medium chain fatty
acids. In coconut oil these fatty acids are in the form of medium chain
the 1930s and 1940s. It was discovered that when coconut oil was added
into the diet it improved the absorption of various nutrients. For
example, W.D. Salmon and J.G. Goodman at the Alabama Polytechnic
Institute (now Auburn University) studied the effects of vitamin B-1
deficiency in animals given different types of fats. Vitamin B-1
deficiency leads to a fatal disease called beriberi. The fats and oils
evaluated included olive oil, butter, beef fat, linseed oil (flaxseed),
cottonseed oil, and other oils. When rats were given a vitamin B
deficient diet, coconut oil was by far the most efficient in preventing
the disease and extending lifespan. In fact, those receiving coconut oil
actually gained weight, indicating continued growth even though the diet
was nutritionally poor.5 None of the tested oils, including
coconut oil, contains vitamin B-1. However, coconut oil makes what
little of the vitamin that is in the diet more biologically available,
thus preventing the deficiency disease.
number of studies over the years have found similar effects. Coconut oil
improves the absorption of not only the B vitamins but also vitamins A,
D, E, K, beta-carotene, CoQ10, and other fat soluble nutrients, minerals
such as calcium, magnesium, and some amino acids—the building block for
protein.6 (Please note that for readability only a very few
references will be included in this article. If all available references
were listed, this article would swell to well over 30 pages in length.)
The fact that coconut oil improved absorption of a wide variety of
nutrients led researchers to investigate its use in treating
malnutrition and malabsorption syndrome in children and infants.
Eventually it was included in hospital feeding formulas for the sick and
in infant formulas, especially for premature and low birth weight
babies. When compared to other dietary fats, coconut oil produced faster
growth, weight gain, and improved nutritional status.7
Coconut oil became a standard ingredient in all commercial infant
formulas and still is today. Coconut oil or MCTs are also still used in
hospital IV and feeding formulas to treat sick patients of all ages.
Adding the oil reduces the patients’ recovery time and improves
the 1950s researchers began investigating the nutritional and medicinal
uses for MCTs. Harvard researcher Vigen K. Babayan, PhD is credited with
developing the process of distilling coconut oil down into pure MCT oil.
He called the purified oil fractionated coconut oil or MCT oil.9
A great deal of research followed and it was soon evident that MCTs
possessed unique biological properties with a number of important
nutritional and medical applications.
was soon discovered that MCTs digest differently than other fats. When
swallowed, most fats travel down the esophagus (throat), through the
stomach, and into the small intestine where they are broken down by
digestive enzymes and bile into individual fatty acids (long chain fatty
acids). These fatty acids are then absorbed into the intestinal wall
where they are repackaged into bundles of fat, cholesterol, and protein
called lipoproteins. These lipoproteins pass into the bloodstream. As
they circulate in the bloodstream they release little particles of fat
and cholesterol that are utilized by the cells or stored as body fat.
The process is completely different with MCTs. When MCTs are consumed,
they digest very rapidly and begin breaking down immediately. When they
pass from the stomach into the small intestine, they are already
completely separated into individual fatty acids (medium chain fatty
acids) and, therefore, do not need pancreatic digestive enzymes or bile
for digestion, thus relieving stress on the digestive system. Since they
are already in the form of fatty acids when they enter the small
intestine they are immediately absorbed into the portal vein and sent
directly to the liver. In the liver they are metabolized into energy.10
The difference in the way MCTs are digested is very important because it
provides a means to treat a number of medical conditions. Extensive
research and clinical work in the 1960s and 1970s led to the use of MCTs
for the treatment of a variety of malabsorption syndromes
including obstructive jaundice11, cystic fibrosis12,
tropical sprue13, a-beta-lipoprotenaemia14,
intestinal lymphangiectasia15, pancreatic insufficiency16,
and to speed recovery after intestinal surgery17.
Because of the unique way in which MCTs are digested and metabolized
they produce an increase in energy and boost metabolism. For this
reason, MCTs are used by athletes to improve performance. MCTs or
coconut oil are commonly found in commercially produced energy bars and
sports drinks marketed to people with active lifestyles.
