Lauric Acid: 8 health benefits you can derive from coconuts

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

What is lauric acid?

Where do you think the numerous benefits of coconuts come from?  It is the presence of a special type of fatty acid found in saturated-fat foods and the single most excellent source of lauric acid is coconuts.  It is classified as an organic compound known as lipids.  As we are already aware that lipids are nothing but fats.

Fats are macronutrients essential for human health which helps in the construction of cellular membranes and prevents starvation.  The chemical structure of fat determines whether they are saturated or unsaturated.  Since fatty acids are present in all cell membranes such as hormone production, cushioning the organs, and serves as a source of energy, it is quite impossible to exist without them.

Studies have also revealed that certain fatty acids help fight bacterial and viral infections.  Many people are skeptical about consuming saturated fats like coconut or butter due to cholesterol build-up.  Appropriate use of saturated fats containing lauric acid can provide you numerous health benefits.  They are also a great source of essential nutrients such as vitamin A, D, E, potassium, magnesium, etc.

Mechanism of action

It is most recognized for its antimicrobial properties with its ability to fight viruses and bacterial infections.  Lauric acid gets converted to monolaurin in the digestive tract with the help of other enzymes.  Monolaurin created from lauric acid is more capable of fighting pathogens and has strong antibacterial properties.  This is the reason why people have been using coconuts for centuries to fight infections including flu, cold sores, and genital herpes.

Health Benefits of Lauric Acid

Powerful antimicrobial and antiviral properties:

Numerous studies have proved the remarkable immune-enhancing property of lauric acid.  It has been considered the number one fatty acid with antibacterial property among 30 different fatty acids.  As discussed earlier, the conversion of lauric acid to monolaurin makes it even more potent against bacteria and helps in preventing infections and chronic diseases.  It not only has the ability to treat common cold and flu but has also shown positive outcomes in treating herpes simplex virus.  Staphylococcus aureus, which is one of the most prevalent bacteria causing infections can be killed with the use of lauric acid.  Other uses include controlling infections related to gonorrhea, Candida virus, HPV virus, as well as intestinal infections.

Fights antibiotic resistance

The growing risk of using antibiotics regularly is leading to antibiotic resistance.  This is causing pathogens to become resistant to these antibiotics making it difficult to treat several infections.  Studies have shown that coconut oil which is a source of lauric acid can be used for natural treatment of several fungal and bacterial infections whenever possible.

Lowers risk for heart disease

Natural and unprocessed fats such as medium-chain triglycerides do not increase serum cholesterol.  Whereas long-chain triglycerides present in hydrogenated oils increase serum cholesterol levels and causes a higher risk for heart disease.  Compared to trans-fat, natural saturated fats have various health benefits.  One of the studies found that medium-chain fats found in lauric acid provided more stable blood lipid as compared to long-chain fatty acids such as trans-fats that are used in fast food restaurants and processed foods.

Fights acne and promotes skin health

Antibacterial properties of lauric acid are effective in treating acne and other skin problems.  Propionibacterium bacteria which cause the majority of acne and other skin problems can easily be treated with the use of lauric acid.  Benzoyl peroxide is the chemical product widely used to treat acne problems but it also gives toxic side effects.  A suitable alternative for this is lauric acid which is considered to be 15 times better than the chemical agent in treating acne problems.  Coconut oil which is the most suitable source helps in treating various skin related problems.

Helps in increasing life expectancy

Numerous people belonging to the South Pacific and Polynesians Islands have been using saturated fats in their diet for centuries.  This has helped them evade various modern-day health problems which the western world is facing.  This part of the world is called the “blue zone,” where people have a longer life expectancy.  In tropical parts of the world coconut which is a suitable source for lauric acid is a staple crop.  Unlike in the United States, these people get 60% of their calories from coconut.  These people use coconut or coconut products in their diet regularly adding high saturated fats in their diet.  Due to this, they experience very few heart problems, diabetes, or obesity.

Preserves foods

Since lauric acid is saturated fat, it is not soluble in water.  Coconut oil is one of the main sources that has been used in various industries by modifying the coconut oil and adding it to skin care products, food products, as well as animal feeds to stabilize the texture and appearance.  Antibacterial properties of lauric acid make it a suitable choice for preventing bacterial growth in foods.

