Coconut Oil Side Effects: High Cholesterol, Diarrhea, And More

by Ravi Teja Tadimalla

We know coconut oil for its benefits, which come from its medium-chain fatty acids. There are over 1,500 studies that prove the healthfulness of coconut oil. Most of its benefits can be attributed to medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which are also called healthy fats.

MCFAs are easier to digest and not readily stored as fat. They also possess antimicrobial and antifungal properties.

However, excess intake of the oil can lead to certain undesirable side effects as well. Coconut oil contains a high amount of saturated fat (92%), and some research recommends we consume it in lower amounts (1).

In this post, we will cover more information on the possible side effects of coconut oil.

Does Coconut Oil Have Any Side Effects?

Yes. It does. But this aspect requires clarity.

Coconut oil is available in the market in two forms – virgin coconut oil, and the commercial coconut oil.

Virgin coconut oil is the purest form of the oil. It is not processed. Hence, it ranks higher on the benefits and comes with almost no side effects. But the commercial coconut oil (which most of us use, possibly) is the processed variant. It does have certain side effects. A few of these include weight gain and an increase in bad cholesterol levels.

In the following lines, we are going to expand on these side effects.

Side Effects Of Coconut Oil

There are also potential negative coconut oil side effects that we didn’t know about. Check out some of the surprising side effects of ingesting coconut oil. Only a few of the side effects are backed by research. We have categorized them accordingly.

1. May Elevate Cholesterol Levels

Some research states that saturated fat can elevate total cholesterol levels and the levels of LDL (the bad cholesterol) (2). This can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Coconut oil is among the foods with high saturated fat content.

Though coconut oil can boost good cholesterol levels, it may not be preferred to other healthy vegetable oils.

The saturated fat content in coconut oil is higher than other fats or oils (butter or olive oil) (3). According to an advisory published by the American Heart Association, the saturated fat in coconut oil raised LDL cholesterol in ways similar to that in butter, beef, and palm oil (4).

2. May Cause Allergies

Though not as prevalent as other forms of allergies, coconut oil does cause allergies if one is sensitive to it. Some of the allergic reactions include hives and anaphylaxis (a lethal emergency that involves troubled breathing). The information on coconut allergies is limited, as only a small number of individuals have been affected (5).

According to a Boston study, children having peanut allergies (or allergic to tree nuts) are less likely to be allergic to coconut oil (as coconut is not basically a nut, but a fruit) (6). However, if your child has any of these allergies, it is better to consult your doctor before letting them try coconut oil.

Here’s what you may need to avoid if you are allergic to coconut oil (or any form of coconut) – chocolates, cakes, and the popcorn that they sell at movie theaters.

If you suspect allergic reactions to coconut oil, it is better to keep track of your symptoms in a food diary and visit your health care specialist. This can help you get an insight into the allergy.

Some anecdotal evidence also suggests that coconut oil may lead to a rapid heart rate, facial swelling, and light headedness. If you are experiencing any of these, visit your doctor immediately.

A substance called coconut diethanolamide is manufactured from coconut oil, and it is used as an agent in hand washing liquids. As per a Finnish study, certain individuals experienced allergies after using products containing this agent (7).

3. May Increase Heart Disease Risk

Studies suggest that replacing coconut oil with unsaturated fats can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (8).

According to the American Heart Association, consuming fewer saturated fats and more unsaturated fats is the best way to prevent heart disease. Coconut oil, being higher in saturated fats, may affect the heart (9).

Though coconut oil also contains unsaturated fat, there is no research that shows it mitigating the ill effects of saturated fat.

Coconut oil contains more bad fat than beef or butter (9). As per a New Zealand study, coconut oil increases bad cholesterol to a greater extent than unsaturated plant oils (10).

4. May Cause Mild Diarrhea

Some individuals taking virgin coconut oil experienced mild diarrhea during the first week. Other related symptoms included stomach ache and vomiting. These symptoms resolved after the first week, and none of these impacted the daily activities of the individuals (11).

To minimize these symptoms, you may need to first consume the oil in smaller amounts and then gradually work your way up to the required quantity.

5. May Lead To Liver Issues

The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil are transported to the liver, where they are converted into energy. Some experts theorize that the speed at which these MCFAs are brought to the liver can cause a problem. This may put stress on the liver and even harm the organ over time. If you have any liver disease or diabetes, it is recommended to avoid coconut oil or any other food containing MCFAs.

Another study linked using repeatedly heated coconut oil to toxic effects on the liver (12). More studies are warranted to prove these effects.

Insufficient Evidence For

6. May Cause Acne Breakouts

This is more likely to happen to individuals with excessively oily skin. Though lauric acid may help treat acne (more so in the case of skin not very oily), excess of it may trigger acne.