This metabolic boosting effect diminishes fat deposition. This led
researchers in the 1980s to begin investigating the use of MCTs as a
means for weight management.18 Researchers from McGill
University in Quebec, Canada and elsewhere are now recommending the use
of MCTs as a means to treat obesity.19
the 1960s Jon J. Kabara, PhD, a professor of pharmacology at Michigan
State University, discovered that MCTs possess potent antimicrobial
properties. In his search for a safe means to protect foods from fungal
and bacterial contamination he found that MCTs fit the bill. Over the
years he and other researchers found that MCTs can kill a wide variety
of disease-causing bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites.20
MCTs were not only useful in preserving foods, but could be used
topically and internally as antimicrobial agents to prevent and fight
off infectious disease. Many common disease-causing microbes as well as
potentially deadly ones like HIV and drug-resistant bacteria are
vulnerable to MCTs.21-22 This aspect of MCTs is extensively
researched. There are literally hundreds of studies on this topic and
even entire books describing the antimicrobial effects of MCTs.
Because coconut oil is composed predominately MCTs, it possesses the
same antimicrobial power, as evidenced in many clinical and laboratory
the 1970s it was discovered that while the liver burns some MCTs
immediately to produce energy, others are converted into ketones.
Ketones are a super potent form of energy that are used specifically by
the brain, but can be used by all the tissues in the body except the
Ketones not only provide a high quality source of energy for the brain
but trigger the activation of special proteins that function in brain
cell maintenance, repair, and growth, thus providing a therapeutic
effect on the brain. Since the 1970s MCTs have been used in ketogenic
diets to treat epilepsy. Today modified ketogenic diets, using MCTs, are
the standard dietary treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy.24
Besides epilepsy, ketones have been successfully used to treat a number
of other neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s
disease, Huntington’s disease, ALS, stroke, narcolepsy, brain trauma,
and brain cancer. The consumption of coconut oil can increase blood
ketone levels to therapeutic levels that can successfully treat all of
these conditions. Many patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of
dementia are currently being treated with coconut oil and are achieving
far better results than the medications currently approved for these
conditions. Studies show that MCTs can effectively mitigate the effects
of Alzheimer’s and a dietary supplement designed for this purpose was
approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2009 for the
treatment of Alzheimer’s.
Coconut oil is known to aid those with diabetes by balancing blood sugar
levels. MCTs improve insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity, thus
reversing the underlying cause of diabetes.25
Coconut oil has very potent anti-cancer properties. When cancer is
chemically induced in lab animals the addition of coconut oil into their
diets can completely negate the carcinogenic effects of the chemicals.26
Coconut oil can prevent and even reverse liver disease caused by a
variety of toxic agents such as alcohol, bacteria, drugs, and chemicals.27
It does the same for other organs in the body such as the intestines,
colon, kidneys, and pancreas.28-30
Even heart health is improved with the use of coconut oil. While much
criticism has been cast on coconut oil because of its saturated fat
content, the evidence supports its heart friendly nature. MCTs are
readily used by the heart as fuel. In fact, it uses MCTs in preference
to glucose or polyunsaturated fatty acids as a source of energy. Ketones,
as well, which are produced from MCTs act as a superfuel for the heart,
increasing oxygen delivery by 39 percent and heart function by 28
percent. In fact, researchers at University François Rabelais in France
are now recommending the use of MCTs for the treatment of heart
They have shown that the diseased heart is energy deficient and by
improving oxygen and fuel delivery, heart function and survival is
dramatically improved.31 The fact that that coconut oil is
not harmful to the heart and may even be therapeutic is substantiated by
numerous studies on coconut eating populations where heart disease rates
are among the lowest in the world.32 Many other degenerative
diseases are also much lower in these populations such as cancer,
diabetes, colitis, liver disease, gallbladder disease, and dementia.
Could it be due to the coconut in their diets?
Coconut oil has the potential to aid in the protection and treatment of
a number of health problems due to its documented antimicrobial,
antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiulcerogenic, antimutagenic,
analgesic, and antipyretic activities.33-34 Scientists and
pharmaceutical companies have recognized the importance of MCTs and have
filed numerous patents for their therapeutic use in the treatment of
Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, dental caries, periodontal disease, skin
diseases, and various bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.
Apparently the researchers at these companies feel there is ample
scientific evidence to invest their time and money in procuring the
legal rights to use them therapeutically.
The health benefits of MCTs are so well documented that the critics
cannot argue against their nutritional and medicinal value or safety.
However, some will argue that many of the studies were done using
fractionated coconut oil or MCT oil, not coconut oil, and therefore, are
not representative of the effects of coconut oil. This argument is just
a smokescreen to justify the demand for “more evidence.”
Since coconut oil is predominately a medium chain triglyceride oil
(63%), “the biological effects of coconut oil are a consequence of the
presence of these acids,” says Hans Kaunitz, MD, professor of pathology
at Columbia University Medical School and long time MCT researcher.35
Because coconut oil is composed predominately of MCTs, it influence on
the body is characterized by theses fatty acids.
