It’s not just for Pina Coladas anymore! Coconut belongs right up there with all the other health foods, for several reasons. First, and the one most fitting to our theme this week, is the immune boost it gives. Coconut contains a substance called lauric acid, which has been shown to have anti-infective activity.
Mary Enig, PhD, is a scientist regarded as a leading expert in the field of nutritional fats. Her thoughts on coconut oil: “Approximately 50 percent of the fatty acids in coconut fat are lauric acid. Lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid, which has the additional beneficial function of being formed into monolaurin in the human or animal body. Monolaurin is the antiviral, antibacterial, and antiprotozoal monoglyceride used by the human or animal to destroy lipid coated viruses such as HIV, herpes, cytomegalovirus, influenza, various pathogenic bacteria including listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and protozoa such as giardia lamblia. Some studies have also shown some antimicrobial effects of the free lauric acid.”
Add to these immune effects the fact that as a MCFA (medium chain fatty acid), coconut is metabolized differently from other fats and used preferentially as an energy source rather than to form fat. In addition, coconut oil has been found to increase basal body temperature and metabolism in people suffering from low thyroid function.
For all these reasons, coconut is a terrific addition to one’s diet. But don’t buy the sweetened versions commonly found in the supermarket baking supply aisles! Unsweetened shredded or grated coconut can be found in bulk food sections and health food stores. It makes a flavorful and healthful addition to breakfast foods and snacks. Coconut oil makes a terrific substitute for butter or other vegetable oils. Coconut milk is readily available in cans for cooking or cartons for drinking – think stir-frys and smoothies!
More concentrated immune support can be found in a supplement called Monolaurin, which is the substance credited with the anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects. It is commonly used in patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, where low-grade infections of viruses such as Epstein Barr are suspected. For general immune boosting, it can be used in a dosage of 1-2/ daily.
Given its wonderful taste and considerable health benefits, be sure to consider adding some coconut to your diet this winter!
J Drugs Dermatol. 2007 Oct;6(10):991-8. Novel antibacterial activity of monolaurin compared with conventional antibiotics against organisms from skin infections: an in vitro study. Carpo BG, Verallo-Rowell VM, Kabara J.
J Immunol. 2005 May 1;174(9):5390-7. Saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids reciprocally modulate dendritic cell functions mediated through TLR4. Weatherill AR, Lee JY, Zhao L, Lemay DG, Youn HS, Hwang DH.