Tropical oils, like palm oil, have been perceived as unhealthy since they may pose a risk of cardiovascular problems. Palm oil has been known to raise cholesterol levels in people who already have
. However, the effect of palm oil on cholesterol levels is apparently not so simple.
Consuming fresh palm oil may lower the amount of cholesterol made naturally by the body more than other oils, and there is evidence to suggest that palm oil may actually reduce the risk of
and similar cardiovascular events, as well as
high blood pressure
Palm oil’s bad reputation may be due to its unhealthy effects after processing. Palm oil used for cooking is usually processed to an oxidized state. Unlike fresh palm oil, the oxidized version may increase the risk of harm to the liver, lungs, kidneys, reproductive organs, and heart.
Some researchers have suggested that palm oil (particularly a version called red or refined palm oil) may protect against certain cancers and vitamin A deficiency due to its high beta-carotene content.
However, the evidence is not solid enough to recommend red palm oil for individuals at risk for these conditions.
Like palm oil, coconut oil has been shown in some studies to raise cholesterol in people with already high levels.
However, a randomized, double-blind study of 40
women also found that dietary supplementation with coconut oil does not increase lipid levels in the blood and even reduces abdominal obesity.
Although consuming coconut oil may not yield health benefits, topical application has been shown to improve skin and hair conditions. A small, randomized, double-blind controlled trial of 34 patients with xerosis (a skin condition in which the skin is dry, rough, and itchy) found that virgin coconut oil is as effective and safe as mineral oil for moisturizing the skin of adults with mild to moderate xerosis.
Another small, double-blind, controlled trial found virgin coconut oil to effectively treat
(a chronic inflammation of the skin) in adults.
A commercially available repellant containing coconut oil and jojoba (a waxy seed commonly used in cosmetics) is reported to be effective in keeping away mites that cause scabies, an infestation of these small insects in the skin.
Coconut oil has also been shown to prevent hair damage due to combing compared to other oils, such as mineral and sunflower oils. Researchers believe that its relative high affinity for hair protein and ability to penetrate deep into the hair shaft accounts for coconut oil’s superior performance.
A study also showed that coconut oil may benefit
as well. Preterm babies given a coconut oil massage had faster weight gain and growth compared to those given mineral oil massage.