Hollywood celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow reportedly have a common ingredient in their daily beauty and fitness regimen. The ingredient is supposed to be a magical elixir for the skin, a wonderful metabolism-boosting aid and a super food for good health and vitality. This amazing ingredient is the humble coconut oil, used extensively as a topical application and cooking oil in tropical regions of the word. Of course, coconut oil is most widely used in Kerala, which has been globally recognised as the home of Ayurveda.
Interestingly, even as the western world discovers the astonishing healing and soothing properties of coconut oil, Ayurveda has always highlighted its dietary and medicinal importance. In fact, the Sushruta Samhita extols the virtues of coconut oil. The Ayurvedic treatise points out that this versatile ingredient can be used for cooking, internal application and external application. It is a natural coolant, helps nourish body tissues, aids digestion, promotes hair growth and can be used to correct any imbalances in the doshas. Coconut oil is also used as an ingredient in Ayurvedic medicines used to treat urinary disorders, weakness and respiratory conditions. Ayurveda has long regarded coconut oil as the healthiest oil and the world is slowly veering around to this point of view.
The Health Debate around Coconut Oil
There has been considerable debate regarding the use of coconut oil as a cooking medium. Rich in saturated fatty acids, coconut oil is considered to be bad for the heart. Consider the figures. Nearly 84 percent of the calories from coconut oil come from saturated fats. Considered as a solid fat, it can also raise cholesterol levels. Health experts prudently advise limiting saturated fats to no more than 13 grams a day. This would mean that you can use about a tablespoon of coconut oil in your daily diet. Given these negative reports, most homes that had traditionally used coconut oil began replacing it with supposedly healthier oils.
However, newer research has shed fresh light on the richness of coconut oil. There is a structural difference in the fatty acids contained in coconut oil as it is made mostly of medium-chain triglycerides, or MCT which is reputed to help boost the good cholesterol or HDL. This has increased the acceptability of coconut oil as a cooking medium in recent years.
However even Ayurveda advises caution while using coconut oil in your daily diet, especially if you are having heart problems or suffer from obesity. Kapha oriented individuals, people suffering from clogged arteries and having digestive issues are normally advised against using coconut oil as the cooking medium. But it’s not yet time to ban coconut oil completely from your home as this natural wonder has several positive effects when used in external applications.
The Cool Quotient
Ayurveda reveres coconut oil for its cooling properties. Most women living in tropical climes dab some coconut oil on their face every day. It acts as a sun block, moisturizer, cleanser and helps remove skin blemishes and pigmentation. It’s cooling and lubricating properties adds a fresh and glowing look to the face.
Coconut oil also has anti-microbial and antiseptic properties, making it a vital ingredient in Ayurvedic medications used to treat skin problems like eczema, infections, dry skin, eczema and burns. Since it is cooling, coconut oil is considered ideal to treat any Pitta imbalances. The Pitta dosha in Ayurveda basically means that there is excessive heat in the body. This can lead to several ailments. Coconut oil, with its cooling touch, helps to reduce the aggravation in our Pitta. Our ancestors often recommended a coconut oil head massage or body massage in order to cool and soothe nerves and tempers! Abhyanga, a traditional self-massage using warm coconut oil helps to detoxify and rejuvenate the body and mind.
Health Benefits from Coconut Oil
Ayurveda has long recommended coconut oil as an immunity booster. Research proves that our ancient vaidyas were right in this assessment. Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which is converted by the body into an anti-viral agent known as monolaurin. This helps the body to fight off pathogens and viruses including herpes, HIV, influenza and listeria. Almost 50 percent of coconut oil is composed of lauric acid; only breast milk has a higher component of this immunity booster and it is this lauric acid that gives babies immunity from diseases while they are being breast fed.
Coconut oil is also an excellent remedy for joint pain and is often used by Ayurveda practitioners to treat arthritis. The oil has anti-inflammatory properties and is also a natural pain reliever. Gently rubbing warm coconut oil on the affected joints helps to relax the tense and inflamed joint and the surrounding muscles, bringing considerable relief.
Oil pulling is an Ayurvedic treatment used for oral care. Take some coconut oil and swish it in your mouth for 20 minutes before spitting it out. The oil’s anti-bacterial property will whiten teeth, prevent cavities and keep the gums healthy.
Coconut oil is also classified as keshya in ayurveda which means that it is hair-friendly. A warm coconut oil massage ensures that protein is restored to the hair shaft. This would mean healthier, stronger hair. In addition, it keeps the scalp free of dandruff and other infections. Regular massages with coconut oil will keep replenishing the proteins in the hair and ultimately result in hair growth.
From a skin moisturizer to an effective immunity booster, coconut oil has once again caught the imagination of the world!