While critics may question if coconut oil has the same therapeutic
effects as MCT oil, they will acknowledge that soybean oil is
characterized by linoleic acid because it contains 51 percent of this
polyunsaturated fatty acid, or that olive oil is a monounsaturated oil
because it is 77 percent oleic acid (a monounsaturated fatty acid), or
that fish oil (salmon oil in this case) is characterized by omega-3s
because it contains 38 percent omega-3 fatty acids, yet it also contains
saturated fat (22 percent) and cholesterol (485 mg/100g). Likewise,
soybean oil and olive oil also contain saturated fats, so they are not
pure either, but their character is defined by their predominate fatty
acids and their saturated fat content is ignored as inconsequential.
Conclusion: coconut oil is an MCT oil and its effects on the body are
characterized by these fatty acids. This has been observed time and time
again in studies and in clinical settings.
Some of the nutritional and therapeutic benefits of coconut oil come
from the saturated fats in the oil, such as its resistance to oxidation,
long shelf life, and superior cooking properties. Some come from MCTs
such as the antimicrobial effects and its unique mode of digestion and
nutrient delivery. However, most of its medicinal benefits undoubtedly
come from the ketones produced from the MCTs. The protective effects on
the heart, brain, kidneys, colon, pancreas, and other organs, its
metabolic boosting and energizing effects, and its anti-cancer,
anti-diabetes, anti-Alzheimer’s and other effects come principally from
you do a search on PubMed for ketones, as they relate to MCTs and diet,
you will find about 25,000 studies. Combining these studies with the
10,000 on coconut oil and MCTs, we have a total of over 35,000 studies
describing the effects of coconut oil on health. Is that enough
evidence? There is far more evidence demonstrating the safety and
efficiency of coconut oil than there are for most FDA approved drugs.
course, additional studies are welcomed and encouraged, but to state
that there is little or no evidence demonstrating the safety and value
of coconut oil is simply not true. Coconut oil has been used
successfully in traditional medicine for thousands of years, and in
western medicine for at least 60 years with no adverse effects. It’s
been granted GRAS (i.e. generally recognized as safe) status by the FDA.
Regardless of the number of studies available, the real test for the
value of coconut oil is how it affects people’s lives. Coconut oil is
helping thousands of people with various health problems. Here is a
typical example. “I was once diagnosed with lupus, lichen planus (lost
all 20 nails), ADD, depression, COPD, allergies, atherosclerosis with
chest pain, metabolic syndrome, rapidly progressing to full blown
diabetes, high CRP, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, chronic
fatigue, and fibromyalgia,” says Peggy M. “I was living on inhalers,
antibiotics, prednisone, antidepressants, sleeping pills, allergy meds
and more…I began to try alternative things. I am sooooo thankful to say,
I have been using organic coconut oil for several years…My thyroid meds
continue to be decreased, and I no longer have to take any allergy meds
besides shots. I’m afraid to quit them. My breathing problems are
totally gone. I have healthy nails, no fibromyalgia, metabolic syndrome,
You can access similar stories here.
While testimonies like this may not provide “scientific”
proof, tens of thousands of people can attest that coconut oil has
changed their lives for the better. Medications may give good results in
laboratory settings, yet in real life prove disastrous (i.e. Vioxx).
Coconut oil has proven its worth in real life.
Whenever someone says, “Show me the evidence,” give him a copy of this
article and say “here is the evidence check it out if you want to learn
the truth.” If they demand more evidence, refer them to books such as
Coconut Cures or
Stop Alzheimer’s Now. Every
health claim made in regard to coconut is backed up by published
research and historical facts. Each book includes hundreds of references
to medical studies.
You can also send them to
have them look under the heading “Medical Studies” to access a 25 page
listing of some of the 10,000 studies on coconut oil.
1. Cunningham, E. Is there science to support claims for coconut
oil? J Am Diet Assoc 2001;111:786.
3. McDougall, J. The newest food-cure: coconut oil for health and
vitality. The McDougall Newsletter 2006;5:5.
4. Newport, M. Case study: dietary intervention using coconut oil to
produce mild ketosis in a 58 year old APOE4+ male with early onset
Alzheimer’s disease. 25th International Conference of
Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), March 10-13, 2010, Greece.
5. Salmon, W.D. and Goodman, J.G. Alleviation of vitamin B
deficiency in the rat by certain natural fats and synthetic esters.
Journal of Nutrition 1936;13:477-500.
6. Tantibhedhyangkul, P. and Hashim, S.A. Medium-chain triglyceride
feeding in premature infants: effects on calcium and magnesium
absorption. Pediatrics 1987;61:537-545.
