Coconut Oil For Digestive Disorders

Excerpts from: Shilhavy, Brian & Marianity Jader, “Crohn’s Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis, and Virgin Coconut Oil” in Virgin Coconut Oil, West Bend, Wisconsin USA, West Bend, Wisconsin, Tropical Traditions, Inc., 2005, p. 62.

If you saw a newspaper headline which stated "Crohn’s Disease Patients Find Relief by Eating Cookies" you may think the editor was a little kooky. Dr. L.A. Cohen of the Naylor Dana Institute for Disease Prevention in Valhalla New York wouldn’t think so, not if the cookies were made with coconut.

Dr. Cohen notes the ease with which medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) in coconut oil are digested and absorbed and says they "have found use in the clinic as a means to provide high energy lipid to patients with disorders of lipid digestion (pancreatitis) lipid absorption (Crohn’s disease), and lipid transport (chylomicron deficiency)."

Eating coconut cookies has made an impact on Gerald Brinkley, a Crohn’s disease sufferer for 30 years. "When I read that eating coconut macaroons could ease symptoms," Brinkley says, "I decided to try them myself. Coincidence or not, my symptoms have improved since I began eating two cookies a day."

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory intestinal disease characterized by diarrhea, abdominal pain, bleeding ulcers, bloody stools, anemia, and weight loss. Ulcerations can occur anywhere along the digestive tract from the mouth to the rectum.

Ulcerative colitis is a similar disease that affects the colon—the lower part of the intestinal tract. At times these chronic conditions can become debilitating. The ability of the intestines to absorb food is hampered which may lead to nutritional deficiencies. Sufferers find that certain foods aggravate symptoms and are, therefore, constantly challenged to find foods that they can tolerate.

Reports suggest that coconut may offer relief from symptoms and prevent digestive distress. Teresa Graedon, Ph.D. co-author of The People’s Pharmacy Guide to Herbal and Home Remedies says during the research for her book she heard enough testimonials about the benefit of using coconut for Crohn’s disease that she was convinced that this is one home remedy that may have important medical significance and believes strongly that more research should be pursued in this area.

I have also heard similar stories. For example, one occurred in Hawaii and involved a small child that suffered from an intestinal problem so severe that most any food, including milk, aggravated symptoms. The child was wasting away because he couldn’t tolerate most of the foods he was given. A native Hawaiian told the mother to feed the child the "jelly" inside an immature coconut.

She took the woman’s advice and the child thrived eating a diet consisting primarily of coconut jelly. Knowing what we do scientifically about the digestibility of coconut oil, it makes sense that it would be of benefit to those with digestive problems.

Interestingly enough researchers have demonstrated the benefits of coconut oil on patients with digestive problems, including, Crohn’s disease, at least since the 1980s. The anti-inflammatory and healing effects of coconut oil apparently play a role in soothing inflammation and healing injury in the digestive tract which are characteristic of Crohn’s disease.

Its antimicrobial properties also affects intestinal health by killing troublesome microorganisms that may cause chronic inflammation.

While the cause of Crohn’s disease is still unknown, many doctors feel it is the result of a bacterial or viral infection. Stomach ulcers, for example, are caused primarily by the bacterium H. pyloris.

The bacteria bore into the stomach wall causing ulcerations and discomfort characteristic of the condition. It’s possible that this bacterium or a similar one could also infect other areas of the digestive tract.

Several studies have shown that the measles and mumps viruses might be involved. A persistent low-grade measles infection in the intestine is common in many Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis patients. The infection is localized in the digestive tract so it does not cause a full-scale case of the measles.

Those who have had measles or mumps in the past and now suffer from some type of inflammatory bowel disease (1BD) such as Crohn’s disease of ulcerative colitis are likely to harbor a low-grade intestinal infection that the body has not been able to overcome. The evidence for measles infection as a cause or at least a contributing factor in IBD is very convincing.

In one study, for example, 36 Crohn’s disease patients, 22 ulcerative colitis patients, and 89 people free of IBD symptoms (controls) were tested. Twenty-eight of the 36 Crohn’s disease patients (78%) and 13 of 22 ulcerative colitis patients (59%) tested positive to the measles virus as compared to only 3 of 89 (3.3%) controls.

