Every person encounters with some form of digestive problems in his/her life affecting any part of the digestive system, most commonly, the gastrointestinal tract comprising the stomach and intestines.
Even the organs associated with digestion like the liver, pancreas and gallbladder may be affected.
Before we go ahead and explain how coconut oil really helps in taking care of digestive disorders, it is important to get a bit familiar with our digestive system first - what it includes, how it works and what disorders are common in this system.
Human Digestive System
The digestive system is one very important part of our body.
The digestive system not only is just stomach and intestine but it consists of - digestive tract (hollow tract which starts from our mouth and ends at anus) and organs which secrete/store and release digestive juices.
Organs which make up our digestion tract include mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine—also called the colon-rectum, and anus. The second type of organs - liver, gallbladder and pancreas.
Food digestion and health - role of bacteria
You will be surprised to know that our body is home to 10s of trillions of bacteria and that of hundreds of varieties. While there are 300-1000 types of bacteria, but the population is dominated by 40-50 species.
In case of a normal human being, these bacteria would weigh as much as 1 kg! In fact, more than 50% of dry mass of faeces is bacteria!
Most of them are good for the body and some not so good. In the normal case, good bacteria far outnumber bad ones.
In simple terms, till the population of bad bacteria are in control and good ones are large we remain healthy when this equation shifts we fall sick. Next question which will come to your mind will be - Why these bacteria? and where they live?
Well, most of the bacteria live in our digestive tract. Digestive tract acts like their host and they, in turn, help it in a various way including:
- These bacteria provide powerful enzymes which help digest the polysaccharides which are present in the plant-based food we eat. Without these, the nutrients of these would not be absorbed by the body.
- Some bacteria also synthesize Vitamin K and B group vitamins in our gut - which play imp. role in our overall health.
- Bacteria also help in maintaining the pH balance of the body
Key Parts of a Coconut
Coconut or Cocos nucifera is one such healthy food that is full of nutrients and health benefits.
The coconut palm tree has several uses and is being used for centuries by people across the world to obtain products of human benefit.
Each and every part of coconut is used in one or the other way. It is a native of tropical areas and an important diet constituent of these people.
Main edible and useful components from the coconut tree include:
- Coconut water: It is a clear watery liquid obtained from young, green coconuts.
- Coconut meat: It is the white flesh of mature, brown coconut.
- Coconut milk: It is the extract obtained from mixing of grated coconut meat and water and subsequent filtering.
- Coconut oil: It is the oil obtained from the dried coconut flesh. The unrefined version is called virgin coconut oil.
- Coconut husk fibre: Obtained from the outer brown husk of the coconut.
All these components have several advantages to the digestive system of humans and help in preventing digestive disorders.
Let's discuss how these various edible components of a coconut help in keeping our digestive system in great shape.
Health Benefits of Coconut for Human Digestive System
Coconut and its derivatives promote healthy digestion in many ways. Coconut oil has anti-microbial properties thus promoting gut health. Coconut due to its anti-inflammatory properties can help with disorders such as IBD. Coconut meat is excellent fibre source while coconut water promotes hydration and digestion. Protein from coconut helps develop immunity to the digestive diseases. Coconut milk has anti-ulcer properties too.
Let's study these properties in detail.
1. Coconut oil has anti-microbial and anti-parasitic properties
Bacteria, viruses, fungus and other parasites are causal factors for a wide number of digestive disorders. Many microbes are naturally present in the gut, but sometimes they increase in number or pathogenic strains enter from outside through food.
Taking food that has anti-microbial and anti-parasitic nature will prevent this and help in early response and recovery by the body.
Lauric acid in coconut oil has inhibitory action against Staphyloccur aureus.
Candida albicans, a fungus, is known to cause yeast infections in the gastrointestinal tract and oral cavity. It adversely affects the mucous membranes.
Monolaurin in coconut solubilises the lipids and phospholipids that are present in the membrane of lipid-coated bacteria and viruses.
Extracts from coconut bark can also be used to treat intestinal nematodes. It contains tannins and saponins that kill the parasites.
As more and more microbial species are becoming tolerant to commonly used drugs, coconut oil can be used as an alternative to them due to its anti-microbial nature.
What does this mean?
Coconut contains several compounds with an anti-microbial and anti-parasitic activity that help in preventing the digestive system from disorders.
2. Coconut has anti-inflammatory potential
Inflammation of the digestive tract leads to several diseases like the Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD’s), Ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and gastroenteritis.
It often results in swelling and pain in the affected area. Anti-inflammatory substances are required to treat or prevent such conditions.
