The Truth About Coconut WaterJune 26, 2009 Written by JP [Font too small?]
Whenever I visit a local health food store, I make it a point to walk down all of the aisles and scan for products that are new or beginning to take flight. Yesterday I stopped at the refrigerated beverage section and noticed quite a few coconut based drinks. I recently became interested in coconuts mainly because of my experimentation with their fiber (coconut flour) and the unique oil contained in the flesh of these tropical fruits. However, the milky liquid found inside Cocos nucifera is the one part that I hadn’t yet tried.
The first question that popped into my mind was whether coconut water is just another character in the seemingly neverending parade of trendy foods and supplements. From my perspective, the determining factor would be found in the medical literature. Here’s a collection of material that I discovered while researching the merit and utility of this line of products.
- Several studies indicate that coconut water can lower cholesterol levels in an animal model. In one instance, the lipid reducing effect was comparable to that of the cholesterol lowering drug lovastatin (Mevacor). The cardiovascular benefits weren’t isolated to the reduction of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. There was also a decrease in triglycerides and an increase in the beneficial HDL cholesterol. Another animal study from 1995 demonstrated a 46% increase in HDL cholesterol, a 26% decline in total cholesterol and a 41% reduction in the overall “atheroslerosis index”. (1,2,3)
- A very important aspect of cardiovascular health is proper management of blood pressure. There is preliminary evidence that coconut water may lower hypertension. A 2005 study published in the West Indian Medical Journal found that 71% of volunteers with high blood pressure saw improvements after drinking coconut water twice-daily for 2 weeks. 29% of the coconut water participants exhibited “significant decreases” in their diastolic blood pressure readings. (4) One reason why coconut water may help to reduce hypertension is because of its high potassium content. Commercially available coconut water often contains in excess of 600 mg of naturally occurring potassium per 11 oz serving. The “water” is also low in sodium and high in antioxidant vitamin C, with one brand claiming an impressive 230% of the RDA for this vital nutrient. This is particularly relevant because higher dosages of vitamin C have been linked to lower blood pressure. (5,6,7)
- A brand new study on young coconut juice (YCJ) also opens up the door to further research with regard to women’s health. A group of Kuwaiti scientists recently examined a proposed estrogen-like effect of coconut water in several groups of “postmenopausal” rats (having no ovaries). The rats that were administered coconut water over the course of 10 weeks demonstrated estrogen levels comparable to or higher than rats that still had their ovaries. Another interesting finding was that the ‘coconut water rats’ were afforded protection against “neuronal cell death”. In fact, the brain protecting effect of coconut water was even greater than in rats receiving hormone replacement therapy (estradiol benzoate injections). The authors of this groundbreaking research concluded that, “This study confirms the argument that YCJ has estrogen-like characteristics, and it also adds more evidence to the observation that hormonal imbalance could induce some brain pathologies in females”. (8)
Health benefits aside, one the most promising applications for this tropical beverage is as a premium mode of re-hydration. Many studies attest to this fact, including one from 2007 that found that coconut water may be superior to standard “sports drinks” for post exercise hydration. (9,10,11) Some doctors go so far as to recommend this nutritional liquid in cases of diarrhea or other situations were re-hydration is a medical necessity. (12) But there are a few caveats worth noting. Caution should be used in people with: a) poor kidney function; and b) those who require higher glucose and sodium content as part of the re-hydration process. (13) The relatively low levels of sodium and sugar in coconut water are generally considered positive attributes, but may not be ideal in all circumstances.
Based on what I’ve learned, I think coconut water can play a meaningful role in some health routines. The choice about whether or not to use it regularly should depend on your individual circumstance. Personally, I wouldn’t hesitate to try it instead of a conventional sports drink. Or, if I needed some additional potassium, which many people lack, I’d certainly prefer drinking a can of coconut water to eating a high-carb baked potato. In my opinion, the real value of coconut water is that it offers yet another nutritious and tasty alternative to support various aspects of good health.
Tags: Brain, Cholesterol, Coconut, High Blood Pressure
Posted in Food and Drink, Heart Health, Nutrition