The heart is one of the most crucial organs of the human body. It is a muscular organ that contracts and relaxes continuously to pump the blood through veins and arteries to every part of the body.
The blood flow carried out by heart is essential to supply oxygen, nutrients, hormones, immune cells, etc. to the various cells and tissues in the body for their functioning. It also helps in removing the metabolic wastes from the body.
Prevention is, therefore, the best cure for the heart problems. The heart health can be maintained best by improving the lifestyle (healthy diet, exercise, quitting smoking, etc.).
As food is an indispensable part of our life, what could be better than keeping our hearts healthy through our diet? Since food rich in cholesterol and fat are the main culprit, switching such food to healthier alternatives is only wise.
Unhealthy edible oils (such as vegetable oil) in our food are the major cause of high cholesterols in the body so, substituting them is highly necessary. One such substitute is the humble and very nutritious, coconut oil.
What is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is the oil extracted from the meat of the mature fruit of coconut palm or Cocos nucifera. The oil may be extracted from the raw coconut or the dried copra.
This oil is commonly used in the regions where coconut palm is abundantly grown. The oil is used in cooking, cosmetics, as a lubricant or raw material in many industrial processes, for illumination, etc.
The coconut oil primarily constitutes fatty acids such as saturated and medium chain fatty acids such as lauric acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid and others. It also contains vitamin E, polyphenols, and phytosterols.
The constituents of coconut oil possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and immune supporting properties. These properties have benefits in heart diseases, diabetes, wound healing and many other health problems.
4 Proven Benefits of Coconut oil for Heart Health
Coconut oil promotes heart health in several ways. Coconut oil lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) and increases HDL (good cholesterol). It prevents oxidative stress and is cardioprotective in nature thus keeping the heart healthy. Coconut oil also helps in maintaining metabolic health.
The fatty acid content of coconut oil is unique, and it has the capacity of modulating the parameters that affect the heart health adversely.
Therefore, it is considered to be highly useful in maintaining the heart health.
1. Coconut oil lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) and increases HDL (good cholesterol)
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), also referred to as bad cholesterols, are the considered to be a major factor for the heart disease risks.
The high levels of LDLs in the blood through dietary sources promote the process of plaque formation in the arteries, i.e., atherosclerosis. It thus increases the risk of heart diseases like coronary heart disease, stroke, etc.
Coconut oil is known to modulate the lipid profile in the body to reduce the risk of heart diseases.
In a study, feeding of coconut oil resulted in lowering of the LDLs. It was due to the effects of coconut oil on the metabolism of LDLs which lead to their decreased levels in the blood.
Coconut oil can also increase the HDLs. In a study, its consumption by the individuals with heart diseases raised the levels of HDL in them and also decreased body fat. It was useful in the management of the lipid profile in the subjects.
It has also been found that the LDL/HDL ratio can be influenced by the coconut oil to favourable levels. The lauric and myristic acids (present in coconut oil) increase the HDL levels significantly and thus can improve the lipid profile in the body.
What does it mean?
It means coconut oil consumption can reduce the levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and raise the levels of HDL (good cholesterol) in the body. It improves the lipid profile and thus, lowers the risk of developing heart diseases.
2. Coconut oil prevents Oxidative damage to Vascular health
The process of atherosclerosis is linked to the oxidative stress. The free radicals damage the low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and oxidize them to form lipid peroxidation products.
These products promote atherosclerosis and thus, increase the risk of various cardiovascular diseases.
Coconut oil has been found to impact oxidative damage to cells and improve the antioxidant status in the body by its antioxidant activity.
The polyphenols and tocopherol (vitamin E) content of the virgin coconut oil can ameliorate the oxidative stress. It results in the prevention of the oxidative damage through an improved antioxidant status in the body.
In a study, feeding virgin coconut oil could lower the LDL levels and prevent LDL oxidation by the antioxidant action of its polyphenols.
In a hypertensive model, administration of coconut oil was found to reduce the oxidative stress and improve the heart function.
What does it mean?
It means the intake of coconut oil (especially virgin coconut oil) can prevent oxidative damage and thus, prevent the development of atherosclerosis. It is helpful in improving the heart function and reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
3. Coconut oil is Cardioprotective
For the maintenance of the heart health, its protection from the various unhealthy lifestyle-linked risks is the key. Obesity, smoking, lack of physical activity, etc. are the major contributors to the development of cardiovascular disorders.
