Coconut Water: Dew from the Heavens
By Bruce Fife, ND
travel to the Pacific islands one of the native foods you would have the
pleasure to enjoy is coconut water, also referred to as coconut juice.
Coconut water is the liquid you find inside the coconut. It is the most
popular beverage consumed in the tropics. Here it is not only considered
a refreshing beverage but a health tonic. Women are encouraged to drink
it when pregnant and nursing so their milk will provide all the
nutrients necessary for a healthy baby. The first food an infant
receives as it begins weaning is coconut water and coconut jelly (soft
immature coconut meat).
call coconut water noelani (no-way lah-nee), which means “dew
from the heavens.” Coconut water has a long history of use as both a
food and as a medicine. Although a variety of fruits grow in abundance
in many tropical locations, coconut water is prized above all other
juices and beverages as a means to quench ones thirst and bring relief
from the hot tropical sun. It not only satisfies thirst but invigorates
the body and brings about a sense of well-being and renewed health.
water contains a variety of nutrients including vitamins, minerals,
antioxidants, amino acids, enzymes, growth factors, and other
phytonutrients. Since coconuts are grown near the sea, the roots have
access to a continual supply of mineral rich salt water. These minerals
are absorbed by the roots and find their way into the fruit of the
coconut. For this reason, coconut water is a good source of the major
minerals like magnesium, calcium, and potassium. It is particularly rich
in potassium, an essential nutrient; one 8-ounce cup of coconut water
has more potassium than a banana. It also contains a variety of trace
elements such as zinc, selenium, iodine, sulfur, manganese, boron,
molybdenum, and others. All derived from volcanic soils and seawater
from which the coconut palms are grown. All of these minerals are in the
form of electrolytes so they are easily absorbable by the human body.
Many of the health benefits attributed to coconut water can be traced to
its mineral content.
content of coconut water is so low, it is essentially fat-free. Coconut
water is relatively low in sugar compared to other fruit juices. It
contains only a fifth of the sugar that you get from an equal amount of
fresh grape or apple juice. Even though it is low in sugar, it has a
mildly sweet, delightful taste, making it an excellent alternative to
fruit juice and sodas.
long been the belief that coconut water can cure disease and ensure good
health. According to tradition, coconut water is useful in preventing
and relieving many health problems including dehydration, constipation,
digestive disturbances, malnutrition, fatigue, heatstroke, boils,
diarrhea, kidney stones, osteoporosis, urinary tract infections, and
sterility. Whenever someone is sick, coconut water is usually part of
the treatment to nourish the patient back to health. Interestingly,
modern medical science is now confirming the effectiveness of coconut
water for many of these conditions.
greatest amount of research to date on coconut water has been in regard
to its effectiveness in treating dehydration and heatstroke. In the
tropics where heatstroke and dehydration are common problems, it has
long been known that coconut water is far more effective in relieving
symptoms associated with these conditions than either plain water or
fruit juice. Because of the nutritional content of coconut water, fluids
and electrolytes are absorbed quicker and more efficiently into the
bloodstream than with other beverages and fluids. It is so effective at
relieving dehydration and heatstroke it has been dubbed “Nature’s
Gatorade.” However, coconut water is far superior to Gatorade. Coconut
water contains more essential electrolytes, less sugar, and does not
have any of the chemical additives found in commercial sports drinks.
Much of the popularity surrounding coconut water currently is in regard
to it being marketed as a natural sports drink.
effectiveness of coconut water to hydrate the body has been proven over
the past two decades where it has been used extensively as a treatment
for cholera, dysentery, influenza, and other infectious diseases that
promote dehydration. Coconut water has literally saved thousands of
lives, especially of children in underdeveloped countries. Ordinary
water is not effective in treating sever dehydration caused by vomiting
and diarrhea, but because of coconut water’s unique chemical composition
it is able to rehydrate the body and give it the strength and energy it
needs to fight off the infection. Death rates from cholera are high,
but with the use of coconut water survival rates increase to 97 percent.
other areas of research are uncovering interesting health aspects
associated with coconut water. Coconut water has long been known for its
therapeutic effect on the urinary and reproductive systems. It is
reported to clear-up bladder infections, remove kidney stones, and
improve sexual vitality. Medical research has shown that the consumption
of coconut water can be very effective in dissolving kidney stones. Dr.
Eugenio Macalalag, director of the urology department of the Chinese
General Hospital in the Philippines, says that coconut water has
demonstrated its effectiveness in patients suffering from kidney and
urethral stones. He reports that consuming coconut water only 2 to 3
times a week results in a significant reduction in stone size and
expulsion, eliminating the need for surgery.1
Jamaica coconut water is known as a heart tonic and is used to
strengthen the heart and improve circulation. Research bears this out.
Animal studies show that coconut water consumption improves the ratio of
good cholesterol to bad and reduces plaque formation in arteries, thus
reducing risk of heart attack and stroke.
blood pressure is one of the primary risk factors associated with heart
disease and stroke. The minerals potassium and magnesium are known to
help reduce high blood pressure. Human studies show that coconut water,
which is a good source of both of these minerals, is effective in
reducing high blood pressure and increasing circulation.2
Studies also demonstrate that coconut water consumption reduces the risk
of heart failure in heart disease patients.3 It seems the
Jamaicans are right, coconut water is good for the heart. The evidence
is so convincing that the FDA allows coconut water to carry the claim
that it “may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.”4
coconut water improves blood circulation, it is of benefit to diabetics.
