Some products are referred to as “virgin” coconut oil. Unlike olive oil, there is no industry standard for the meaning of “virgin” coconut oil. The term has come to mean that the oil is generally unprocessed. For example, virgin coconut oil usually has not been bleached, deodorized, or refined.
Some coconut oil products claim to be “cold pressed” coconut oil. This generally means that a mechanical method of pressing out the oil is used, but without the use of any outside heat source. The high pressure needed to press out the oil generates some heat naturally, but the temperature is controlled so that temperatures do not exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Coconut oil is used for diabetes, heart disease, chronic fatigue, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Alzheimer’s disease, thyroid conditions, energy, and boosting the immune system. Ironically, despite coconut oil’s high calorie and saturated fat content, some people use it to lose weight and lower cholesterol.
Coconut oil is sometimes applied to the skin as a moisturizer and to treat a skin condition called psoriasis.
How effective is it?
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
The effectiveness ratings for COCONUT OIL are as follows:
Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for…
- Head lice. Developing research shows that a spray containing coconut oil, anise oil, and ylang ylang oil appears to be effective for treating head lice in children. It seems to work about as well as a spray containing chemical insecticides.
- Psoriasis. Applying coconut oil to the skin before treatment of psoriasis with ultraviolet B (UVB) or psoralen and ultraviolet A (PUVA) light therapy doesn’t seem to improve effectiveness of the treatment.
- Heart disease. A study in India suggested that eating coconut or taking coconut oil doesn’t seem to affect the chances of having a heart attack or developing chest pain (angina).
- Obesity. Some developing research shows that taking coconut oil 10 mL three times daily might reduce waist size after 1-6 weeks of use.
- Newborn weight gain. Some research shows that massaging premature newborns with coconut oil can improve weight gain and growth.
- High cholesterol. Some research suggests that dietary use of coconut oil is linked to increased high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol, but does not increase levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol. However, a study comparing a diet rich in coconut oil to diets rich in beef fat or safflower oil found that coconut oil can increase both HDL and LDL cholesterol.
- Diarrhea. A study in children found that incorporating coconut oil into the diet can reduce the length of diarrhea, but another study found that it was no more effective than a cow milk-based diet. The effect of coconut oil alone is not clear.
- Dry skin. Developing research shows that applying coconut oil to the skin twice daily can improve skin moisture in people with dry skin.
- Alzheimer’s disease.
- Chronic fatigue.
- Crohn’s disease.
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
- Thyroid conditions.
- Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate coconut oil for these uses.
How does it work?
When applied to the skin, coconut oil has a moisturizing effect.
Are there safety concerns?
Since coconut oil has a high fat content, there is concern that it might increase weight if used in large amounts or that it might increase cholesterol levels. However, these concerns have not been proven in scientific research.
The safety of coconut oil used in medicinal amounts is unknown.
Special precautions & warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Coconut oil is safe for pregnant and breast-feeding women when used in the amounts normally found in the diet. But the safety of using coconut oil in larger amounts is not known. It’s best to stick to food amounts if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
High cholesterol: There is concern that coconut oil might increase total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol. But there is contradictory evidence that shows that coconut oil might actually increase levels of “good” cholesterol and have little to no effect on total or “bad” cholesterol levels.
Are there interactions with medications?
- It is not known if this product interacts with any medicines.
Before taking this product, talk with your health professional if you take any medications.
Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?
- Blond psyllium
- Psyllium reduces absorption of the fat in coconut oil.
Are there interactions with foods?
- There are no known interactions with foods.
What dose is used?
The appropriate dose of coconut oil depends on several factors such as the user’s age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for coconut oil. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.
To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.
- Bhan MK, Arora NK, Khoshoo V, et al. Comparison of a lactose-free cereal-based formula and cow’s milk in infants and children with acute gastroenteritis. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 1988;7:208-13. View abstract.
- Romer H, Guerra M, Pina JM, et al. Realimentation of dehydrated children with acute diarrhea: comparison of cow’s milk to a chicken-based formula. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 1991;13:46-51. View abstract.
- Liau KM, Lee YY, Chen CK, Rasool AH. An open-label pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of virgin coconut oil in reducing visceral adiposity. ISRN Pharmacol 2011;2011:949686. View abstract.