Lauric acid is pretty much the driving force behind the massive “re-branding” of coconut oil as a health food after being vilianized for decades as a scary, saturated fat-laden food guaranteed to send you into cardiac arrest.
But ever since the U.S. Government admitted it might have been wrong about the purported negative health effects of fats in our diets – particularly saturated fats derived from plant sources – coconut products have made a comeback, and in no small part due to the lauric acid benefits they impart.
What Is Lauric Acid?
Lauric acid is a medium-chain fatty acid, or medium-chain triglyceride (MCT), found in foods that contain saturated fat.
There are a number of foods feature MCTs, including palm kernel oil and butter from grass-fed animals, but coconuts offer the highest levels of lauric acid hands down The MCT content of coconuts is roughly 44- to 53-percent of their total fatty acid content.
The reason this is important is because lauric acid is the precursor to a compound that does the body good – monolaurin.
We are introduced to monolaurin as newborns and throughout infancy through human milk, and this compound serves as a strong antimicrobial agent and stabilizes mammalian cell walls. Monolaurin, ultimately, is the reason why you want to consume foods containing lauric acid.
3 Lauric Acid Benefits
1. Acts as a Heart-Healthy Saturated Fat Without Links to Cardiovascular Disease
Even though fats may have gotten the A-OK from the government a few years ago, overall the jury’s still out concerning safe levels of consumption of saturated fats, as high levels of animal fat consumption are still associated with higher levels of cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.
The exception may besaturated fat-rich foods featuring MCTs. One prime example is of a 1981 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that looked specifically at two groups of people living in the Polynesian atolls – the Tokelauans and the Pukapukans.
These groups consume 63-percent and 34-percent of their diet from coconut, respectively, which means they’re eating a lot of coconut, and as a byproduct, lots of saturated fats in the form of lauric acid and other MCTs. Despite their incredibly high levels of saturated fat consumption, heart disease is uncommon in both groups.
And if you’re thinking “Really? You’re citing a study from 1981?” Well, fair enough. How about a 2014 review published in the Journal of Bioanalysis & Biomedicine looking specifically at lauric acid intake in relation to cardiovascular disease?
This review concluded that the, “consumption of coconut oil (lauric acid, a component) enhances the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and decreases the total/HDL cholesterol ratio which results in a decrease in risk of cardiovascular diseases (atherosclerosis).”
This emerging body of evidence – combined with the changing public perception – points to the idea that saturated fats derived from foods containing lauric acid and MCT’s may be a beneficial part of most diets.
2. Less Likely to Contribute to Weight Gain or Obesity Than Other Dietary Fats
Studies to date have been minimal, so more research certainly needs to be done, but there’s some indication that the way lauric acid and other medium chain fatty acids are quickly metabolized by the liver makes them less likely to contribute to fat accumulation than long chain fatty acids.
For instance, a 2009 study published in Lipids, asked 40 women with abdominal obesity to consumed a low calorie diet with either one ounce of coconut oil or one ounce of soybean oil per day for 12-weeks.
While both groups lost similar amounts of weight over the 12-week plan, those consuming soybean oil actually saw an increase in waist circumference at the end of the study, while those consuming coconut oil saw a decrease in waist circumference.
Another 2015 article examining the importance of lauric acid in coconut oil highlighted the finding that lauric acid is rapidly metabolized and is an excellent source of quick energy for mitochondria in the liver.
While other fatty acids require carnitine to diffuse across the mitochondrial membrane in the liver, lauric acid diffuses freely across these membranes. This free diffusion without the aid of a carrier makes lauric acid is a highly efficient source of energy for the human body.
3. Acts as a Strong, Natural Antimicrobial
In a world quickly becoming plagued by antibacterial-resistant bugs, including it’s good to know there are some things you can do naturally to help stave off harmful microbes.
Lauric acid, and more specifically its derivative, monolaurin, feature antimicrobial activity against gram-positive bacteria, as well as some fungi and viruses.
This basically means they’re an ace in the hole when it comes to reducing your risk of contracting certain diseases, including candida, inflammatory acne, and MRSA – that lovely antibacterial-resistant staph infection you can pick up from “safe” places like the hospital or the gym.