By Marguerite Fly Bevis, R.N., B.S.N.

If I could choose only one thing to keep in my medicine chest, it would be virgin cold-pressed coconut oil. This one substance is a superfood, providing health benefits in addition to supplying important nutrients, including some also found in breast milk. It is also a medicine; it fights bacteria and viruses and fungus. It can be used all over the body, inside and out. It can be used to treat insect bites, rashes, burns and wounds. Used internally, it boosts metabolism and shifts energy levels into high gear. Unlike caffeine, the effects are gradual but not addictive.

What makes coconut oil so special? The difference is in the fat molecules that make up the oil. All fats and oils are composed of fat molecules known as fatty acids. Most of us are familiar with one way of classifying fatty acids, based on saturation: saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Another way to classify fatty acids is based on the size of the molecule, the length of the carbon chain within the fatty acid. There are short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) and longchain fatty acids (LCFAs). Most of the fats in our diet are composed of long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs). Corn oil, olive oil, canola oil, lard, soybean oil, and chicken fat are composed entirely of LCFAs.

Coconut oil, on the other hand, is composed mainly of MCFAs which give it its unique medicinal and nutritional properties. Triglycerides are the combination of three fatty acids, which are joined together by a glycerol molecule. There are short-chain triglycerides (SCTs), medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and long-chain triglycerides (LTCs.) Our bodies metabolize fatty acids differently depending on their size. MCFAs digest more easily than LCFAs and are easily soluble in water. This means that enzymes from the pancreas are not necessary for their digestion.

Foods containing long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) pass through the stomach and are released into the intestinal tract. Enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the gallbladder are needed. As the LCT’s are digested, the bonds holding the individual fatty acids together are broken. The individual fatty acids are absorbed into the intestinal wall where they are bundled into little packets of fat and protein called lipoproteins. Lipoproteins then pass into the bloodstream where they circulate throughout the body. While circulating, small particles of fats break off in the bloodstream. These fats end up in fat cells and as arterial plaque. Excess fat and clogged arteries are the source of many health problems.

Medium-chain triglycerides travel through the stomach but are already broken down into individual fatty acids before they leave the stomach. Because they don’t require digestive enzymes they are absorbed immediately into the portal vein and sent directly to the liver where they are used as fuel to produce energy. Because MCFAs bypass the lipoprotein stage in the intestine and the liver, they do not circulate in the blood to the extent the others do. As a result, they do not get lodged inside fat cells or clog artery walls. They produce energy not body fat and arterial plaque.

MCTs improve the digestion of other nutrients such as minerals (magnesium & calcium), B vitamins and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K and beta carotene) and some amino acids (proteins.) Coconut oil is a better option than sunscreen because it protects against sunburn and against cancer. Unlike sunscreen, coconut oil does not block the UV rays that are necessary for Vitamin D synthesis.

Apply liberally and frequently. Eating coconut oil helps strengthen the skin, making it less prone to sunburn. If you do stay out too long and get burned, coconut oil is soothing and helps heals the burn. It has the added benefit of making skin look and feel healthy, improves blemishes, fungal infections, wounds and sores. Some precancerous lesions and moles may begin to disappear with regular use.

I have been using coconut oil as an insect repellent for several months. It is effective but needs to be reapplied periodically. One word of caution: coconut oil will stain clothes and cloth furniture unless you wash it off immediately with warm soapy water. It is also very helpful for insect bites you receive before you think to put it on. All you need is one product for both bites and prevention.

Ironically, coconut oil is useful for both weight gain and weight loss. It is a natural low-calorie fat. Coconut oil satisfies hunger better than any other fat or food, and it elevates metabolism levels. As metabolism levels rise, calories burn faster. More calories burned means fewer calories converted into body fat. On the other hand, people who are malnourished become healthier and gain weight when coconut oil is added to their diet. The less body fat you have, the less effect coconut oil has on stimulating metabolism. It turns out coconut is ideal for helping you reach and maintain your optimal weight.

Mothers who are breast-feeding can temporarily increase the MCFA content of their milk by 18% by adding three tablespoons of coconut oil to a meal. This enhances the protective properties while providing easily digestible fatty acids necessary for growth and development. Low birth weight infants given coconut oil in their formula grow faster and have a higher survival rate.

Those who use coconut oil daily externally and internally report many benefits. Chronic health problems disappear. Its mild antiinflammatory effect speeds up the healing process, reducing swelling and pain of all types including arthritis, back pain and fibromyalgia.

There is much to learn about this miracle oil. Recommended is any book by Bruce Fife, particularly “Coconut Cures: Preventing and Treating Common Health Problems with Coconut,” which is the primary source for this article. Thank you, Mr. Fife for giving permission to use the illustration from your book.

Disclaimer: If you are ill, please see a doctor or nurse. The information here is not intended to substitute for medical care.