But do they actually work?
Coconut oil is a saturated fat derived from the kernel of ripe coconuts. It contains nourishing fatty acids, such as linoleic acid (vitamin F) and lauric acid (1).
Coconut oil has been found to have benefits for dry skin and atopic dermatitis. It may also help boost high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” type of cholesterol (2, 3).
Some people believe that the lauric acid content in coconut oil makes it beneficial for weight loss. However, this has not been proven.
There is also no evidence indicating that a coconut oil detox is healthy or safe, or that it can support long-term weight loss.
Here’s more about coconut oil cleanses and potential benefits and risks.
What is a coconut oil cleanse?
A coconut oil cleanse involves eating nothing but coconut oil — up to 10– 14 tablespoons daily — for 3–4 days. You can also drink water on coconut oil cleanses, and some people eat small amounts of coconut meat on these cleanses as well.
Unlike juice fasts, a coconut oil cleanse is a form of detoxification geared toward eliminating excess sugar from the body. Coconut oil is used because it contains lauric acid, a medium chain triglyceride (MCT) (4).
Many people often claim that coconut oil is a type of MCT oil, but this is incorrect.
Coconut oil vs. MCT oil
MCT oil and coconut oil are not the same thing.
Coconut oil contains a type of MCT called lauric acid. MCT oil, on the other hand, is a product that’s specifically designed to be high in MCTs.
MCTs are transported directly to the liver after absorption, so they provide a source of quick and easily accessible energy. They also do not increase cholesterol levels and are not stored as body fat (4).
Additionally, some studies indicate that MCTs are beneficial for weight loss. The supposed MCT content of coconut oil is what makes it popular for cleanses (4).
However, the MCTs present in coconut oil are not as beneficial as proponents of coconut oil cleanses claim.
Although it’s currently considered a MCT, lauric acid behaves more like a long- chain triglyceride. The liver only metabolizes about 30% of lauric acid, so most of it goes through standard digestion and absorption processes (4, 5).
For other MCTs, like caprylic acid and capric acid, the liver metabolizes about 95% of them (5).
Additionally, coconut oil is only about 50% lauric acid — so it’s extremely misleading to claim that coconut oil provides all of the same benefits as MCT oil, as advocates of coconut oil cleanses often do (4, 6).
On a coconut oil cleanse, you only eat coconut oil for 3–4 days. Many people confuse coconut oil and MCT oil, but they’re two different products. MCT oil provides more of the benefits that people often attribute to coconut oil.
Does it work?
There is no evidence that eating only coconut oil for 3–4 days provides any health benefits, although proponents claim that these cleanses are helpful. Purported benefits include:
Coconut oil detox for weight loss
If all you consume for 3 or 4 days is 10 tablespoons of coconut oil and lots of water, the scale is bound to go down. However, this weight loss will most likely be comprised primarily of water.
When you deprive your body of carbs, you quickly burn through glycogen — the carbs stored in your muscles and liver — for energy, before entering ketosis, a state in which you burn fat for energy instead of carbs (7).
Glycogen is stored with water, so when you burn glycogen, this water is released and excreted through your urine (8).
So although this fast weight loss is likely only water, some people might feel motivated by the quick drop in pounds. But to sustain any weight loss derived during a coconut oil cleanse, you’ll need to follow up with a nutrient-dense eating plan, geared toward weight loss.
Additionally, you don’t have to eat only coconut oil to enter a state of ketosis.
You can eat a variety of nutritious low-carb foods — including meats, eggs, non-starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds, low-sugar berries, and certain dairy products — and achieve the same goal.
Coconut oil detox for Candida
Candida is a common fungus found on the skin and in areas like the mouth and digestive tract.
Uncontrolled growth of Candida can cause an infection called candidiasis. Consuming excess sugar and refined carbohydrates may make you more vulnerable to candidiasis (9).
For this reason, proponents of coconut oil detoxes believe that this cleanse can help rid the body of these toxins and reduce Candida overgrowth.
If you have candidiasis, a diet geared toward reducing Candida overgrowth may help.
Although some animal research suggests that replacing other fats with coconut oil may help reduce Candida overgrowth, there’s currently no scientific evidence for this effect in humans (10).
Coconut oil detox for infection
Coconut oil may have antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties.
Animal studies have noted that replacing other fats in the diet with coconut oil may reduce harmful fungal growth.
And test-tube studies have noted the antiviral and antibacterial effects of coconut oil and the MCT caprylic acid, which is present in small amounts in coconut oil (10, 11, 12).
However, these effects haven’t been noted in human studies where the coconut oil is eaten.
A coconut oil cleanse will likely result in quick weight loss, but it’s mostly water weight. Some components of coconut oil may also have antifungal, antibacterial, or antiviral properties.
Coconut oil detox side effects and precautions
Ingesting large amounts of coconut oil can cause diarrhea, cramps, and gastrointestinal discomfort.
Coconut oil may also increase levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, increasing your cardiovascular risk.
If you have high cholesterol, talk with your doctor before doing a coconut oil cleanse. If you decide to do a cleanse, do not stop taking your prescribed medications for lowering cholesterol (13).
Eating large quantities of coconut oil can cause digestive discomfort and may increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Should you try a coconut oil detox?
Currently, there’s no evidence that coconut oil cleanses benefit any aspect of health. Plus, it’s not a healthy or practical way to manage your weight.
Certain groups of people should avoid coconut oil cleanses, including:
- those with fat malabsorption disorders
- people with insulin-dependent diabetes
- people who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- children and teens
- those with current or past disordered eating conditions
This is only a partial list. It’s important to talk with your doctor before trying a restrictive cleanse.
Coconut oil cleanses are not a safe or sustainable way to lose weight. People who are pregnant or breastfeeding, children or adolescents, people with disordered eating conditions, and people with certain medical conditions should not attempt them.
How to lose weight the healthy way
The key to healthy, sustainable weight loss is finding a dietary pattern and lifestyle that works for you and is supportive of your overall health.
Aiming to reduce your intake of ultra-processed foods and add more activity to your day are smart ways to reach and maintain your healthy body weight (14, 15).
However, everyone is different, so it’s best to create a plan that’s specific to your needs. Working with a qualified healthcare professional like a registered dietitian or nutritionist can help.
Sustainable weight loss is possible through manageable lifestyle changes, such as eating a nutrient-dense diet, limiting highly processed foods, and exercising as often as possible. Making positive changes like this will help promote healthy weight loss.
The bottom line
Coconut oil cleanses have become popular, but there’s no evidence linking them or any other detox regimens to improved health.
Side effects can include diarrhea, cramps, and gastrointestinal discomfort. Coconut oil may also increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, which can be dangerous for people with high cholesterol.
If you’re considering trying a coconut oil cleanse or any form of a cleanse, talk with a healthcare professional first.
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