One of the characteristics of diabetes is poor circulation and a
tendency to develop atherosclerosis. Many of the complications
associated with diabetes, such as numbness in the feet, loss of vision,
and kidney failure are a consequence of poor circulation. Coconut water
helps dilate bloods vessels, improves blood flow, and reduces plaque
formation, thus helping to relieve these symptoms. Coconut water also
contains certain forms of dietary fiber and amino acids that help
moderate sugar absorption and improve insulin sensitivity.
the most interesting components of coconut water are the plant growth
hormones, particularly cytokinins. Cytokinins are a group of hormones
that regulate growth, development, and aging. In some respects they are
similar to human hormones with a similar name of cytokines. Cytokinins
are also known as anti-aging hormones. Cytokinins regulate cell division
and influence the rate at which plants age. Depending on the amount of
cytokinins present, the aging process in plants can be either
accelerated or retarded. One of the active sites of cytokinin production
is in the roots. From here the hormone is carried by the sap throughout
the plant—much like our bloodstream disperses hormones. Portions of
plants that are deprived of cytokinins age faster than normal,
Conversely, if additional cytokinins are added to a plant, normal aging
Cytokinins also have an anti-aging effect on human cells and tissues.
Normal human cells, as they age, go through a progressive and
irreversible accumulation of changes until they reach a stage at which
they finally die. Young cells are plump, round, and smooth. As they age
they become irregular in shape, flatten out, enlarge, and fill up with
debris; cell division slows down and eventually stops, which is
ultimately followed by death.
cytokinins are added to the culture medium, cells don’t act their age.
The normal sequence of aging slows down considerably. Cells do not
undergo the severe degenerative changes that ordinarily occur.5
Although the total lifespan of human cells is not increased much, the
cells remain significantly more youthful and functional throughout their
lifetime. For example, treated cells after they have reached the final
stage of their lifespan and no longer divide, look and function like
untreated cells half their age. Treated cells never undergo the severe
degenerative changes experienced by untreated cells. In all respects,
their youth is extended into old age.
of their effects on human cells, cytokinins have been tested for the
possible treatment for aging spots, wrinkles, sagging, and dry skin. One
of the factors that cause wrinkles and sagging skin is the aging and
breakdown of connective tissues in the skin. Connective tissues give the
skin strength and elasticity. When cytokinins are applied to the skin,
they stimulate cell division of connective tissue which replaces older,
damaged tissue with functionally younger tissue. The result is that on
the surface of the skin, wrinkles tend to flatten out. Dry, aging skin
is replaced with smoother, softer skin. This has led some cosmetic
manufacturers to add cytokinins to facial creams and lotions.
water is the richest natural dietary source of cytokinins. Researchers
have suggested the possibility that consuming a rich source of
cytokinins, such as coconut water, may produce an anti-aging effect on
the body, reducing risk of developing degenerative and age related
regulating cell growth, cytokinins also prevent mistakes that may lead
to the development of cancer. Normal cells are kept healthy while
cancerous cells are programmed to die, preventing them from growing and
spreading. Much of the early research on cytokinins was funded by The
American Cancer Society. Soon after the discovery of cytokinins in the
1950s researchers quickly recognized their potential in fighting cancer.
Subsequently, the anti-cancer effects of cytokinins have been well
health benefits associated with coconut water are many. This article has
only touched the surface. For a more complete description along with
summaries of medical studies, case histories, news and historical
accounts, and references, I suggest reading my book
Coconut Water for Health and Healing.
meantime, where can you get coconut water? While fresh coconuts are a
common sight in the tropics, they can be hard to find elsewhere. At the
grocery store you can find the brown, hairy coconuts sold in the produce
section, but I don’t recommend those if you are looking for coconut
water. These coconuts are too mature and the water can be sour. In the
tropics people don’t drink this water, they drink “young” coconut water.
Young coconut water comes from green or immature coconuts. This is the
water you see vacationers drinking on the beach, this is the water that
is popular in the tropics, this is the water that has the health
benefits I’ve been discussing.
coconuts are available at many health food stores and at Asian markets.
But they don’t look like the brown, hairy ones with which you may be
familiar. When a coconut is freshly harvested from the tree it is
covered in a thick fibrous husk. This husk is usually removed before it
is shipped to market, so you never see the husk, just the hard brown
shell. Young coconuts, however, have only a portion of the husk cut off,
leaving about an inch covering the shell. The husk is white and often
shaped like a large toy top, with a point on one end and flat on the
other. They are perishable so you will find them in the refrigerated
section of the store.
growing popularity of young coconut water, you can now get it in
easy-to-carry bottles, cans, and tetra paks. They are available at most
good health food stores and some grocery stores.
1. Macalalag, E.V. and Macalalag, A.L.
Bukolysis: young coconut water renoclysis for urinary stone dissolution.
Int Surg 1987;72:247.
2. Alleyne, T., et al. The control of
hypertension by use of coconut water and mauby: two tropical food
drinks. West Indian Med J 2005;54:3-8.
3. Shah, N.J., et al. Use of coco-nut
water in treatment of congestive cardiac failure. Ind Jour Med Res
Rattan, S.I.S. and Clark, B.F.C. Kinetin delays the onset of ageing
characteristics in human fibroblasts. Biochem Biophys Res
W.L. and Brennan, S.L. The role of N-6-isopentenyl adenine in tumor cell
growth. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 1986;137:208-214.
7. Dolezal, K, et al. Preparation and
biological activity of 6-benzylaminopurine derivatives in plants and
human cancer cells. Bioorg Med Chem 2006;14:875-874.