URL of this page: https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/1092.html

Coconut Oil

What is it?

Coconut oil comes from the nut (fruit) of the coconut palm. The oil of the nut is used to make medicine. Some coconut oil 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.

People use coconut oil by mouth for diabetes, heart disease, chronic fatigue, Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Alzheimer's disease, quality of life in people with breast cancer, thyroid conditions, energy, and boosting the immune system. Despite coconut oil's high calorie and saturated fat content, some people use it by mouth to lose weight and lower cholesterol.

Coconut oil is sometimes applied to the skin as a moisturizer, for neonatal health, and to treat eczema and a skin condition called psoriasis. Coconut oil is also used in hair products to prevent hair damage.

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:

Possibly effective for...

  • Eczema. Research suggests that applying virgin coconut oil to the skin twice daily for 8 weeks improves symptoms about 30% more than mineral oil in children with eczema.

Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...

  • Breast cancer. Early research suggests that taking virgin coconut oil by mouth daily starting one week after chemotherapy from the 3rd to the 6th cycle improves quality of life in some but not all measurements in women with advanced breast cancer.
  • Clogged arteries. Early research suggests that taking coconut or coconut oil does not seem to increase or decrease the risk of heart attack or chest pain.
  • Diarrhea. One 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.
  • Fetal and early infant death. Early research suggest that applying coconut oil to babies' skin daily for 28 days reduces the risk of infection but does not affect the risk of death in premature babies.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Newborn weight gain. Some research shows that massaging premature newborns with coconut oil can improve weight gain and growth.
  • Obesity. Some developing research shows that taking coconut oil three times daily might reduce waist size after 1-6 weeks of use. But this only occurred in men and did not affect weight or body mass index (BMI).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Diabetes.
  • 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?

Coconut oil is high in a saturated fat called medium chain triglycerides. These fats work differently than other types of saturated fat in the body. However, research on the effects of these types of fats in the body is very preliminary.

When applied to the skin, coconut oil has a moisturizing effect.

Are there safety concerns?

Coconut oil is LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth or applied to the skin appropriately.

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.

Special precautions & warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Coconut oil is LIKELY 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.

Children: Coconut oil is LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth in amounts commonly found in food. Coconut oil is POSSIBLY SAFE when it is applied to the skin. It has been used safely in children and infants in the short-term. There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking coconut oil by mouth as medicine in children.

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 following dose has been studied in scientific research:

CHILDREN

APPLIED TO THE SKIN:
  • For eczema: 10 mL of virgin coconut oil has been applied to most body surfaces in two divided doses daily for 8 weeks.

Other names

Aceite de Coco, Acide Gras de Noix de Coco, Coconut Fatty Acid, Coconut Palm, Coco Palm, Coconut, Cocos nucifera, Cocotier, Cold Pressed Coconut Oil, Fermented Coconut Oil, Huile de Coco, Huile de Noix de Coco, Huile de Noix de Coco Pressée à Froid, Huile Vierge de Noix de Coco, Narikela, Noix de Coco, Palmier, Virgin Coconut Oil.

Methodology

To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.

References

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Last reviewed - 10/31/2016