Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine (2011)241-247
Document heading doi:
Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.: Arecaceae): In health promotion and disease
Manisha DebMandal1, Shyamapada Mandal2*
1Department of Physiology and Biophysics, KPC Medical College and Hospital, 1F Raja S C Mallick Road, Jadavpur, Kolkata-700 032, India
2Department of Zoology, Gurudas College, Narkeldanga, Kolkata-700 054, India
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine
ART ICLE INFO ABSTRACT
Received 15 December 2010
Received in revised form 27 December 2010
Accepted 15 January 2011
Available online 20 March 2011
*Corresponding author: Dr. Shyamapada Mandal, Department of Zoology, Gurudas
College, Narkeldanga, Kolkata-700 054, India.
The coconut [Cocos nucifera (C. nucifera) L.] is an
important fruit tree (Figure 1) in the world, providing
food for millions of people, especially in the tropical and
subtropical regions and with its many uses it is often called
the “tree of life”. At any one time a coconut palm has 12
different crops of nuts on it, from opening flower to ripe nut.
India is the third largest coconut producing country, after
Indonesia and the Philippines, having an area of about 1.78
million hectares under the crop. Annual production is about
7 562 million nuts with an average of 5 295 nuts/hectare.
In India, the four south Indian states namely Kerala, Tamil
Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh account for around
90% of the coconut production in the country; the overall
state wise coconut production is depicted in Figure 2.
For thousands of years, coconut products have held a
respected and valuable place in Indian folk medicine. It is
believed to be antiblenorrhagic, antibronchitis, febrifugal,
and antigingivitic. In Ayurvedic medicine, the oil, milk,
cream and water of the coconut are all used to treat hair
loss, burns and heart problems. In India, the use of coconut
for food, and its applications in the Ayurvedic medicine
were documented in Sanskrit 4 000 years ago. Records show
that in the United States, coconut oil was one of the major
sources of dietary fats, aside from dairy and animal fats,
prior to the advent of the American edible oil (soybean and
corn) industry in the mid 1940s. Virgin coconut oil (VCO)
is completely non-toxic to humans, and is referred to as the
“drugstore in a bottle”. In India, the coconut has religious
connotations; it is described as “The fruit of aspiration”
and a coconut is offered to the gods and cut at the start of
many new projects. Coconut water is produced by a 5 month
old nut that during World War II, was used in emergencies,
and put directly into a patient’s veins. From ancient times
the coconut is used as a very effective remedy for intestinal
worms of all kinds. Boiled toddy, known as jaggery, with
lime makes a good cement. Nutmeat of immature coconuts
is eaten or extracted cream is used on various foods.
2. Botanical description
Coconut (C. nucifera) belongs to the family of the
Coconut, Cocos nucifera L., is a tree that is cultivated for its multiple utilities, mainly for its
nutritional and medicinal values. The various products of coconut include tender coconut
water, copra, coconut oil, raw kernel, coconut cake, coconut toddy, coconut shell and wood
based products, coconut leaves, coir pith etc. Its all parts are used in someway or another in
the daily life of the people in the traditional coconut growing areas. It is the unique source of
various natural products for the development of medicines against various diseases and also
for the development of industrial products. The parts of its fruit like coconut kernel and tender
coconut water have numerous medicinal properties such as antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral,
antiparasitic, antidermatophytic, antioxidant, hypoglycemic, hepatoprotective, immunostimulant.
Coconut water and coconut kernel contain microminerals and nutrients, which are essential
to human health, and hence coconut is used as food by the peoples in the globe, mainly in the
tropical countries. The coconut palm is, therefore, eulogised as ‘Kalpavriksha’ (the all giving
tree) in Indian classics, and thus the current review describes the facts and phenomena related to
its use in health and disease prevention.
Manisha DebMandal et al./Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine (2011)241-247
Arecaceae (Palmae), the subfamily Cocoideae. There are
mainly two distinct groups of coconut i.e. tall and the dwarf.
