Promoting Hormonal Balance Through Coconut Nutrients

  • Eva Henning MSc Precision Medicine, University of Manchester, UK

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Emerging: Coconut nutrients are beneficial in promoting balanced hormones

Are you considering incorporating more superfoods into your diet to help you lead a healthier lifestyle? According to recent studies, coconuts, which are derived from coniferous trees, are much more beneficial for the body than we once thought. Did you know that the daily requirement of vitamin and mineral intake is met by consuming approximately 400 grams of coconut products (Gandhi et al., 2023)? 

There is more to the coconut than its symbolism in warm tropical climates. Researchers have found an association between the nutritional content of coconuts and human health, specifically benefiting our hormones. 

What major nutrients are found in coconuts, and why are they considered a superfood?

As a high-quality natural product, coconuts have a long history of use dating back to 1500 AD. Originating in the tropics, they are available in many forms, including coconut oil, coconut water, coconut leaves, and raw kernels (DebMandal et al., 2011). As a natural product for treating disease and infection, coconut tree products can assist medical advancements, having both antioxidant and antibacterial properties.

The pharmacological actions of the coconut depend on which part of the plant is being consumed, such as the water, oil or the kernel (Hewlings, 2020). For example, coconut kernels are densely packed with nutrients like zinc, calcium and niacin that help regulate hormones. Coconut oil contains phenolic compounds, a type of phytochemical found in most plant-based foods such as caffeic acid and salicylic acid (Mulyadi A. et al.,2018). These compounds are rapidly absorbed by the intestine and react with any harmful free radicals in the body that could be cell-damaging. Coconut water also contains these antioxidant properties that are important for immune health (Hewlings, 2020). It is considered a superfood due to the range of positive health benefits it promotes, including heart health, metabolism and digestion.

The importance of balancing our hormones

The endocrine system, which regulates bodily functions, including growth and brain development, relies heavily on hormone balance to function efficiently. Therefore, having the correct quantity of hormones circulating in the body at a specific time ensures hormonal balance, which is essential to the proper development of the body. It promotes the growth of tissues and controls glucose regulation and even our sleep cycle. 

The endocrine glands, the adrenal gland, the pituitary gland, and sexual organs, to name a few, secrete and release these hormones into the bloodstream, which are then delivered to target cells to produce an effect. This process is defined as a feedback loop that keeps the body in a state of homeostasis. By maintaining a continuous feedback loop, hormones remain within their specified ranges.

However, when hormone levels change during a life event such as sexual maturation, the sensitivity of the feedback loop changes, as example, the hormone estrogen circulating in the bloodstream stimulates the release of more estrogen in the body to allow ovulation to take place (Delgado, 2023).

Hormones have separate causes and effects on their secreting glands, which lead to hormonal imbalances. An imbalance can be caused by a variety of factors, including environmental and physiological ones. There is a greater risk of hormonal imbalance among newborns, adolescents, pregnant women, and elderly individuals when hormone levels are often out of balance. Therefore, the addition of a superfood such as coconuts can help restore and balance our hormones when added to our diet.

The extensive nature of the endocrine system in the body makes hormonal imbalances inevitable in a lifetime. People assigned female at birth, for example, must maintain a balance between estrogen and progesterone hormone levels. This is because hormonal imbalances can result in adverse effects, including fatigue, brain fog, and weight gain, as a result of disruptions in hormone levels (Vimsacin, 2023). When hormonal imbalances persist, the endocrine system can be chronically disrupted, causing a range of negative health effects. 

Hormones that circulate in insufficient or excessive amounts can damage biological systems and lead to complications. For example, cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands which works to assist the body in dealing with stress. However, chronic stress can lead to consistently elevated levels of cortisol in the blood over time, resulting in symptoms of weight gain. It is often associated with increased levels of triglycerides and blood cholesterol, eventually leading to conditions such as cardiovascular disease as a result of a cortisol imbalance (Williamson et al., 2005). As our hormones affect most physiological processes, regulating them remains crucial. 