Treats dry skin and psoriasis

Coconut oil which contains lauric acid is used to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis and dry skin.  It is difficult to ascertain if the benefits are a combination of other ingredients in coconut oil and lauric acid or from lauric acid alone.  Application of coconut oil topically to the skin regularly can treat symptoms of dry skin and psoriasis.

Treats acne

Propionibacterium acnes bacteria are naturally found on the skin surface.  When these bacteria increase in numbers, they lead to acne development.  The antibacterial properties of lauric acid are effective in combating these bacteria and reduce the occurrence of acne.  As discussed earlier, a study found that lauric acid worked 15 times better than benzoyl peroxide in treating acne.  Researchers are also working on developing pure lauric acid to be used as antibiotic therapy for acne.

Benefits of medium-chain triglycerides

MCTs have numerous health benefits such as weight management, cognitive function, etc.  They are used as a fat source in total parenteral nutrition which is feeding intravenously.  Since these are saturated fats, they are readily digested and easily absorbed by the body.  Some of the major benefits are discussed below.

Weight loss:  Peptide YY and leptin are the two hormones that are released by medium-chain triglycerides.  These hormones promote the feeling of fullness and prevent a person from eating regularly.  Since these triglycerides are readily digested, they do not get stored in the adipose tissue and cause obesity.  They, in fact, serve as an instant source of energy for the body.  Consuming these triglycerides and reducing carbohydrates helps in the process of ketone production.  This process is helpful in reducing those extra calories from the body.

Decreases lactate production:  Increased lactate levels can reduce the exercise tolerance levels in the body.  Consuming medium-chain triglycerides before exercise helps the body to utilize fat instead of carbohydrates for energy, which can drastically reduce lactate levels.  This increases stamina and provides improved exercise tolerance.

Reduces yeast and bacterial growth:  The antifungal and antibacterial effects of medium-chain triglycerides are widely accepted.  Coconut oil, which is a rich source of lauric acid has shown positive results in reducing the growth of Candida albicans.  This yeast is responsible for several fungal infections including thrush.  Coconut oil is also quite effective against Clostridium difficile bacterium that is responsible for causing diarrhea.

Reduces risk factors associated with heart problems:  A combination of medium-chain triglycerides and plant sterols used for a period of 29 days can reduce cholesterol levels by 12.5%.  It has also been found that this combination can also reduce LDL or bad cholesterol and increase HDL or good cholesterol.  CRP which is an inflammatory marker also reduces with its use.

Regulates blood sugar:  Type 2 diabetes is usually associated with people who are overweight or obese.  This becomes problematic to treat.  Using medium-chain triglycerides by people suffering from diabetes can reduce body weight as well as insulin resistance.  Studies have claimed that people following this needed 30% less sugar to maintain normal blood sugar.

Where to find Lauric Acid?

Coconuts and palm oil are the two main sources of lauric acid.  Around 50% of fat in coconut contains lauric acid, which makes them the single best source of lauric acid.  The concentration in palm oil is a bit lower as compared to coconut, but still has a high concentration of lauric acid.  The pure form of lauric acid cannot be ingested directly as it may irritate the stomach lining.  A compound called glycerol present in the coconut binds chemically with lauric acid and makes it suitable for the gastrointestinal tract, which is then easily absorbed by the body.

Milk fat and butter from grass-fed animals contain around 3% lauric acid which is much lesser than coconut and palm oil.  Rapeseed and canola oil provide around 36% of lauric acid.  These oils are manufactured by genetic engineering with the help of chemical and toxins and hence contain side effects of their own.  Limited use can be helpful but considering the side effects, it is not widely used.  Considering all these factors, coconut and its products are the best sources for lauric acid.

Side effects of lauric acid

Consuming lauric acid is considered to be absolutely safe in the amounts that they are found in foods such as coconut.  One of the rare side effects may be associated with a coconut allergy.  Since coconut is the single best source of lauric acid, people allergic to coconut should avoid this as it can cause allergy symptoms.

Final thoughts

Lauric acid is inexpensive and also has a long shelf life.  Due to these properties, they are used in the production of soaps and cosmetics.  With respect to the medicinal properties, lauric acid increases serum cholesterol but only to the HDL component which is considered good cholesterol.  The topical use of coconut oil which is a source of lauric acid has been extensively studied and accepted widely.  All these factors make it a suitable addition to our daily requirements.

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