The tall varieties grow slow and bear fruits 6 to 10 years after
planting. Its copra, oil and fiber are of good quality. This
type is comparatively hardy, and lives up to a ripe age of 80
to 120 years. As male flowers mature earlier than the female
flowers, this type is highly cross-pollinated. Nuts mature
within a period of 12 months after pollination.
The dwarf varieties are fast growing and bear early i.e.
takes 4 to 5 years. Due to overlapping of male and female
phases, the dwarf varieties are self-pollinated. The nuts are
yellow, red, green and orange colored. These are less hardy
and require favorable climatic conditions and soil type for
Figure 1. Coconut (Cocos nucifera).
a: apical part of the tree with green coconut; b: fruit halves.
8% 2% 7%
Figure 2. State wise coconut production in India.
3. Historical cultivation
Cultivation of coconut depends on soil type, slope of land,
and rainfall distribution. It grows well on well drained loamy
and clayey soil. A year-round warm and humid climate
favors the growth of coconut. A mean annual temperature of
27 曟, an evenly distributed rainfall of 1 500-2 500 mm per
annum, and relative humidity above 60% provide the ideal
climatic conditions for the vigorous growth and yield of the
palm. Under good climatic conditions, a fully productive
palm produces 12-16 bunches of coconuts per year, each
bunch with 8-10 nuts.
For the cultivation of coconut, usually 7-8 month old
seedlings, raised from fully mature fruits are used for
transplants. Nuts are planted in nursery after about 16
weeks. Usually 70-150 trees/ha are planted; with triangular
spacing of 10 m, 115 palms/ha; and for group or bouquet
planting, 3-6 palms planted 4-5 m apart. It is desirable
to transplant in rainy season. During first 3 years, seedlings
are watered during drought, with an application of 16 L/tree
of water, twice a week. Female flowers set in 12 months and
fruits set to maturity in 8-10 months with a yield of 60-100
nuts/tree. A coconut tree under its lifetime can produce up
to 10 000 nuts.
4. Nutritional values
Coconut has multifarious utility. The tender coconut
water (TCW), the liquid endosperm, is an excellent natural
soft drink. It has a caloric value of 17.4/100 g. Coconut
water contains vitamin B, namely, nicotinic acid B3 (0.64 毺g/mL),
pantothenic acid B5 (0.52 毺g/mL), biotin (0.02 毺g/mL),
riboflavin B2 (<0.01 毺g/mL), folic acid (0.003 毺g/mL),
trace amount of thiamine B1 and pyridoxine B6. Besides
coconut water contain sugars, sugar alcohols, vitamin
C, folic acid, free amino acids, phytohormones (auxin,
1, 3-diphenylurea, cytokinin), enzymes (acid phosphatase,
catalase, dehydrogenase, diastase, peroxidase, RNA
polymerases) and growth promoting factors.
Copra, the dried kernel, which is mainly used for oil
extraction, contains about 65% to 75% oil. The unopened
spathe is tapped for toddy, which is converted into jaggery,
vinegar and sugar. The kernel (wet meat) is mainly used
in making curries, chutney, toffee, sweet and for other
cooking purposes. The composition of dessicated coconut
has been documented by Bawalan and Chapman; herein
the important nutrition components are depicted in Figure
3. Whereas, the nutritional components of coconut milk
extracted from freshly shredded meat are different as
recorded by Bawalan and Chapman; Figure 4 and 5
represent the composition of fresh coconut milk. Coconut
oil is one of the most important edible oil for domestic use.
The fatty acid composition and triacylglycerol combinations
of VCO has been studied and recorded by Marina et al.
In the current review, the fatty acid and components are
represented in Figure 6 and 7.
Carbohydrate Protein Fat and oil Natural sugar Moisture
Figure 3. Composition of dessicated coconut.
Manisha DebMandal et al./Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine (2011)241-247 243
1.6 g 0.4 g
0.01 mg 0.01mg 0.4 mg
Figure 4. Nutritional composition of coconut milk (bar not up to
Isoleucine Leucine Lysine Phenylalanine Tyrosine Cysteine
Figure 5. Amino acid content of coconut milk.
