Coconut Oil: 19 Impressive Health Benefits (Weight, Skin, Energy, & More)

Updated on January 10, 2024

Coconut oil has several uses in the wellness world…from being a fat-burning addition to coffee to being a conditioning hair mask and natural mouthwash.

But does coconut oil really live up to the hype?

We went to the science to find out. And what we found was an impressive list of 19 health benefits. So yes, you could say it certainly does live up to the hype.

The Science Behind Coconut Oil

You may have been told that coconut oil is unhealthy because of its high saturated fat content. And that saturated fats are horrible things that will do nothing but clog up your arteries. But this is a myth, at least when it comes to coconut oil. 

The fats found in coconut oil are different from the fats found in fried foods or toxic vegetable oils. The saturated fats found in coconut oil are medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), while most other unhealthy fats are long-chain triglycerides (LCTs).

MCTs are metabolized differently than LCTs. Once ingested, they’re absorbed quickly in the digestive system rather than mixing into the bloodstream (like LCTs). This allows the MCTs to go straight to the liver to be converted into energy.

19 Research-Backed Health Benefits of Coconut Oil

Let’s dive a little deeper into the many ways coconut oil can improve your mind and body.

1. Skin Protection

Using natural products on your skin is so important. Your skin is your largest organ, and what you put on it is directly absorbed into your body. That’s why I recommend applying coconut oil to your skin. It’s moisturizing and nourishing, but most of all, it’s safe (1).

There’s also a UV protection component to coconut oil. It blocks about 20% of harmful UV rays (2). This means fewer wrinkles and signs of premature aging. However, if you’re going to be out in the sun for an extended amount of time, it’s best to combine coconut oil with an organic sunscreen. This will ensure your skin is fully protected.

When used on wounds, coconut oil even helps them to heal faster (3). The antimicrobial effects of coconut oil fight viruses, yeast, and bacteria (4). The MCTs also boost metabolism which helps the body repair and heal the skin more quickly.

2. Healthy Hair

Coconut oil is used around the world to nourish hair and keep it vibrant and healthy. It is an excellent conditioner. This makes coconut oil perfect to help prevent or treat dry and damaged hair.

Coconut oil has the unique ability to actually penetrate the hair shaft. This reduces protein loss which results in hair that is healthier and less damaged (5).

Plus, the antimicrobial properties of coconut oil help to treat scalp conditions, such as dry scalp and dandruff.

3. Weight Loss

Contrary to popular belief, you have to eat fat to burn fat. Visceral fat, the fat that accumulates in your abdomen and around your organs, is especially dangerous. It can cause a whole list of health problems from heart issues to diabetes. 

Fortunately, one study found that eating coconut oil is linked to decreased waist circumference and a reduction in abdominal fat (6).

4. Heart Health

Many studies link low-grade bacterial and viral infections with heart disease. Coconut oil is effective in fighting many of these microbes (7).

In a study using coconut oil on rats, it was shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect (8). This is important because inflammation has been linked to heart disease.

Inflammation may be the underlying issue in all disease processes. So, if we can reduce inflammation, we can ultimately reduce the risk of a multitude of diseases.

5. Infections

The main MCT in coconut oil is lauric acid. Lauric acid is a substance that has proven to have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antiparasitic effects (9).

Coconut oil has been shown to fight microbes such as herpes, measles, hepatitis, listeria, staphylococcus, streptococcus, fungal/yeast infections, Giardia lamblia, and protozoa to name a few.

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6. Digestion

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble along with essential minerals like magnesium, zinc, and calcium. This means our bodies need fats like coconut oil to absorb them.

Coconut oil is also easily digested and absorbed compared to other fats. Therefore, it can be used as a medicinal food to help nourish those with compromised digestion and difficulty digesting fats.

Also, MCTs are often used to help nourish those that are recovering from a serious illness or injury. So go ahead and add a spoonful of coconut oil to a warm drink or a comforting bowl of oatmeal when you’re on the mend.

7. Energy Levels

The MCTs in coconut oil allow the body to quickly convert coconut oil into energy. Unlike other fats, MCTs go straight to the liver and are quickly converted into energy. I suggest using coconut oil as a healthy way to boost energy levels when you need a quick pick-me-up.

Many athletes also use coconut oil to improve performance and endurance. So try having some before a workout and be sure to let me know what you think.