This potential can further be used to create medications comprising coconut extracts.
What does this mean?
Extracts from coconut act against inflammation and pain arising in the digestive tract and help in preventing and treating digestive disorders.
3. It has immunomodulatory effect
When a certain disease or infection strikes the digestive system, it causes damage to the organs.
The immune system, body’s natural defence mechanism initiates immune response to fight the pathogens that cause it and cure the damaged cells.
Coconut protein increases the number of various immune cells like neutrophils, monocytes, eosinophils, B-lymphocytes, T-lymphocytes and haemoglobin.
Increase in these cells will result in a better and more effective immunity against the digestive disorders.
What does this mean?
Protein from coconut helps develop immunity to the digestive diseases and stimulates cell repair and redevelopment.
4. Coconut water & oil improves digestion
Apart from the digestive tract, several other organs of the digestive system like pancreas, liver and gallbladder may be adversely affected. This may interfere with the normal process of digestion.
A healthy intake of coconut oil is recommended to treat or prevent gallbladder diseases and stones. Gallbladder contains bile that helps with digestion of fats.
Coconut water protects the liver from damage and shows hepatoprotective behaviour by preserving the antioxidant enzymes.
Coconut water improves pancreatic and liver functioning by increasing insulin, urea, serum creatinine, albumin and albumin/globulin levels.
What does this mean?
Coconut ensures smooth functioning of the organs of digestive system and protects the body from disorders that might affect them.
5. Coconut meat has a good fibre content
The coconut meat or the white flesh of coconut when included in the diet provides ample quantity of fibre. High fibre in diet increases bulk.
This further increases the transit time and smooth passage of food in the intestines and results in more absorption of nutrients. This also helps in preventing diarrhoea or constipation.
What does this mean?
The fibre in coconut helps proper passage and absorption of food and prevents constipation and diarrhea.
6. Coconut water helps prevent fluid loss after digestive disorders
Digestive disorders like gastritis, gastroenteritis, and IBD’s often result in diarrhoea and loss of excess fluids from the body. This causes fatigue, dehydration and loss of energy.
The body requires fluids in the form of electrolytes to normalize this loss and resume functioning of vital organs while providing energy.
Coconut water can be used as an alternative to Oral rehydration solution(ORS), as it contains various inorganic ions like sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, etc.
What does this mean?
Coconut water is useful in restoring the body of essential nutrients and delaying the requirement of intravenous supplies after fluid loss that occurs in digestive disorders.
8. Coconut milk has anti-ulcer property
Stomach, mouth and intestinal ulcers occur in chronic cases of digestive problems and cause great discomfort, pain and hindrance in the process of digestion.
This happens because of disruption of the digestive lining, mucosa that contains glands which secrete digestive juices in the mouth, stomach and intestines.
In a study, it was concluded that coconut milk leads to a reduction in the size of ulcers compared to coconut water. It thus protects the gastric mucosal lining and helps in treating the ulcers.
Thus, including coconut milk in the diet will help in reducing and preventing ulcers.
What does this mean?
Coconut protects the mucosal lining from harmful effects of ulcers by diminishing their size and treating them.
9. It has anti-cancer property
Digestive disorders include cancer of the stomach, intestines, colon, mouth and oesophagus.
Cancer can be delayed, preventing and treated to a certain extent by fighting off the carcinogenic cells and the cells that damage the digestive tissues.
Lauric acid and palmitic acid in coconut oil prevent colon cancer by inhibiting the growth of cancer-causing cells in the colon and can have potential to become chemotherapeutic agents.
The fibre present in coconut kernel helps to protect cells in the colon from losing oxidative properties that are required to prevent cancer.
What does this mean?
Coconut contains anti-cancer properties that protect the digestive system from various cells that cause damage and disruption leading to cancer.
Bad Bacteria and Role of Coconut Oil
As mentioned earlier, most bacteria in our digestive tract are good but there are some bad ones too.
When these bacteria show their strength we develop various conditions such as colitis, cystitis, fatigue, constipation, diarrhoea, eczema, and many more.
We will discuss a few cases where coconut oil can be helpful in controlling these harmful microbes.
if you want to read detailed benefits of coconut oil, read here>
Coconut oil and Candida
Candida albicans is a genus of yeast and responsible for causing various disease such as thrush, yeast infection, vaginal yeast infections, etc.
Not only this an overgrowth of this can physically damage the lining of intestine causing 1) less absorption of nutrients and 2) passing of toxins, bacteria and other microbes into the bloodstream.
One way to keep these in control is to keep a fibre rich diet.
