The Great Coconut Conspiracy

Coconut oil even has its own conspiracy theory -- if coconut oil is so great, why haven't we heard more about it? Some coconut-oil devotees blame U.S. agribusiness. According to the conspiracy theory, coconut oil isn't a domestic crop -- but soybeans are. The darker side of this idea is that partially hydrogenated soybean oil and its now-infamous trans fats were touted as a healthy alternative [source: Minnesota Wellness Directory].

Coconut Oil Benefits

Some people use coconut oil to treat heartburn and acid reflux. Others claim that coconut oil can also help with weight loss, particularly when the weight is caused by habitual eating. Coconut oil isn't some magical fat solvent; it simply is a fat. Yet multiple coconut-oil users report feeling too full to eat as much as they used to. Even people who are taking the oil for other problems often experience some incidental weight loss.

Some promoters claim that coconut oil can help with hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, which can be a source of weight gain. The Mayo Clinic debunks that claim with a flat "no" [source: Mayo Clinic].

One study found evidence that coconut oil could be used in combination with antibiotics to fight pediatric pneumonia [source: Gordon]. Kids who took the combined therapy recovered more quickly and spent less time in the hospital than did kids who were on antibiotics alone. The researchers speculated that the lauric acid in coconut oil was helping kill off microbes.

Lauric acid is indeed a known antimicrobial agent. That gives coconut oil some interesting properties and some promise for people recovering from viruses. Some Indonesian cultures also use coconut oil to dress wounds [source: Sachs].

Coconut oil also comes with some more dubious claims. These include that it can improve life for those with autism, reduce asthma symptoms and act as a topical ointment for back pain [source: Coconut Oil Cures].

Regardless of whether its other benefits can be proven, coconut oil can be useful for your skin and hair. Like many oils, it's a natural moisturizer. It relieves dryness and associated itching and reduces the appearance of wrinkles. Used as a conditioner, it can help prevent hair breakage, though it's worth noting that this is essentially what all conditioners do.

Weight loss, younger skin, fewer germs? Before you speed to the grocery store, head to the next page to learn about the side effects.