8. Blood Sugar

According to the American Diabetes Association, 37.3 million adults and children have diabetes in the United States. This is a serious problem. But the good news is type 2 diabetes can often be reversed with diet and lifestyle modifications.

Many diabetics that get on an ancestral diet have amazing success–by eating meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats and eliminating processed foods, dairy, and grains.

Adding coconut oil liberally to your diet can also help to control and effectively use blood sugar. Moreover, the satiating effect of coconut oil can reduce cravings for refined carbs and processed foods. These problematic foods create insulin resistance which is the underlying issue for diabetics.

9. Brain Health

Did you know that 60% of our brains are made up of fat with half of that being saturated fat (10)? Coconut oil is made up of mostly saturated fat. This provides the brain with nourishment and aids in proper development.

If you restrict saturated fats in your diet, you may be starving your brain of the nutrients it needs to function. There is an epidemic of chronic neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, etc., around the world. Could it have anything to do with our efforts to cut saturated fat completely out of our diets?

One study found that the brain is less able to use glucose in Alzheimer’s patients (11). But evidence shows ketones are an effective alternative energy source. If you’re eating a standard American diet, your body is using sugar as its main source of energy. But when you begin eating a much healthier Native type diet that includes healthy fats like coconut oil, your body will then turn fat into ketones and use them as fuel instead. This helps improve metabolic flexibility and typically improves health and weight loss struggles.

MCTs increase the blood levels of ketones. When patients were given medium-chain triglycerides–like those found in coconut oil–they scored higher on cognitive testing.

10. Cholesterol

A study done on people with coronary artery disease showed that coconut oil gives a boost to your HDL cholesterol (12). HDL is the good cholesterol that helps to remove the bad cholesterol (LDL) from your bloodstream. People with a higher HDL level have a lower risk of heart disease.

11. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is characterized by a low metabolic rate. Symptoms include weight gain, fatigue, dry skin, hair loss, and lack of mental clarity. Many people with hypothyroidism feel cold much of the time, which is due to a slower metabolism.

Coconut oil has a “thermogenic effect” (13). It can raise your body temperature by raising your metabolism. This rise in body temperature and boost in metabolism helps to improve thyroid function.

12. Seizures

We’ve all heard about the keto diet. But did you know that a ketogenic diet in children with epilepsy dramatically reduces the number of seizures they have (14)?

MCTs, like those found in coconut oil, help to increase the blood concentration of ketones. They can easily be used in an epileptic patient’s diet to induce ketosis, resulting in fewer seizures.

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13. Dental Health

Research shows that the health of your teeth and gums is directly correlated to the health of your heart.

You may have heard of oil pulling as it’s become popular in recent years. This is when you place oil in your mouth and swish it around for 15-20 minutes before spitting it out.

Oil pulling isn’t just another fad though. Oil pulling with coconut oil has been shown to reduce plaque on your teeth and plaque-induced gingivitis (15).

14. Bone Health

Osteoporosis is a progressive worsening of bone density and quality. As the structure of your bones becomes more porous, they’re more prone to fractures. Most people do not even know they have osteoporosis until they get a fracture.

Adding extra virgin coconut oil to your diet may help maintain bone structure and prevent bone loss. One study was done on postmenopausal rats who were fed extra virgin coconut oil for six weeks. When that time was up, they had greater bone volume and density (16).

If you take a peek at the digestive benefits of coconut oil again, you’ll see coconut oil helps our bodies absorb calcium and vitamin D. Both of these are crucial to keeping our bones healthy and strong.

15. Stress Levels

Stress–we all deal with it in some way or another. But it’s so important that you don’t let stress consume you. Finding a healthy outlet to relieve stress benefits not only your mental health but your physical health too.

One study done on mice found that using virgin coconut oil helped to combat oxidative stress and reduce immobility times after a stressful event (17). It also reduced adrenal gland weight and provided for a better serum biochemical profile—both markers of a lower stress level. It's believed the stress-relieving benefits are due to the high MCTs in virgin coconut oil.

16. Arthritis

Arthritis is characterized by pain and stiffness in your joints caused by inflammation. It greatly reduces the quality of life of those who suffer from it.

An animal study found that virgin coconut oil reduces swelling, inflammation, and inflammatory markers due to the oil’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects (18).