H. pylori bacteria and the measles virus are both killed by the MCFA in coconut oil. If the symptoms characteristic in Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are also caused by these or some other microorganism then coconut oil may be beneficial in treating these conditions.

Eating macaroons to ease symptoms of Crohn’s disease, as strange as it may sound, does have some scientific backing. For those who have Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, stomach ulcers, or other digestive problems you don’t have to eat coconut cookies to get relief. Eating foods rich in Virgin Coconut Oil, which is high in MCFAs, would work just as well if not better.

Digestion and Nutrient Absorption of Coconut Oil

For at least five decades researchers have recognized that the medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) in coconut oil were digested differently than other fats. This difference has had important applications in the treatment of many digestive and metabolic health conditions and since that time MCFA have been routinely used in hospital and baby formulas.

The digestive health advantages of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) over long-chain fatty acids (LCFA) are due to the differences in the way our bodies metabolize these fats. Because the MCFA molecules are smaller, they require less energy and fewer enzymes to break them down for digestion. They are digested and absorbed quickly and with minimal effort.

MCFA are broken down almost immediately by enzymes in the saliva and gastric juices so that pancreatic fat-digesting enzymes are not even essential.Therefore, there is less strain on the pancreas and digestive system. This has important implications for patients who suffer from digestive and metabolic problems.

Premature and ill infants especially whose digestive organs are underdeveloped, are able to absorb MCFA with relative ease, while other fats pass through their systems pretty much undigested. People who suffer from malabsorption problems such as cystic fibrosis, and have difficulty digesting or absorbing fats and fat soluble vitamins, benefit greatly from MCFA.

They can also be of importance for people suffering from diabetes, obesity, gallbladder disease, pancreatitis, Crohn’s disease, pancreatic insufficiency, and some forms of cancer.

As we get older our bodies don’t function as well as they did in earlier years. Our pancreas doesn’t make as many digestive enzymes, our intestines don’t absorb nutrients as well, the whole process of digestion and elimination moves at a lower rate of efficiency.

As a result, older people often suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Because MCFA are easy to digest and improve vitamin and mineral absorption they should be included in the meals of older people. This is easy to do if the meals are prepared with coconut oil.

Unlike other fatty acids, MCFA are absorbed directly from the intestines into the portal vein and sent straight to the liver where they are, for the most part, burned as fuel.

Other fats require pancreatic enzymes to break them into smaller units. They are then absorbed into the intestinal wall and packaged into bundles of fat (lipid) and protein called lipoproteins. These lipoproteins are carried by the lymphatic system, bypassing the liver, and then dumped into the bloodstream, where they are circulated throughout the body.

As they circulate in the blood, their fatty components are distributed to all the tissues of the body. The lipoproteins get smaller and smaller, until there is little left of them. At this time they are picked up by the liver, broken apart, and used to produce energy or, if needed, repackaged into other lipoproteins and sent back into the bloodstream to be distributed throughout the body.

Cholesterol, saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat are all packaged together into lipoproteins and carried throughout the body in this way. In contrast, MCFA are not packaged into lipoproteins but go to the liver where they are converted into energy. Ordinarily they are not stored to any significant degree as body fat. MCFA produce energy. Other dietary fats produce body fat.

Inside each of our cells is an organ called the mitochondria. The energy needed by the cell to carry on its functions is generated by the mitochondria. Mitochondria are encased in two membranous sacs which normally require special enzymes to transport nutrients through them.

MCFA are unique in that they can easily permeate both membranes of the mitochondria without the need of enzymes and thus provide the cell with a quick and efficient source of energy. Longer chain fatty acids demand special enzymes to pull them through the double membrane, and the energy production process is much slower and taxing on enzyme reserves.

Because of the above advantages, coconut oil has been a lifesaver for many people, particularly the very young and the very old. It is used medicinally in special food preparations for those who suffer digestive disorders and have trouble digesting fats. For the same reason, it is also used in infant formula for the treatment of malnutrition.

Since it is rapidly absorbed, it can deliver quick nourishment without putting excessive strain on the digestive and enzyme systems and help conserve the body’s energy that would normally be expended in digesting other fats. Medium-chain fatty acids comprise a major ingredient in most infant formulas commonly used today.