Are you battling with diabetes, hypertension, obesity, kidney stones, infections or bad cholesterol? Now you can heave a sigh of relief because a landmark discovery has been made by a group of Nigerian researchers that will interest you. The scholars found out that consumption of coconut and its extracts causes a release of certain phytochemicals that cleanse and aid kidney function, dissolve kidney stones, produce anti-cancer and hypoglycaemic effects by balancing blood sugar, lower risk of heart disease and improve blood cholesterol level.
To understand what makes the coconut so highly valued, some additional details will be provided here.
The coconut palm is popularly referred to as the “Tree of Life” for its high value as both a source of food and medicine globally. Coconut is botanically called Cocosnucifera. Early Spanish explorers called it coco, which means “monkey face” because the three indentations (eyes) on the hairy nut resemble the head and face of a monkey. Nucifera means “nut-bearing.”In Nigeria, it is called agbon among the Yorubas, kwakwa in Hausa and aki-oyibooraki-gbekein the Igbo speaking areas of the country.
Coconut provides a nutritious source of meat, juice, milk, and oil that has fed and nourished populations around the world for generations. On many islands, coconut is a staple in the diet and provides the majority of the food eaten. Nearly one third of the world’s population depends on coconut to some degree for their food and their economy. Among these cultures the coconut has a long and respected history.
Coconut is highly nutritious and rich in fibre, vitamins, and minerals. It is
classified as a “functional food” because it provides many health benefits beyond its nutritional content. Coconut oil is of special interest because it possesses healing properties far beyond that of any other dietary oil and is extensively used in traditional medicine among Asian and Pacific populations. Pacific Islanders consider coconut oil to be the cure for all illness.
Coconut in folklore medicine
People from many diverse cultures, languages, religions, and races scattered around the globe have revere the coconut as a valuable source of both food and medicine. Wherever the coconut palm grows the people have learnt of its importance as an effective medicine. For thousands of years coconut products have held a respected and valuable place in local folk medicine.
In traditional medicine around the world coconut is used to treat a wide variety of health problems including the following: abscesses, asthma, baldness, bronchitis, bruises, burns, colds, constipation, cough, dropsy, dysentery, earache, fever, flu, gingivitis, gonorrhea, irregular or painful menstruation, jaundice, kidney stones, lice, malnutrition, nausea, rash, scabies, scurvy, skin infections, sore throat, swelling, syphilis, toothache, tuberculosis, tumors, typhoid, ulcers, upset stomach, weakness, and wounds.
A medical review recently carried out at the Department of Physiology, Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences, Delta State University, Abraka, Delta state, Nigeria, further confirms the medical potency of the coconut. In the report titled: Cocosnucifera (Coconut) Fruit: A Review of its Medical Properties, the author, Victor Emojevwe, reveals how different studies showed the hypoglycaemic effects of coconut husk extract on 20 alloxan-induced diabetic female rats randomly grouped into two (n=10). Emojevwe said the extract of coconut husk was obtained by cooking the husk in boiling water for 45 minutes in a gas stove flame at a 100 degree Celsius and the fluid was filtered out and kept as the tea for the experiment. The control group was given 2 ml of 0.9 per cent (normal) saline daily and group 11 was given 2 ml of the coconut husk tea only daily by Oro-gastric tube and random blood sugar was measured daily in the rats.
According to the reviewer, at the end of the experiments, the animals were sacrificed and the pancreas harvested and histopathological slides made. In the treated diabetic rats, blood glucose levels were significantly reduced (p < 0.05) on consumption of the Cocosnucifera husk extract. The weight also reduced. The histopathological study showed some regenerative ability in the rats that received the extracts (coconut husk tea). He therefore concluded that Cocosnucifera husk tea had significant hypoglycaemic and anti-diabetic effects inalloxan-induced diabetes.
A comparative study was also done on the anti-diabetic effects of Coconut husk and combination of Daonil and Mephomine on 21 alloxan-induced diabetic rats which were randomly grouped into three (n=7). Group I served as control while group II and III served as experimental groups. In the treated diabetic rats, blood glucose levels were significantly reduced (p < 0.05) on consumption of the extracts. The Histopathological study showed same regenerative ability in the rats that received the extracts (coconut husk tea) and those that received Daonil and Metformine. They therefore concluded that the anti- diabetic effect of the coconut husk was comparable to that of the combination of Daonil and Metformine, and could serve as an effective adjunct in the management of diabetes mellitus.