Nutrients found in coconuts:

  • Medium Chain Triglycerides: made up of short-chain triglycerides found in abundance contain ~50% of the fatty acids as lauric acid. They have a beneficial effect on hormones due to regulating blood sugar levels.
  • Lauric acid assists the metabolic system by regulating the release of hormones from the endocrine system. 
  • Niacin/ Vitamin B-3: works to reduce blood pressure by lowering triglyceride levels and suppressing inflammation in the body. Niacin helps to regulate both sex and stress hormones in the adrenal glands. 
  • Pantothenic Acid/ Vitamin B5: Helps utilise carbohydrates, proteins and lipids in the body by reducing the levels of triglycerides and converting foods into energy. It also helps the breakdown of the stress hormone cortisol. 
  • Thiamin/ Vitamin B1: helps the body withstand environmental/ physiological stress and is essential for glucose breakdown. 
  • Magnesium positively impacts hormone balancing by regulating the hypothalamic-adrenal axis. It supports the sleep, mood and menstrual cycle.
  • Potassium: works to improve vascular flow in turn helping prevent the risk of stroke 

The importance of hormonal balance in the body

It is common for hormonal imbalances to lead to inflammation within the body, so utilising superfoods' nutrients can help to combat inflammation. An intake of pure virgin coconut oil or dressing salads is a good way to include coconut nutrients into the diet. They contain a variety of useful vitamin B's that promote the body's ability to convert food to energy.

The close association between hormonal imbalances and oxidative stress mean the addition of antioxidant nutrients such as coconuts to the diet may be beneficial. An increase in oxidative stress in the body causes a rise in circulating reactive oxygen species, which can cause a rise in cortisol levels alongside activating the inflammatory system (Nelson & T.S).  

As a good source of antioxidants, MCTs are found in high concentrations in coconut oil, which makes it beneficial for the prevention of further hormonal imbalances and the alleviation of oxidative stress. Virgin coconut oil was shown to raise brain antioxidant levels after treatment with mice with stress-induced injury (Yeap et al., 2015). Displaying evidence that VCO could be used as a potential stress reliever.

The impact of coconut nutrients on thyroid health

MCTs present in coconut oil also promote thyroid gland function. For example, coconut water is known to regulate thyroid levels by defending against cellular oxidation caused by conditions such as hypothyroidism (Sharma S., 2023). It remains one of the most common endocrine disorders and causes hormonal imbalances, amongst other complications. Among plant oils evaluated by Negm, 2019, coconut oil showed significantly reduced oxidative stress in the body alongside upregulating thyroid levels in rats with hypothyroidism. Consuming coconut nutrients may help alleviate thyroid dysregulations and prevent further hormonal imbalances (Negm, 2019).

The influence of gut health on hormone regulation

As coconut oil contains a high content of MCTs, it is beneficial to gut health by promoting the growth of good bacteria. Therefore by maintaining good gut health, the body can regulate circulating hormones more effectively. 

In the gut, a group of bacteria called estroblomes play a significant role in modulating estrogen levels in the body. Several aspects of health can be affected by the estrobleme, including weight and mood (Gluck S, 2020). An intake of coconut nutrients helps to promote a healthy and diverse gut. It assists the astrobleme in preventing the re-absorption of estrogen by the gut and allows its removal as waste. According to research on coconut oil's effect on improving the gastrointestinal microbiome of animals, lauric acid, a type of fatty acid with similar properties to MCTs, was found to have a positive effect on the gut microbiome. A positive abundance of probiotic bacteria was associated with the addition of coconut oil to the diet (Rolinec et al., 2020).

Is too much coconut bad for us?/ Summary

Even though coconut consumption is shown to have health benefits, eastern diets consume unprocessed coconut, unlike Western diets (Harvard TH Chan). Raw organic coconut oil is the best way to obtain these beneficial nutrients, particularly the multi-chain triglycerides.

Coconut oil's saturated fat content, which averages 92%, remains a concern due to its link to type 2 diabetes due to weight gain. Several studies have shown that coconut oil raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol, which plays a role in heart disease risk (Hewlings, 2020). In any case, LDL cholesterol increases alone are not extremely detrimental, so a General Practitioner should be able to identify any other possible risks as well. Coconut products contain high amounts of saturated fats, so moderate consumption is recommended, given how many calories they contain. It is recommended not to consume more than around 6% of an individual's daily calorie allowance of coconut products, as overconsumption may result in weight gain (Harvard TH Chan). 

