MD and this article.
There is very limited evidence on disease outcomes, says Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, of Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. “All that has been studied well is the impact of coconut oil on cholesterol levels and the findings are intriguing but we still don’t know if it is harmful or beneficial,” Mozaffarian says. (source)
Neither the American Heart Association (AHA) nor the U.S. government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines suggest that coconut oil is any better or preferable over other saturated fats. Coconut oil, like all saturated fats, should be limited to 7%-10% of calories because it can increase risk for heart disease, according to the AHA and 2010 Dietary Guidelines. (source)
“But even though coconut oil is cholesterol-free, it is still a saturated fat that needs to be limited in the diet and if you are looking for real health benefits, switch from saturated fats to unsaturated fats by using vegetable oils like soybean, canola, corn, or olive oil,” says Kris-Etherton, a member of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines advisory committee and Institute of Medicine’s panel on dietary reference intakes for macronutrients (which include fats). (source)
Next, I did some more googling at the New York Times and found this article in the dining section.
“I think we in the nutrition field are beginning to say that saturated fats are not so bad, and the evidence that said they were is not so strong,” Dr. Thomas Brenna, a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University, said. (source)
[Marisa Moore, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, a nonprofit association of nutritionists, said] that while it is still uncertain whether coconut oil is actively beneficial the way olive oil is, small amounts probably are not harmful. The new federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that no more than 10 percent of total dietary calories a day come from saturated fat. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s about 20 grams. (source)
I also found that there is insufficient evidence to support claims that coconut oil can cure the following: head lice, psoriasis, heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, chronic fatigue, Chron’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, thyroid conditions, and AIDS/HIV. (WebMD, Discovery Health)
So what does all that mean? There is NO CLINICAL EVIDENCE that coconut oil can cure diseases or that it has any of the medical benefits people claim. While there did seem to be some promising research, more research is still needed to make a determination. However, its still better for you than butter, even if it does have the same fat content! So by all means, use it as a butter substitute in baking, but don’t use it in place of olive oil. Coconut oil is an especially great butter substitute for those who are vegetarian or dairy-free. But its probably not such a great idea to eat it by the spoonful everyday like some people say you should- that’s essentially just as bad for your health as eating a spoonful of butter every day!
But, what about all those beauty uses?
Can it really make your hair shinier? Or make your skin softer? Or cure your baby’s diaper rash, your acne, or your eczema?
I haven’t been able to find many studies on the real effectiveness of coconut oil in many of the beauty applications people are claiming. However, I have found lots of reputable sources touting coconut oil as a moisturizing and repairing hair treatment (WebMD 1, WebMD 2), though its generally suggested more for dry hair rather than normal or oily hair.
What about using coconut oil as a moisturizer?
Most experts tend to agree that it does indeed work well as a moisturizer, but its best for those with dry or mature skin because those skin types need oil-based moisturizers rather than water-based moisturizers (MayoClinic 1) It also works well as a moisturizing lip balm. The Mayo Clinic recommends using plain lip balm with petrolatum, beeswax or an oil-based lubricating cream (source) and coconut oil certainly qualifies. Coconut oil’s moisturizing qualities are probably the same reason many moms say it cured their baby’s diaper rash.
But what about using coconut oil to cure your eczema?
I was particularly interested in this one since I have eczema. According to the Mayo Clinic, there is no conclusive evidence that alternative therapies can cure eczema (source). (There is one promising study in this area, but more research is needed.) However, the treatment of eczema involves medications prescribed by your doctor and being careful to keep your skin moisturized and hydrated. In fact, the Mayo Clinic does recommend applying an oil to your skin as part of your moisturizing routine if you have eczema (source). So, for those with dry skin who use coconut oil as a moisturizer in conjunction with the medications prescribed by their doctor, it probably does help in the prevention of future flare-ups.
And what about using coconut oil to cure acne?
This one is a bit more complicated because there are so many different causes of acne. Acne occurs when your hair follicles get plugged up with oil and dead skin (source), but it can be caused or worsened by hormones, medications, diet, scrubbing your skin too hard, washing with harsh soaps or chemicals, build-up of bacteria, overproduction of oil, irritation of hair follicles, and even allergies (WebMd, Mayo Clinic, Livestrong). All of this information was really helpful because I know a lot of people who immediately jump to harsh scrubbing and chemicals to get rid of acne, which can actually make it worse. But what about coconut oil? The Mayo Clinic does have this list of alternative treatments for acne which are backed by some studies, but I didn’t see coconut oil on the list. WebMD had something to say on the subject of coconut oil and acne, but its not good news: it can actually cause acne (source)! So if you’re using coconut oil as a moisturizer, be careful not to use too much or you may end up with acne.
Here is some more reading for you if you’re curious:
- Can coconut oil cure hypothyroidism? No – source: Mayo Clinic
- Can coconut oil help you lose weight? No – source: Mayo Clinic
- Harvard School of Public Health leaflet on Coconut Oil
- Results of Scientific Studies about what Coconut Oil Can Do – NYU Langone Medical Center
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