Coconut oil, particularly virgin coconut oil, is known to have cardioprotective effects. It is believed that its dietary use in combination with exercise can significantly help in reduction of the cardiovascular risks.
Its consumption has been found to prevent the elevation of blood pressure through its antioxidant mechanism.
Virgin coconut oil has also been found to improve the endothelial function to decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases caused by trans-fat rich diet.
Its antioxidant activity helps in balancing the nitric oxide levels in the endothelium and thus prevents the rise in the blood pressure.
Coconut oil can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases due to obesity as well. It promotes the reduction of abdominal fat (a major cardiovascular risk factor ) and thus, promotes cardioprotection.
In a study, virgin coconut oil has been found to be safe and efficacious in reducing the abdominal fat accompanied by the improvement of the lipid profile in the subjects. It is, therefore, helpful in preventing the development of the cardiovascular diseases.
What does it mean?
It means the inclusion of coconut oil (especially virgin coconut oil) can help in cardioprotection. It reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases development caused by various lifestyle factors.
4. Coconut oil improves Metabolic Health
Metabolic dysfunction is not only a risk factor for the development of the heart diseases but also a complication of heart problems.
Targeting the metabolic dysfunction thus becomes very important to prevent the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Coconut oil has the capacity to improve the metabolic health. It has been found to decrease the activity of the enzymes involved in the production of metabolic products like cholesterol and increase the activity of the enzymes that break-down fat.
It also elevates the production of bile acids. All these activities help in boosting the metabolism.
Coconut oil in the diet has also been seen to promote lesser accumulation of fat in the liver than other oils such as soybean oil. It is therefore helpful in preventing various metabolic disorders like obesity and fatty liver.
Coconut oil consumption can have great implications for the weight reduction. The medium chain triglycerides (abundant in coconut oil) are known to enhance weight loss by enhancing the energy expenditure.
Studies have shown that substituting coconut oil in weight loss diet does not pose metabolic risks and do not adversely affect the heart health.
What does it mean?
It means the regular intake of coconut oil in diet can help in improving the metabolic health. It indirectly leads to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disorders due to the action of the medium chain triglycerides.
Dosage of Coconut Oil
The specific dosage of coconut oil for heart health is not known.
However, many studies have found the dosage of coconut oil from 10-30 ml per day to be safe and effective for the maintenance of the heart health. Moreover, virgin coconut oil is considered more beneficial.
Read: Types of Coconut oil
So, about 1-2 teaspoons of virgin coconut oil can regularly be consumed.
Coconut oil can be consumed directly or be used in cooking. It is also safe for deep frying.
It can be used in salad dressings and can be added to smoothies, yoghurt or cooked dishes.
Coconut oil supplements are also available in pill form. They are generally of small size and require to be taken in large numbers to meet the daily requirement. Therefore, they are not very feasible to use.
Although coconut is considered safe in the dietary amounts, there are some concerns with its use. Taking certain precautions is, therefore, necessary.
1. Coconut oil can cause allergy - People prone to food allergies may be allergic to coconut oil as well. Coconut oil consumption in them may trigger an allergic reaction to cause hives, shortness of breath, redness, itching, etc.
2. Excessive intake of coconut oil may cause diarrhoea - Coconut oil consumption in large amounts can irritate the stomach and may thus result in diarrhoea.
3. Hydrogenated coconut oil can be harmful to health. - Hydrogenated coconut oil may increase the cholesterol and fat in the body due to very high saturated fatty acids content. It may thus increase the risk of obesity, heart diseases, diabetes, etc.
4. Same coconut oil should not repeatedly be used for cooking. - Although, coconut oil is safe for cooking on high heat, re-heating it again and again may turn some of its components into a carcinogen (cancer-causing agent).
5. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid large amounts of coconut oil. - Coconut oil is not known to cause any harm to pregnant and breastfeeding women. However, it is better to avoid its intake in large amounts by them as there may be chances of nausea or stomach irritation.
Coconut oil is an effective and feasible dietary substitute for the maintenance of the heart health.
It is efficacious in lowering the risk of heart diseases by its antioxidant and other such properties. It reduces the bad cholesterols and increases the good cholesterol to improve the lipid profile in the body.
It also prevents lipid oxidation and thus atherosclerosis to prevent the development of various cardiovascular diseases.
Moreover, it has cardioprotective benefits against the lifestyle induced cardiovascular risk factors. In addition, it improves the metabolic health to reduce the heart risks.
Overall, a regular consumption of the coconut oil can prove to be very advantageous for the heart health.