Coconuts – and coconut oil, specifically – are part of the most talked about food purported to have health benefits these days. So can coconut oil reduce pain?
Coconut oil comes from pressing the dried “meat” of mature coconuts, harvested from coconut palm, to extract the oil. This oil has been shown to provide a multitude of health benefits including reducing inflammation, fighting germs and supporting almost all processes of the body. The evidence is not definitive, although much is being written about the benefits of coconut oil. However, many reputable sources, including WebMD, Dr. Oz and Livestrong have all covered the subject extensively on their websites.
What’s in it that is good for you
For starters, coconut oil is over 80% saturated fat, consisting mainly of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), or fatty acids, rather than the long-chain fatty acids that most people consume regularly. Unlike long-chain fatty acids which must be broken down before the body can absorb them, MCTs, abundant in coconut oil, can be absorbed whole. MCTs also contain fewer calories per serving than their long-chain counterparts.
The most critical MCT, which constitutes approximately 45-55% of the saturated fats in coconut oil, is lauric acid. Lauric acid converts in the body to a monoglyceride called monolaurin, a powerful germ-fighter that is effective against many viruses, bacteria and protozoa. While lauric acid cannot be credited with all of the benefits received from coconut oil, a 2015 analysis suggests that many of the benefits are directly linked to it.
Specific benefits of coconut oil
Coconut contains two special ingredients that make it excellent for immunity: lauric acid, mentioned already and caprylic acid. Both have anti-viral properties and are well-known for fighting off yeast overgrowth (candida), as well as with bacterial infections. People looking for an immune-system boost should be eating other immune-enhancing foods as a regular part of their diet. But if they are looking for something extra to add to build up their immune systems, experts say that coconut oil is an easy addition to their daily routine.
Coconut oil has the potential to reduce inflammation in muscles and joints. A study published in the journal Pharmaceutical Biology showed that virgin coconut oil has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Simply by virtue of its high levels of lauric acid, coconut oil helps reduce inflammation – which directly impacts pain. Some studies have even found that extracts from coconut oil were just as effective as Indomethacin, a popular prescription pain medication.
Aside from improving temporary pain conditions, the anti-inflammatory elements of coconut oil have been shown to naturally help a more serious condition: arthritis. While many turn to prescription medications for the pain relief associated with this chronic condition, others are looking for more natural sources to ease their pain. Coconut oil is often used as a low-cost and effective alternative treatment. The topical application helps to increase blood supply to the arthritic area and reduce the localized pain and swelling. Many see coconut oil as extending beyond helping arthritis sufferers to those with other joint-pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia.
Low on energy? Add some coconut oil to your diet! Coconut oil has demonstrated physical and mental energy level benefits in both the short and long-term. It serves as a much healthier alternative to energy drinks, which often rely on caffeine and sugar, which can help in the short-term but cause an energy level “crash” in the long-term. Because the MCTs in coconut oil are processed and metabolized faster – and are natural, unlike sugar – these types of fatty acids give a sustained boost to energy. Bonus: The fat calories are immediately converted to energy.
For much the same reason coconut oil can reduce general pain and inflammation, it can serve as a treatment for muscle cramps. Muscle cramps can come about from too much exercise or not drinking enough water but also blood flow issues. A good massage incorporating coconut oil can keep the blood flow healthy while accelerating healing.
How to use coconut oil
Primarily, there are three ways to get the benefits from coconut oil: ingest it, apply it topically and use it in a massage.
For some people, the taste of coconut oil is not bothersome. For others, they’ll want to mix it into a recipe or using it in cooking. While no specific dosage for optimal benefits has been determined, it appears that one to two tablespoons per day can be beneficial. Since coconut oil is still a fat, you won’t want to push your total fat intake beyond 25-35% of your daily caloric intake.
Coconut oil recipes abound, and once you start substituting with this oil, you’ll find it easier to incorporate it into your diet.
Topical lubrication of joints
When applying coconut oil to your body, the easiest way to use it is to apply it to the skin like a lotion, using a light coat. For reducing stiffness or to keep joints completely lubricated, you can make it a regular part of your hygiene. Apply the coconut oil right after you shower or bathe each day. Alternately, you could also add a quick coat before beginning physical exercise.
Experts recommend applying a teaspoon of coconut oil for every 50 pounds of body weight when you start using it. After a few days, you can increase the amount of oil you use. If only trying to prevent the onset of pain or inflammation, sticking to one teaspoon a day is sufficient.
You can also use coconut oil topically as part of a massage. Warm up some coconut oil and combine it with a few pieces of camphor or mix it with some essential oils. Then massage the mixture deeply into the area where you’ve got joint pain. This increased circulation benefit of massage brings more oxygen to tissues revitalizing them and speeding up healing and growth. Add to that the medicinal properties of coconut oil – and massage becomes a great way to get the benefits quickly and directly.
If you’ve made coconut oil a part of your daily diet or are using it topically, let us know your experience in the comments below.