7. Vaidya, U.V., et al. Vegetable oils fortified feeds in the
nutrition of very low birthweight babies. Indian Pediatr
8. Wang, X, et al. Enteral nutrition improves clinical outcome and
shortens hospital stay after cancer surgery. J Invest Surg
9. Kaunitz. H., et al. Nutritional properties of the triglycerides
of medium chain-length. J Am Oil Chem Soc 1958;35:10-13.
10. Kiyasu, J.Y., et al. The portal transport of absorbed fatty
acids. J Biol Chem 1952;199:415-419.
11. Burke, V. and Danks, D.M. Medium-chain triglyceride diet: its
use in treatment of liver disease. Brit Med J 1966;2:1050-1051.
12. Kuo, P.T. and Huang, N.N. The effect of medium chain
triglyceride upon fat absorption and plasma lipid and depot fat of
children with cystic fibrosis of the pancreas. J Clin Invest
13. Cancio, M. and Menendez-Corrrada, R. Absorption of medium chain
triglycerides in tropical sprue. Proc Soc Exp Biol (NY)
14. Isselbacher, K.J., et al. Congenital beta-lipoprotein
deficiency: an hereditary disorder involving a defect in the
absorption and transport of lipids. Medicine (Baltimore)
15. Holt, P.R. Dietary treatment of protein loss in intestinal
lymphangiectasia. Pediatrics 1964;34:629-635.
16. Greenberger, N.J., et al. Use of medium chain triglycerides in
malabsorption. Ann Internal Med 1967;66:727-734.
17. Zurier, R.B., et al. Use of medium-chain triglyceride in
management of patients with massive resection of the small
intestine. New Engl J Med 1966;274:490-493.
18. Baba, N., et al. Enhanced thermogenesis and diminished
deposition of fat in response to overfeeding with diets containing
medium chain triglycerides. Am J Clin Nutr 1982;35:678-682.
19. St-Onge, M.P. and Jones, P.J. Physiological effects of
medium-chain triglycerides: potential agents in the prevention of
obesity. J Nutr 2002;132:329-332.
20. Kabara, J.J., et al. Fatty acids and derivatives as
antimicrobial agents. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy
21. Hilmarsson, H., et al. Virucidal effect of lipids on visna virus,
a lentivirus related to HIV. Arch Virol 2006;151:1217-1224.
22. Kitahara, T., et al. Antimicrobial activity of saturated fatty
acids and fatty amines against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus
aureus. Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin
23. Ogbolu, D.O., et al. In vitro antimicrobial properties of
coconut oil on Candida species in Ibadan, Nigeria. J Med Food
24. Neal, E.G., et al. A randomized trial of classical and
medium-chain triglyceride ketogenic diets in the treatment of
childhood epilepsy. Epilepsia 2009;50:1109-1117.
25. Eckel, R.H., et al. Dietary substitution of medium-chain
triglycerides improves insulin-mediated glucose metabolism in NIDDM
subjects. Diabetes 1992;41:641-647.
26. Kono, H., et al. Dietary medium-chain triglycerides prevent
chemically induced experimental colitis in rats. Transl Res
27. Zakaria, A.A., et al. Hepatoprotective activity of dried- and
fermented-processed virgin coconut oil. Evidence-Based
Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2011;2011:142739.
28. Monserrat, A.J., et al. Protective effect of coconut oil on
renal necrosis occurring in rats fed a methyl-deficient diet. Ren
29. Mizushima, T., et al. Prevention of hyperlipidemic acute
pancreatitis during pregnancy with medium-chain triglyceride
nutritional support. Int J Pancreatol 1998;23:187-192.
30. Kono, H., et al. Medium-chain triglycerides enhance secretory
IgA expression in rat intestine after administration of endotoxin.
Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol 2004;286:G1081-G1089.
31. Labarthe, F., et al. Medium-chain fatty acids as metabolic
therapy in cardiac disease. Cardiovasc Drugs Ther
32. Prior, I.A., et al. Cholesterol, coconuts, and diet of
Polynesian atolls: a natural experiment: the Pukapuka and Tokelau
island studies. Am J Clin Nutr 1981;34:1552-1561.
33. Zakaria, A.A., et al. In vivo antinociceptive and
anti-inflammatory activities of dried and fermented processed virgin
coconut oil. Med Princ Pract 2011;20:231-236.
34. Intahphuak, S., et al. Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and
antipyretic activities of virgin coconut oil. Pharm Biol
35. Kaunitz, H. Nutritional properties of coconut oil. J Am Oil
Chem Soc 1970;47:462A-466A.