5. Medicinal values
5.1. As an electrolyte
It is highly rich in inorganic ions such as K (290 mg %), Na
(42 mg %), Ca (44 mg %), Mg (10 mg %), P (9.2 mg %) etc..
The concentration of these electrolytes in TCW generates
an osmotic pressure similar to that observed in blood
and does not affect plasma coagulation. The high amount
of K in TCW is reported to lower the blood pressure. The
ethanolic extract of C. nucifera endocarp was found to have
a vasorelaxant and antihypertensive effect, through nitric
oxide production in a concentration and endothelium-
dependent manner, due to direct activation of nitric oxide/
guanylate cyclase pathway, stimulation of muscarinic
receptors and/or via cyclooxygenase pathway.
C6:0 C8:0 C10:0 C12:0 C14:0 C16:0 C18:0 C18:1 C18:2
Fatty acid (%)
Fatty acid constituent
Figure 6. Fatty acid composition of virgin coconut oil.
Figure 7. Triacylglycerol composition of virgin coconut oil.
TAG: triacylglycerol, Cp: caproic, C: capric, La: lauric, M: myristic,
P: palmitic, O: oleic.
5.2. Antidote effect
TCW is found to eliminate poisons in case of mineral
poisoning, and ameliorate drug induced over dosage
toxicity. The TCW aids the quick absorption of drug and
makes their peak concentration in the blood easier by its
electrolytic effect, which is similar to fructose coupled faster
absorption into the cells and body.
5.3. Antioxidant effect
A free amino acid, L-arginine (30 mg/dL), is present
in TCW which significantly reduce the free radical
generation. TCW also contain vitamin C (15 mg/100mL)
that significantly reduce lipid peroxidation when introduced
in rats. VCO is capable of increasing antioxidant enzymes
when supplemented with diets in rats.
5.4. Cardioprotective effect
Coconut is composed of the fatty acids caprylic acid C-8:0
Manisha DebMandal et al./Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine (2011)241-247
(8%), capric acid C-10:0 (7%), lauric acid C-12:0 (49%),
myristic acid C-14:0 (18%), palmitic acid C-16:0 (8%),
stearic acid C-18:0 (2%), oleic acid C-18:1 (6%), linoleic
acid C-18:2 (2%). It is abundantly (65%) endowed with
medium chain saturated fatty acids (MCFAs), which allows
them to be directly absorbed from the intestine and sent
straight to the liver to be rapidly metabolized for energy
production and thus MCFAs do not participate in the
biosynthesis and transport of cholesterol. Coconut water
has cardioprotective effects in myocardial infarction due to
rich content of mineral ions, especially potassium. Nevin
and Rajamohan showed that VCO lowered total cholesterol,
triglycerides, phospholoipids, low density lipoprotein
(LDL), very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), and increased
high density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol levels. The
polyphenol fraction of virgin coconut oil was found to
prevent in vitro LDL-oxidation.
5.5. Antithrombotic effect
VCO has significant antithrombotic effect over copra
oil. A coconut oil-based diet high saturated fatty acid
(HSAFA)-diet lowers postprandial t-PA (tissue plasminogen
activator) antigen concentration, and this may favorably
affect the fibrinolytic system and the Lp(a) (lipoprotein-a)
concentration compared with the high mono and
polyunsaturated fatty acid (HUFA)-diet. The proportions of
dietary saturated fatty acids more than the percentage of
saturated fat energy seem to have a beneficial influence on
5.6. Antiatherosclerotic effect
Chlamydia pneumoniae, is suspected of playing a role
in atherosclerosis by provoking an inflammatory process
that result in the oxidation of lipoproteins with induction of
cytokines and production of proteolystic enzymes, a typical
phenomena in atherosclerosis. Some of the pathogenic
gram-negative bacteria with an appropriate chelator have
been reported to be inactivated or killed by lauric acid and
monolaurin as well as capric acid and monocaprin.
