Digestion And Nutrient Absorption Of Virgin Coconut Oil For Health

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.

For at least 50 years researchers have recognized that the medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) in virgin coconut oil were digested differently than other fats. This difference has had important implications for the treatment of many digestive and metabolic health conditions, as MCFAs have been routinely used in hospital and baby formulas.

The digestive health advantages of MCFAs over long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) 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.

MCFAs are broken down almost immediately by enzymes in the saliva and gastric juices so that pancreatic fat-digesting enzymes are not essential, meaning 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 those whose digestive organs are underdeveloped, are able to absorb MCFAs with relative ease, while other fats pass through their systems pretty much undigested.

People who suffer from mal-absorption problems and have difficulty digesting or absorbing fats and fat soluble vitamins benefit greatly from MCFAs. These fatty acids can also be important for people suffering from diabetes, obesity, gallbladder disease, pancreatitis, Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, pancreatic insufficiency, and some forms of cancer.

As we age, our bodies don’t function as well as they used to: our pancreas doesn’t make as many digestive enzymes, our intestines don’t absorb nutrients as well, and the whole process of digestion and elimination moves at a lower rate of efficiency. As a result, we often suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Because MCFAs are easy to digest and improve vitamin and mineral absorption they should be included in our daily diets. This is easy to do if meals are prepared with virgin coconut oil.

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. 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.

Unlike other fatty acids, MCFAs 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. In contrast, MCFAs are not packaged into lipoproteins but are converted into energy by the liver. Ordinarily they are not stored to any significant degree as body fat.

MCFAs produce energy. Other dietary fats may 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.

MCFAs 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, virgin 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 treating malnutrition.

Since it is rapidly absorbed, virgin coconut oil can deliver quick nourishment without putting excessive strain on the digestive and enzyme systems and help conserve energy that would normally be expended in digesting other fats.