MUMBAI: Coconut oil and its ‘health benefits’ are once again at the centre of a medical debate in the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of India’s prestigious medical journals, JAPI (Journal of Association of Physicians), has carried a review on coconut oil, focusing on its ‘immunomodulation benefits’ and ‘ability to act against microbes’, in its July edition.
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One of the main authors of the paper, Dr Shashank Joshi, who is also the dean of Indian College of Physicians and a member of the state government task force on Covid-19, told TOI that coconut oil has lauric acid, a saturated fatty acid that can be easily synthesized by the body. “Indians consume a lot of saturated fatty acids, especially ghee, which are the right source of fats needed for the body’s metabolism,” he said.
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Coconut oil has been recognized as an ayurvedic medicine for 4,000 years now. When consumed or applied locally, it releases lauric acid, which, in turn, forms monolaurin that can kill pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and fungi.
“While Covid-19 wasn’t the main reason for conducting this review on coconut oil, it is a fact that Keralites, who consume a lot of coconut oil, have managed to fight Covid-19 well,” said Dr Joshi. The use of virgin coconut oil, he said, has increased in the US in the last few years because of the belief in its curative powers.
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Not all doctors are convinced though. A doctor attached to a public hospital said there is no basis to say that coconut oil can protect against infections like Covid-19. “It is known that it contains compounds with antimicrobial properties. It has zinc as well which is being given to Covid patients to boost immunity,” said the doctor. “But we don’t know if and how much the human body is able to efficiently absorb all these chemicals from coconut oil.”
There also has been a long-standing debate on how the use of coconut oil—a lipid-rich oil—for cooking in Kerala could be the cause of the high heart disease burden in the state.
Delhi-based endocrinologist Dr Anoop Misra said, “I would be delighted if coconut oil is proved to enhance immunity in humans, but current limited data do not give me that much confidence.” He said fish oil has been shown to have significant immune-modulatory properties. “But it remains to be tested in Covid-19 patients,” he added Dr Misra.
Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic emerged in India in March, there has been a debate on the use of Indian and/or alternative medicines. Indian health authorities have approved the use of homeopathy and ayurvedic preparations to boost immunity.
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