The benefits of coconut oil have been hotly debated. Scientific evidence has struggled to back up the hype behind coconut oil health products, despite an endorsement from superfood fans.
Does coconut oil relieve constipation?
Some people speculate that coconut is successful in easing constipation because it contains an abundance of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs).
It is thought that MCFAs stimulate bowel movements and help to soften the stool.
MCFAs are found in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are also a form of fatty acids that have a range of health benefits.
The study suggested that MCTs may be beneficial for preventing obesity or stimulating weight loss. However, the study reached no conclusions about how MCTs might affect constipation.
The use of the study's data in current claims for coconut oil is controversial. One reason for this is that the study used oil that contained 100-percent MCTs, rather than coconut oil, which reportedly contains just 13- to 15-percent MCTs.
Even the doctor who led the study expressed concern that the data is being misused by coconut oil marketers, according to an article in The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom.
Can coconut oil help other aspects of digestion?
A study released by the American Society for Microbiology seems to support the view that coconut oil is effective against the colonization of the bacteria Candida albicans (C. albicans) in the gut.
This is the bacteria that causes oral thrush and vaginal yeast infections. It is a natural component of the gut's microflora.
The authors of the study propose that coconut oil either kills off the bacteria in the gut or prevents its growth. They also conclude that coconut oil could become the first dietary intervention to reduce colonization of the gut by C. albicans.
However, other people have suggested that the presence of C. albicans in the gut and the process of killing off the bacteria can cause constipation. There is little scientific evidence to support this.
It is also important to bear in mind that, like most scientific studies of coconut oil so far, this study investigating the impact of coconut oil on C. albicans was conducted only in rodents. It is difficult to know whether these effects will be the same in humans.
Other remedies for constipation
Constipation is often a result of diet or lifestyle choices.
Dehydration is a significant cause of constipation. So, even simple steps such as drinking more water can help.
Adding more fiber to the diet can also increase the bulk and consistency of stools, which could make them easier to pass. Evidence also suggests that eating probiotic foods is effective against constipation.
Coconut oil and MCT oil are both mild enough to try in moderation.
A range of over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives is available if coconut oil or other lifestyle remedies do not work.
Anyone wanting to try coconut or MCT oil should speak to a doctor first, especially if they are pregnant, breast-feeding, or have other health conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease.