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Coconut Milk: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects By Dr. Smita Barode

By Dr Smita Barode +2 more

Introduction: 

The coconut tree is known as the “tree of life” due to its variety of uses and nutritional content. Coconut trees do not require extensive attention during their growth or lifespan; therefore, it is called lazy man’s crop. The scientific name of coconut is Cocos nucifera. Coconut milk is the liquid extracted from grated coconut meat with a characteristic nutty flavour. Coconut milk is used in fish, poultry, meat, vegetable dishes, and baked goods in Asia and Pacific countries where coconut is abundant. Coconut milk is widely available in canned, tetra pack, and dehydrated forms which have gained popularity in the world market.1 Indonesia, India, and Philippines are the largest producer of coconut. Let us glance at coconut milk benefits. 

coconut milk benefits

Nutritional Value of Coconut Milk: 

The value of nutrition in coconut milk is as follows: 

Nutritional Component Amount 
Carbohydrate 65 g  
Energy 375 kcal 
Fats 12.5 g 
Fatty acids 12.5 g 
Sugars 60 g 
Potassium 100 mg 
Sodium 75mg 

Table 1: Nutritional Value of Coconut Milk in 100gm2 

Also Read: Almond Milk: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects By Dr. Dr. Rajeev Singh

Properties of Coconut Milk: 

Coconut milk has the following properties: 

  • It may enhance the metabolism 
  • It may improve digestion 
  • It may protect against viral infections1 
  • It may protect against fungal infection 
  • It may fight against bacteria 
  • It may be an antioxidant 
  • It may protect against cancer3 

Also Read: Soy Milk: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects By Dr. Rajeev Singh

From my knowledge, coconut is known for its antibacterial effects. This property makes coconut milk a potentially good choice to destroy a few undesirable bacteria residing in our mouth and shield our gums and teeth from illness but always remember it is not a replacement for dental hygiene.

Dr. Rajeev Singh, BAMS

Potential Uses of Coconut Milk for Overall Health: 

The benefits of drinking coconut milk are as follows: 

1. Potential use of coconut milk as a source of energy 

Coconut milk may be a good source of energy which contain medium chain fatty acid in coconut milk may be directly funneled to the liver and converted to energy. This may provide an instant source of energy. This energy burst may have a stimulating effect on the entire body. However, more studies are required to check whether coconut milk is a good energy source.1 

2. Potential use of coconut milk to improve digestion 

Coconut may help to improve digestion due to the presence of medium-chain fatty acids. These medium-chain fatty acids may be digested and absorbed easily in the body. They may be immediately broken down by saliva and gastric juice without involving the enzymes from the pancreas. Therefore, consuming coconut milk may be good for people with digestive problems. Further research on the effect of coconut milk on digestion in human bodies is required.1 

3. Potential use of coconut milk for viral infections 

Coconut milk may help to fight against viruses like herpes and HIV. Monolaurin in coconut milk may disrupt the lipid membranes of the virus causing disintegration of the viral envelope and restricting its activity. However, further studies are required to check the effect of coconut milk on viral infections. Some viral infections are dangerous. In such cases, you must consult your doctor instead of self-medicating.1 

4. Potential use of coconut milk for fungal infections 

Coconut milk may be used in case of fungal infections and studies have shown that coconut milk may fight against fungi like Candida albicans. A constituent monolaurin in coconut milk may inactivate the fungi by disrupting its cell membrane. More research is required to confirm the anti-fungal activity of coconut milk. If you suspect a fungal infection, you must immediately consult your doctor and seek proper treatment.1 

5. Potential use of coconut milk for bacterial infections 

Coconut milk may act against certain strains of bacteria due to its antimicrobial properties. Coconut milk may fight against infections caused by Staphylococcus, Streptococcus and Listeria. Monolaurin, a constituent in coconut milk, may help to fight against bacterial infections by causing lysis of the plasma membrane. Further studies are yet to be done to confirm the anti-bacterial properties of coconut milk. You must consult your doctor if you suspect a bacterial infection and get treated instead of self-medicating.1 

6. Potential use of coconut milk for cancer 

Coconut milk may be beneficial for cancer. Various studies on cell lines have shown that coconut milk may help in the case of breast cancer. Coconut milk may kill the cancer cells and suppress the growth of cancer-causing cells. Coconut milk may fight against cancer cells due to its antioxidant properties. Further clinical studies are required to determine the effect of coconut milk on cancer. However, cancer is a serious disease and get proper medical checkups rather than self-medicating.3 

7. Potential use of coconut milk for reducing cholesterol levels 

Coconut milk may have properties to reduce bad cholesterol levels. Fatty acids present in coconut milk may alter cholesterol levels and a study was conducted on healthy volunteers in the age group 18-57 years to check the effect of coconut milk on cholesterol levels. The result suggested that it may decrease bad cholesterol levels (LDL, low-density lipoproteins) and increase in good cholesterol levels (HDL, high-density lipoproteins). It is vital to check your cholesterol levels regularly and consult your doctor in case of abnormal cholesterol levels.4 

8. Potential use of coconut milk for managing anxiety 

Coconut milk may be used to manage anxiety and a study conducted on mice showed that the antioxidant properties of coconut milk might be responsible for relieving anxiety. The components like vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and zinc in coconut milk may be responsible for the antioxidant effect. However, further studies on humans are required to check the effect of coconut milk on anxiety. You must consult a psychiatrist or a therapist if you have anxiety attacks or severe anxiety.5 

Though there are studies that show the benefits of coconut milk in various conditions, these are insufficient and there is a need for further studies to establish the true extent of the benefits of coconut milk on human health. 

Also Read: Oat Milk: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects By Dr. Smita Barode

How to Use Coconut Milk? 

Coconut milk is the liquid that is pressed from grated and ripe coconut. It can be included in the diet as a part of various dishes. For example, it can be used as an ingredient in curries, soups, smoothies, whipped cream, yoghurt, etc. 

You must consult a qualified doctor before taking coconut milk in large quantities or any herbal supplements. Do not discontinue or replace an ongoing treatment of modern medicine with an ayurvedic/herbal preparation without consulting a qualified doctor. 

I recently came across a research paper which suggests that consuming coconut milk alongside a high-protein diet may help lower or regulate levels of belly fat, weight increase, food consumption, cholesterol, and triglycerides. I strongly recommend the regular consumption of coconut milk in moderation as it tends to be heavy in fat and carbs that may result in weight gain.

Dr. Siddharth Gupta, MD

Side Effects of Coconut Milk: 

Coconut milk’s side effect may be weight gain due to the presence of high calories.5 

Coconut milk, a natural preparation, has no specific side effects. However, if any reaction is noticed on using it, seek immediate medical attention. Consult your ayurvedic physician who has prescribed it to you, and they will be able to treat it effectively. 

Also Read: Is Coconut Milk Keto? Exploring its Potential in a Keto Diet

Precautions to Take with Coconut Milk: 

As with any other general medicine, general precautions should be taken while having coconut milk. Pregnant women and lactating mothers should take special care. You must consult your doctor before having coconut milk. Precautions should be taken before giving coconut milk to the elderly or children. In such cases, you must have coconut milk only if your doctor prescribes it. 

Interactions with Other Drugs: 

Coconut milk may interact with isoniazid, a drug used to treat tuberculosis. Coconut milk may reduce the rate and extent of absorption of isoniazid. Additionally, coconut milk may also reduce the bioavailability of isoniazid.6  

Also Read: The Health Impact: Understanding Organic Milk Benefits

Frequently Asked Questions: 

1) What are the health benefits of coconut milk? 

Coconut milk may fight against bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. It may act as a quick source of energy. Coconut milk may enhance digestion. It may also protect against breast cancer. Coconut milk may increase good cholesterol levels and reduce bad cholesterol levels. It may also be beneficial to manage anxiety.1,3,4,5 

2) What is the fat content of coconut milk? 

The fat content of coconut milk is 12.5 g.2 

3) What are the contents of coconut milk? 

Coconut milk may contain fats, carbohydrates, sugar, potassium, calcium, fatty acids, and other constituents.2 

4) Is coconut milk good for health? 

Yes, there are several benefits of drinking coconut milk on human health. 

5) What are the disadvantages of coconut milk? 

Coconut milk may cause weight gain. It may also interact with isoniazid, a drug prescribed for tuberculosis.5,6 

References: 

1. Suyitno T. Health benefits of coconut milk. Indonesian Food and Nutrition Progress. 2003;10(2):106-12. Available from: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/298725373.pdf 

2. FoodData Central nature’s charms, sweetened condensed coconut milk  

[Internet]. U.S. Department of Agriculture. [cited 2022 Sep 1]. Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/391340/nutrients 

3. Lakshmi TS, MaryPramela A, Iyer P. Anti-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-carcinogenic properties of coconut milk kefir. Int. J. Home Sci. 2017;3:365-9. Available from: https://www.homesciencejournal.com/archives/2017/vol3issue1/PartF/3-1-79.pdf 

4. Ekanayaka RA, Ekanayaka NK, Perera B, De Silva PG. Impact of a traditional dietary supplement with coconut milk and soya milk on the lipid profile in normal free-living subjects. Journal of nutrition and metabolism. 2013 Oct 24;2013. Available from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jnme/2013/481068/ 

5. Zubair S, Sarfaraz S, Naveed S, Sarwar G. Evaluation of the effect of coconut milk on anxiety. J Anal Pharm Res. 2017;6(4):00182. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323776872_Evaluation_of_Effect_of_Coconut_Milk_on_Anxiety?enrichId=rgreq-6e222910bcfe4b97e5344d84f73b1923-XXX&enrichSource=Y292ZXJQYWdlOzMyMzc3Njg3MjtBUzo2MzI5OTg1MTI4MjAyMjVAMTUyNzkzMDAxNDU4Nw%3D%3D&el=1_x_3&_esc=publicationCoverPdf 

6. Bigoniya P, Shrivastava V, Rana AC. Effect of coconut milk on bioavailability of isoniazide. Asian J. Exp. Sci. 2005;19(1):93-102. Available from: https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.531.6150&rep=rep1&type=pdf 

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational/awareness purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional and should not be relied upon to diagnose or treat any medical condition. The reader should consult a registered medical practitioner to determine the appropriateness of the information and before consuming any medication. PharmEasy does not provide any guarantee or warranty (express or implied) regarding the accuracy, adequacy, completeness, legality, reliability or usefulness of the information; and disclaims any liability arising thereof.

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