Therefore, introducing the superfood alongside the addition of other healthy fats and greens, such as virgin olive oil and avocados, is a diverse approach as it contains multiple MCTs that have a positive effect on hormone regulation. Consumption of both raw and unprocessed forms of coconut products, such as coconut meat and virgin oil, is preferred.

References:

  1. Nelson VK, T.S MS. Hormonal imbalance-associated oxidative stress and protective benefits of nutritional antioxidants [Internet]. [cited 2023 Sept 14]. Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/research-topics/39555/hormonal-imbalance-associated-oxidative-stress-and-protective-benefits-of-nutritional-antioxidants#overview 
  2. Yeap SK, Beh BK, Ali NM, Yusof HM, Ho WY, Koh SP, et al. Antistress and antioxidant effects of virgin coconut oil in vivo [Internet]. U.S. National Library of Medicine; 2015 [cited 2023 Sept 14]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4247320/ 
  3. Rolinec M, Medo J, Gábor M, Miluchová M, Bíro D, Šimko M, et al. The effect of coconut oil addition to feed of pigs on rectal microbial diversity and bacterial abundance [Internet]. U.S. National Library of Medicine; 2020 [cited 2023 Sept 14]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7601749/ 
  4. Negm SH. Effect of soybean, virgin coconut and moringa oleifera seed oils on the propylthiouracil induced hypothyroidism in rats [Internet]. Alexandria University, Faculty of Agriculture. A. M. Balba Group for Soil and Water Research; 2019 [cited 2023 Sept 14]. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.21608/asejaiqjsae.2019.66050 
  5. Manisha DebMandal, a, b, AbstractCoconut. Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.: Arecaceae): In Health Promotion and Disease Prevention [Internet]. No longer published by Elsevier; 2011 [cited 2023 Sept 14]. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1995764511600783 
  6. Vimsacin. Hormonal imbalance and it’s natural cure for female and male [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 Sept 14]. Available from: https://vims.ac.in/vims-hospital/hormonal-imbalance-and-its-natural-cure-for-female-and-male/#:~:text=Coconut%20Oil%20contains%20fatty%20acids,caused%20due%20to%20the%20imbalance. 
  7. Hewlings S. Coconuts and health: Different chain lengths of saturated fats require different consideration [Internet]. Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute; 2020 [cited 2023 Sept 14]. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2308-3425/7/4/59 
  8. Gluck S. Hormones & Gut Health: The estrobolome & hormone balance [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2023 Sept 14]. Available from: https://www.mariongluckclinic.com/blog/hormones-and-gut-health-the-estrobolome-and-hormone-balance.html 
  9. Chan HT. Coconut oil [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2023 Sept 14]. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/coconut-oil/ 
  10. Gandhi DZ, Choudhary T, Bams. 30 incredible benefits of coconut and its nutritional value [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 Sept 14]. Available from: https://www.stylecraze.com/articles/benefits-of-coconut-for-skin-hair-and-health/#:~:text=Coconut%20is%20rich%20in%20calories,the%20body%20for%20a%20day. 
  11. Delgado BJ. Estrogen - statpearls - NCBI bookshelf [Internet]. Stat Pearls; 2023 [cited 2023 Sept 14]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538260/ 
  12. Williamson PM, Mangos G, Kelly JJ. Cardiovascular consequences of cortisol excess [Internet]. U.S. National Library of Medicine; 2005 [cited 2023 Sept 14]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1993964/ 
  13. Arie Febrianto Mulyadi, Matthias Schreiner, Ika Atsari Dewi; Phenolic and volatile compounds, antioxidant activity, and sensory properties of virgin coconut oil: Occurrence and their relationship with quality. AIP Conf. Proc. 17 October 2018; 2021 (1): 070020.

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Eva Henning

MSc Precision Medicine, University of Manchester, UK

Eva Henning is an enthusiastic intern with a strong academic background in science communication. Holding a Bachelor of Sciences from the University of Manchester, Eva continues her scientific journey by pursuing a Masters in Precision Medicine. Having gained experience in medical sciences, Eva brings a unique blend of academics and a passion for effective science communication with the general public. Eva provides readers with accurate, insightful and engaging content on a range of medical health content.

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