Health benefits of coconut water
- Emergency intravenous fluid: Its ability to mix easily with blood was experimented during World War II in emergency transfusions. The result showed that it can serve as an emergency short-term intravenous hydration fluid. This is possible because the coconut water has a high level of sugar and other salts that makes it possible to be used in the bloodstream, much like the modern lactated Ringer solution or a dextrose/water solution as an intravenous solution(IV).
- Replaces electrolytes:
Coconut water beats dehydration and is an excellent electrolytes replacement. It contains more electrolytes than most sports drinks and more potassium than banana. Besides that, it is naturally sterile making it safe to drink even without undergoing water purification treatments. The coconut water is said to aid in exercise performance and reduce swelling in hands and feet.
- Fights infections: Doctors advise to drink coconut water to wash out bacteria that cause UTI “Urinary Tract Infection”. Coconut water contains electrolytes, calcium, potassium,magnesium and other vitamins and minerals that ensure health for the kidney and the urinary bladder.
- Weight loss agent: Because there are no calories in coconut water, it gives no extra worries for people who intend to lose weight; the calorie counter would not tip a single digit as it has less fat and no cholesterol.
- Coconut meat aids weight gain: It gives a lasting boost of energy to the body because of its high protein content. Coconut meat is especially great for people who are trying to gain weight like body builders since it helps build and increase muscle mass. Coconut meat can also be used to make local and traditional foods.
Health benefits of coconut oil
Since the coconut has several healthy extracts like the water, oil, husk, bark, and others, the Coconut Research Centre, an educational website, has also established the medicinal benefits of coconut oil to the human system. It is said to contain fatty acids, Lauric, Caprylic, and Capric. Aside from its many non culinary uses, such as a hair conditioner or health supplement, it is frequently used as a cooking ingredient. It can be used in the same applications for which most other oils are used – pan frying and deep frying – but it can also be added directly to food, similar to the way one would add olive oil to bread or a salad.
The coconut oil is notable for its anti-microbial properties that fight off bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and has been used for medical purposes in tropical countries for centuries. Recent studies have even shown that the use of coconut oil helps the body and skin to heal and repair faster protecting it from deadly disease.
According to the Coconut Research Centre, coconut possesses many health benefits due to its fibre and nutritional content, and its oil makes it a truly remarkable food and medicine. Once mistakenly believed to be unhealthy because of its high saturated fat content, it is now known that the fat in coconut oil is a unique and different from most all other fats and possesses many health giving properties. It is now gaining long overdue recognition as a nutritious health food.
The site further states:
“Coconut oil has been described as “the healthiest oil on earth.” That’s quite a remarkable statement. What makes coconut oil so good? What makes it different from all other oils, especially other saturated fats?The difference is in the fat molecule. All fats and oils are composed of molecules called fatty acids. There are two methods of classifying fatty acids. The first you are probably familiar with, is based on saturation. You have saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats.
“Another system of classification is based on molecular size or length of the carbon chain within each fatty acid. Fatty acids consist of long chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached. In this system you have short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), and long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). Coconut oil is composed predominately of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), also known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). The vast majority of fats and oils in our diets, whether they are saturated or unsaturated or come from animals or plants, are composed of long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). Some 98 to 100 per cent of all the fatty acids you consume are LCFA.
“The size of the fatty acid is extremely important. Why? Because our bodies respond to and metabolize each fatty acid differently depending on its size. So the physiological effects of MCFA in coconut oil are distinctly different from those of LCFA more commonly found in our foods. The saturated fatty acids in coconut oil are predominately medium-chain fatty acids. Both the saturated and unsaturated fat found in meat, milk, eggs, and plants (including most all vegetable oils) are composed of LCFA.”
The research site further distinguishes MCFA from LCFA, stating that they do not havenegative effect on cholesterol and help to protect against heart disease. MCFA help to lower the risk of both atherosclerosis and heart disease. It is primarily due to the MCFA in coconut oil that makes it so special and so beneficial.
Studies on individuals with dry skin show that coconut oil can improve the moisture and lipid content of the skin. Coconut oil can also be very protective against hair damage as one study shows effectiveness as sunscreen, blocking about 20 per cent of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Another way to derive benefits from coconut oil is using it like mouthwash in a process called “oil pulling”, which can kill some of the harmful bacteria in the mouth, improve dental health and reduce bad breath.
Coconut Research Center, 2004
Journal of Science Education Development Institute