Miracle fruit: Is the coconut all it's cracked up to be?

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 28, 2014 - 5:27 PM

Melissa Oprish is a convert to the coconut.

The Eden Prairie mother keeps a 54-ounce vat of coconut oil at the ready. She sautées Brussels sprouts with it. She slathers it on her baby’s bottom to prevent diaper rash. She’s even used it as nipple cream when nursing.

“I always say: If all else fails, try coconut,” said Oprish, who recently wrote about the wonders of coconut for the Twin Cities Moms blog.

The 33-year-old is part of a consumer movement that is transforming a tropical fruit once maligned for its high fat content into a super food embraced by people who swear by its therapeutic powers.

The coconut’s healing abilities are said to be vast — from bad-breath-erasing mouthwash to Alzheimer’s treatment. As with other so-called miracle foods, “things start snowballing, and that’s what happened with coconut,” said Dr. Donald Hensrud of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

What follows are eight purported ways to improve your life by eating, drinking or applying coconut onto our bodies — and a dose of reality from doctors.


Natural mouthwash

The claim: Oil pulling, as it’s called, is the buzziest of oil treatments right now. Swishing coconut oil in your mouth for 10 to 20 minutes (then spitting it out) promotes healthy gums because the oil attracts bacteria and literally pulls it out.

Experts say: The issue of oil pulling is too hot to touch for the American Dental Association. A spokeswoman for the organization said the group isn’t commenting on the trend because more research is needed. She referred us to the ADA’s policy on “unconventional dentistry.”

Scott Lingle, a St. Paul dentist for more than 30 years, agreed that there are no scientific studies about oil pulling. “Most of the bacteria in the mouth is in the plaque — that sticky film that forms on your teeth,” he said. “You have to physically brush or floss to destruct the plaque film. I’ve never seen anything yet that [shows] rinsing is going to pull bacteria out.”

Diaper rash reliever

The claim: Parents rub coconut oil (which commonly comes in a jar) on baby’s bottom to soothe redness and irritation.

Experts say: “It could be very effective for minor dermatitis, like diaper rash. Having said that, people can develop allergies to coconut oil so you have to be careful,” said Dr. Peter Lee, a dermatologist at the University of Minnesota. Check your family history before using it on your baby.

“In terms of the skin, it’s an amazing moisturizer,” Lee said. The fatty acids in coconut oil bind together and form a barrier that’s more natural than the greasy, petroleum jelly-like substances used in traditional creams. “It allows the skin to breathe more. These fatty acids actually hold water better.”

Immunity booster

The claim: A growing number of people are switching to non-dairy milk choices, including coconut milk. It comes from the flesh of the coconut and contains antiviral and antibacterial properties. Coconut milk drinkers say it can help ward off viruses and infections.

Experts say: That’s quite a leap, according to Hensrud. “There’s no data to support that,” he said.

Alzheimer’s treatment

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