17. Cancer

The lauric acid found in coconut oil has profound effects on various microbes, as we discussed earlier.

It gets even better. Coconut oil is also shown to suppress tumor growth in colon cancer patients. It also improves the quality of life of breast cancer patients. Lauric acid found in coconut oil inhibits cell growth and promotes cell death of cancer cells in both breast and endometrial cancers (19).

18. Hormones

Keeping our hormones in check really is a balancing act. Especially when talking about menopause in women.

Based on this study, pre- and post-menopausal women should consume coconut oil daily (20). Coconut oil helps maintain a healthy cholesterol level. This helps to keep estrogen levels in check, reducing some of the negative symptoms of menopause.

19. Bladder Infections

If you’ve ever had a bladder infection, otherwise known as a urinary tract infection (UTI), you definitely remember it. They’re painful, annoying, and really disrupt your life.

UTIs are caused by bacteria entering your bladder that aren’t supposed to be there. The bacteria multiply and cause the symptoms you experience.

Recurrent UTIs can be caused by bacteria encased in biofilms. Biofilms encase the bacteria to protect them from being killed by antibiotics. Antibiotics can never free you from your UTI if they’re not able to kill all the bacteria causing the infection—continuing the UTI and inflammation cycle.

Cranberry juice is typically a go-to for relief of UTI symptoms. But a study found that adding coconut oil and oregano to cranberry juice helps to disrupt biofilms (21). This allows the bacteria inside to be exposed and killed by an antibiotic. Also, the coconut oil itself has anti-inflammatory properties to help soothe and relieve pain down below.

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Adding Coconut Oil to Your Diet

Adding coconut oil to your diet is as simple as switching out your cooking oils for coconut oil.

Coconut oil has a smoke point of 350 degrees Fahrenheit, which means it stays stable at high temperatures. This allows you to sauté your favorite meats and vegetables safely.  

Oils with a lower smoke point do more than just give your food a burnt flavor. When oil smokes and burns, the beneficial nutrients and phytochemicals break down. The burning also releases damaging free radicals that are a culprit in many diseases like cancer, diabetes, and asthma. Coconut oil’s high smoke point eliminates these worries.

You can also use coconut oil in your morning coffee or add it to your favorite foods. Spread some on roasted vegetables, add it to a green smoothie, or drizzle it over a juicy steak. There are so many ways to enjoy this tasty oil.

How Much Coconut Oil to Eat Per Day

Eating two tablespoons per day of coconut oil has been shown to reduce waist circumference (22). Sticking to two tablespoons per day also allows you some room to incorporate other healthy fats into your diet.

Two tablespoons of coconut oil have 24 grams of fat. The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for fat intake per day in adults is 20-35% of total calories (23).

This means that if you’re consuming a 2,000 calorie per day diet, about 400 to 700 of your daily calories should come from fat or 44 to 77 grams of fat per day.

So eating two tablespoons of coconut oil per day still leaves you with room to add other healthy fats to your diet. If you’re eating a low carb diet, like Keto, you may be able to squeeze in even more.

The Bottom Line

Coconut oil has a number of incredible health benefits when you add it to your diet or use it for cosmetic purposes. But make sure you’re only purchasing coconut oil that’s organic, unrefined, and extra virgin. Quality is everything.

MCT powder is another easy way to boost your healthy fat intake and reap the 19 benefits listed above. I put one scoop in my morning coffee or post-workout smoothie each day for quick fuel.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are very few risks of coconut oil. The main concern is to never use coconut oil in any form if you are allergic to tree nuts.

Another hot topic regarding coconut oil is its potential health implications after the American Heart Association released a statement cautioning against the use of coconut oil. However, the American Heart Association also states that lauric acid (found in coconut oil) helps to raise HD —the good cholesterol that everyone needs more of (24). So the advice is a bit conflicting.

At the end of the day, it’s important to diversify where you’re getting your healthy fats from and to not go overboard on any one fat source. Keep things in moderation to ensure you reap the full benefits of coconut oil.

Dr. Chad Walding, DPT
Article by

Dr. Chad Walding, DPT

Dr. Chad Walding is the Co-Founder and Chief Culture Officer at NativePath. He is a Doctor of Physical Therapy with a passion for helping people eat, move, and live in harmony with their natural state.

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Medical Disclaimer

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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