What you can instead do is use coconut oil as a carrier oil. Use other skin-friendly essential oils, along with coconut oil, to relieve acne.

7. May Lead To Intestinal Distress

Individuals with fructose malabsorption may be particularly susceptible to this condition. This is when someone has trouble absorbing fructose, which results in digestive issues, including intestinal distress. Though coconut oil does not contain fructose, all other products made from it do. If you experience intestinal distress or related issues after consuming products containing coconut oil, consult your doctor.

Numerous food products based on coconut oil also contain fructans that are made of a small chain of fructose. Fructans can also cause gastrointestinal problems.

Individuals experiencing digestive distress after the consumption of such foods also often react to broccoli, garlic, onions, wheat, and Brussels sprouts.

Certain compounds called sulfites are present in desiccated coconut (if not in coconut oil) that can also cause digestive issues. The best solution could be to eliminate all forms of coconut from your diet and see if the symptoms improve. If not, visit your doctor.

8. May Cause Allergic Reactions In Children

Though coconut oil is good for children, there are certain aspects to be kept in mind. The most important of those aspects is a malfunctioning thyroid. If your child has hypothyroidism, refrain from using coconut oil (or related products) before consulting the doctor. This is because the oil might aggravate the condition and cause allergic reactions in some children.

9. May Cause Headache

Individuals undertaking detoxification using coconut oil (for yeast infections, especially) often experience headaches. This happens when the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil break down the yeast cells (that cause the infection), thereby releasing a wave of fungal toxins into the bloodstream.

10. May Cause Problems With Oil Pulling

If you are sensitive to coconut oil, using it for oil pulling could be a bad idea. You can instead use sunflower or sesame oil for this purpose as they also can help kill the harmful bacteria.

One important point to note with respect to oil pulling alone is that it is not a replacement for brushing. Nothing can remove bacteria and plaque from your teeth better than brushing your teeth daily.

11. May Cause Issues With Use As A Lubricant

Yes, coconut oil (virgin coconut oil) could be natural. But it may contain ingredients whose safety and efficacy are not known yet. This is why using coconut oil as a personal lubricant may not be a safe option.

Coconut oil is also known to alter the pH of the vagina, causing yeast infections. It can also degrade the latex in latex condoms and cause serious issues. Hence, one must not use any kind of oil-based lubricant with latex condoms.

12. Might Aggravate Candida

Though coconut oil can help treat Candida, what is of particular concern are the die-off symptoms. These occur as a result of the toxins released by the dying Candida.

Though the entire theory is speculative, it is always better to stay on the safer side.

The negative side effects of coconut oil, though not many, could be bothersome. Hence, exercise caution before using coconut oil.

Coconut Oil Supplements

Coconut oil supplements do enjoy the reputation of being safe. However, they are not devoid of the side effects, which are often the same as that of the oil.

Coconut oil supplementation has been found to worsen the levels of triglycerides and bad cholesterol. If you are to use coconut oil supplements, please exercise care and caution (13). Do not forget to consult your doctor.

People with kidney issues or dehydration must refrain from taking coconut oil or its supplements. This also applies to individuals with high cholesterol levels.

More importantly, the dosage of the supplement must be closely monitored. Exceeding the required dosage may upset the stomach. Also, when you are shopping for coconut oil supplements, you need to ensure the capsule is free of additives and lubricants. It is better if you also know the source and manufacturing process of the oil in the supplements.

How Much Coconut Oil Can You Consume In A Day?

Some research shows that a daily intake of 30 ml of virgin coconut oil in adults improved good cholesterol levels (11). Though there is no exact information on the right amount of coconut oil you can consume, you may stick to this dosage. You may start with as little as 5 ml and work your way up if you are not experiencing any side effects.

Special Precautions And Warnings

In the case of pregnant or breastfeeding women, coconut oil is likely safe if taken in normal amounts. Since the safety of larger amounts is unknown, it is better to stick to food amounts. However, research is limited in this aspect.

There is no information regarding its safety for children if the oil is taken orally or for longer periods. Hence, consult your doctor.

Conclusion

The major concern with coconut oil is its high saturated fat content. Though research is mixed, we suggest you may reduce the intake of coconut oil. You may replace it with a healthier cooking oil (like that of safflowers or olives).

Keep the amount of consumption low. Solely relying on it is not advisable.

13 sources

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Ravi Teja Tadimalla

Ravi Teja Tadimalla is an editor and a published author. He graduated from SRM University, Chennai, and has been in the digital media field for over six years. He has a Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition & Research from Wageningen University. He considers himself a sculptor born to chip away at content and reveal its dormant splendor. He started his career as a research writer, primarily focusing on health and wellness, and has over 250 articles to his credit. Ravi believes in the great possibilities of abundant health with natural foods and organic supplements. Reading and theater are his other interests.
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