Coconut oil is not only associated with weight loss. The oil is incorporated in a variety of products that are promoted for all sorts of benefits – both for internal and external use. Externally, coconut oil is a common ingredient in creams, lotions, soaps, shampoos and even cosmetics and fragrances.
Scientific evidence to back up any of these additional claims is also limited, however. In order to truly determine if any alternative use is of any real benefit, further research is needed. The purposes for which the oil is traditionally used are thus currently not sufficiently backed by scientific research. Before using coconut oil for any purpose, especially in the treatment of existing / diagnosed medical conditions, it is best to consult a medical professional beforehand.
Other uses for coconut oil
Some other known alternative uses for coconut oil include:
1. Moisturising treatment
- Eczema / atopic dermatitis skin conditions: Use of the oil has shown some positive effect when studied as a treatment for atopic dermatitis skin conditions. The oil may function as an effective emollient (soothing, moisturising or softening) and natural antibacterial agent helping to alleviate acute and chronic inflammatory activity affecting the skin. Applications of 10ml at a time are suggested. (13)
- An ingredient in hair conditioners and other products helping to prevent hair damage
- An ingredient in skin moisturisers for dry skin
- Massage oil
2. Treating medical conditions
- Diarrhoea: Virgin coconut oil has been studied in relation to bacterial pathogens causing diarrhoea symptoms as it could have antimicrobial properties. Lauric acid, among other components may inhibit bacterial growth and thus help ease symptoms. (14)
- Breast cancer: The idea is that if taken orally during the first week after chemotherapy sessions (from the 3rd to 6th cycle), quality of life may be considerably improved. One study has shown that taking it may be possible to reduce symptomatic side-effects of chemotherapy treatment. (15)
- Head lice: One study looked a whether the application of virgin coconut oil, combined with anise and ylang ylang oils could help to control head lice. Such success was noted. (16)
- Alzheimer’s disease: The ketones conversion factor associated with MCFAs has been researched in relation to Alzheimer’s disease treatment. Ketones are a functional energy source in the brain and thus may help with memory impairments. Phenolic compounds in coconut may also contribute to limiting the build-up of amyloid-β peptide (amino acids) plaques which contributes to the development and progression of the disease. (17)
Other medical conditions associated with coconut oil use include chronic fatigue, diabetes, Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Evidence supporting positive outcomes in these regards is currently lacking and requires more extensive study. Thus, use of coconut oil for treatment or prevention purposes is not recommended without the express consent from a medical doctor. It is also not likely to be encouraged as a replacement for any primary treatment recommendations.
The bottom line is that coconut oil is likely safe for external treatment uses and can be taken orally in small amounts with relative safety too. That includes short-term medicinal usage. The long-term effects of its use, however, are a debatable story - it is not conclusively proven at this point and thus is typically not encouraged by medical professionals, especially if a person has diagnosed medical conditions. It is not well established if certain compounds in coconut oil can have adverse interactions with certain medications or herbal supplements. There are, however, no known adverse reactions with other foodstuffs. Caution may be encouraged in pregnant and breast-feeding women too.
13. U.S. National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. July 2015. Alternative, Complementary, and Forgotten Remedies for Atopic Dermatitis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4518179/ [Accessed 01.06.2018]
14. U.S. National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. January - March 2017. Conventional and alternative treatment approaches for Clostridium difficile infection: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5327666/ [Accessed 01.06.2018]
15. U.S. National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. August 2014. The effects of virgin coconut oil (VCO) as supplementation on quality of life (QOL) among breast cancer patients: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4176590/ [Accessed 01.06.2018]
16. U.S. National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. November 2004. Head lice infestations: A clinical update: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724133/ [Accessed 01.06.2018]
17. U.S. National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. July 2015. The role of dietary coconut for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease: potential mechanisms of action: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25997382 [Accessed 01.06.2018]