Several antibiotics also promote candida. Coconut meat and coconut oil - both can prove to be beneficial in this case.
Why? because coconut meat is rich in fibre, a diet which promotes the growth of good bacteria and secondly, MCTs / MCFAs (medium chain fatty acids) present in coconut oil have an anti-microbial action and helps in killing this yeast.
It is important to understand that coconut is not found to impact good bacteria.
Coconut oil and ulcers
The key cause of ulcers include h.pylori, herpes, streptococcus , etc. coconut oil has a significant impact in removing these.
Again thanks for the MCFAs present in coconut oil. Using coconut oil is better than antibiotics for ulcers as they also kill friendly bacteria of the digestive system.
Coconut oil for inflammatory bowel disease
These disorders are one of the most common forms of digestive disorders today mainly arising from the fact that we are eating less of fibres and more refined diet these days which our digestive system is not actually made for.
Inflammatory bowel disease include irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease and Ulcerative colitis - all of them have serious health implications.
Coconut diet can be of great help here. Why? as it turns out misbalance in our intestine environment is the primary cause of this - coconut meat, coconut oil and coconut water - all can help in restoring it.
Coconut meat will provide fibres for good bacteria to thrive and other hand MCFAs present in coconut oil will help kill bacteria responsible for these disorders. MCFAs are also reported to heal inflammation of the intestine.
Coconut oil for gallbladder related issues
Gallbladder stores the bile required by the body to break down fats and thus absorb nutrients from it. But gallstones can develop which decrease this supply.
Based on studies, coconut oil has been found to be effective in dissolving gallstones.
It is believed that the monoglycerides and diglycerides of capric acid and caprylic acid are primarily responsible for this action. This not only improves gallbladder function but can also avert gallbladder removal.
Dosage of Coconut for Healthy Digestion
Every component of coconut can be consumed in a variety of ways. It is a very versatile ingredient.
Coconut water can be consumed fresh or added to drinks. Bottled and canned version is also available. 1-2 servings can be taken daily.
Coconut meat can be added to any recipe to increase flavour and taste. It is used in desserts, chutneys, curries, gravies and for garnishing. The dried coconut kernel and grated coconut are also available commercially.
Coconut milk can be used as a milk substitute for beverages, drinks and smoothies. It is also added to recipes of Southeast Asian and Thai cuisines. It can be made fresh at home or purchased as canned or bottled. 1.25-1.5 cup can be taken daily.
Refined coconut oil and virgin coconut oil are also available in the market manufactured by many companies. It can be substituted for any type of oil in recipes.
The key to using coconut is moderation. While controlled intake is very beneficial, excess intake can lead to problems.
More studies are required to develop the potential of including coconut extracts in medications to exploit its complete health benefits in diseases. However, its use as a complementary and alternative medicine cannot be declined.
Coconut can be added to the diet and consumed in several ways. It is important to keep in mind the purpose of consumption before deciding the form in which you want to take coconut.
Precaution to be taken
The age of coconut affects the nutrients in the components.
It is essential to identify what coconut to use for extracting a particular component.
For example, when taking coconut water, young and green variety is preferred. To use coconut meat or coconut milk, mature and brown variety is good. Coconut oil is best derived from mature and dried coconut kernels.
Excess coconut water can increase the calorie intake and cause electrolyte imbalance which is not suited for people with diabetes and high blood pressure.
While coconut milk contains healthy fats, taking more fats than the body can easily process will certainly cause health problems.
Coconut allergy is extremely rare but not impossible, especially for people with tree nut allergies.
Coconut has the possibility of interfering with drugs, so people on any medications should inform the doctor of its use and check if it is suitable for them.
Some coconut foods contain sugars in the form of fructose which is not good for people with fructose intolerance. If you observe digestive discomfort after consuming coconut, it is best if you discontinue the use.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should seek medical advice before using coconut in their diet.
Always use fresh and natural products. If not available, opt for organic, unrefined and least processed varieties free from additives, artificial sweeteners and preservatives. Look for BPA-A free containers while buying canned and bottled products as it can cause cancer.
Coconut and its products offer multiple uses and benefits for people with digestive disorders.
Every part of the fruit, the coconut water, coconut meat, coconut oil and even its husk fibre have several nutrients and properties, some of which include their ability to fight against inflammation, cancer, ulcers, microbes and parasites.
They also help with immunity, hydration and increasing the fibre content. They even improve the functioning of liver, pancreas and gallbladder that play vital roles in digestion.
Coconut and its products can be very easily incorporated in the diet in various forms and used to prevent or treat problems associated with digestion. For a healthy gut, coconut is a must have for every person.