Besides causing viral infection, the herpes simplex virus
(HSV), cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)
have a role in the in the pathogenesis of atherosclerotic
plaques after angioplasty and the presence of viral DNA
in the grafts used for bypass surgery constitute a potential
risk for atherosclerosis or restenosis. The components
catechin, epicatechin along with condensed tannins (B-type
procyanidins) were present in the water extract obtained
from coconut husk fiber, that showed inhibitory activity
against acyclovir-resistant herpes simplex virus type 1.
In fact, all members of the HSV family are reported to be
killed by the fatty acids and monoglycerides (MG) from
saturated fatty acids ranging from C-6 to C-14, which
include approximately 80% of the fatty acids in coconut
oil. Monolaurin is not formed in the body unless there is a
source of lauric acid in the diet, and coconut is a rich source
5.7. Hypolipidemic effect
VCO is capable of reducing lipid peroxidation content.
The hypolipidemic effect of coconut protein is due to the
high content of L-arginine. Besides the high polyphenol
content in coconut is capable of maintaining the normal
levels of lipid parameters in tissues and serum aided
by trapping of reactive oxygen species in aqueous
components such as plasma and interstitial fluid of the
arterial wall thereby inhibiting LDL oxidation, reversal of
cholesterol transport and reducing intestinal absorption of
5.8. Anticholecystitic effect
It is urinary antiseptic and is effective in the treatment
of kidney and urethral stones. Monooctanoin (from
caprylic acid) is a digestion product of medium chain
triglycerides, is a cholesterol solvent that has been used for
the dissolution of retained cholesterol gallstones following
cholecystectomy. Complete gallstone dissolution has
occurred in approximately 50%-75% of patients receiving
monooctanoin; although mechanical stone removal is
still considered to be the treatment of choice for retained
gallstones, monooctanoin use appears promising for stone
dissolution in patients in whom mechanical removal has
been unsuccessful or is impossible.
5.9. Antibacterial activity
TCW has numerous medicinal properties, according to
Effiong et al, including good drink for cholera patients
because of its saline and albumen content; checking urinary
infection, and diarrhea. The most abundant and potent
MCFA in coconut is lauric acid, which comprises nearly 50%
of coconut’s fat content. The MCFAs and their derivatives
e.g., MGs found in coconut are effective in destroying a wide
assortment of lipid-coated bacteria by disintegrating their
lipid membrane. For instance, they can be effective against
bacteria that can lead to stomach ulcers, sinusitis, dental
cavities, food poisoning, and urinary tract infections.
Monoglycerides, especially Monolaurin, has been used to
protect intravenously administrable oil-in-water emulsion
compositions against growth of Escherechia coli (E. coli),
Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa), Staphylococcus
aureus (S. aureus) and Candida albicans (C. albicans). The
compositions can be medicaments containing lipophilic
drugs, especially Propofol, and/or total intravenous
Coconut oil, obtained from its nuts, in concentrations of
5% to 40% (w/w) exhibited bactericidal activity against
P. aeruginosa, E. coli, Proteus vulgaris, and Bacillus
subtilis, which was attributed to monolaurin that enhanced
absorptivity due to the presence of surface active
emulsifying agents used in formulating the cream made from
Emulsions of 1.25 mM monocaprin in citrate-lactate buffer
at pH 4 to 5 caused a >6- to 7-log10 reduction in viable
counts of Salmonella spp., E. coli in 10 min and Clostridium
jejuni was also more susceptible to monocaprin emulsions
at low pH. Lauric acid, which is also present in mother’s
milk, helps to protect a delicate nursing baby from harmful
pathogens. Thus, like many other important medicinal
plants having antibacterial property[26,27], C. nucifera is
also excellent against different pathogenic bacteria causing
Manisha DebMandal et al./Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine (2011)241-247 245
several life-threatening infection to humans.
5.10. Anticaries activity
Decoction obtained from coconut tree roots are used as
mouthwash and gargle. In vivo assays demonstrated that
C. nucifera extract had low toxicity and did not induce
dermic or ocular reactions. Thus, considering its low
toxicity, husk fiber extracts of C. nucifera have potential
in the treatment of oral diseases. Coconut flour has
antimicrobial properties due to its high lauric acid content
that has been used as medicaments for some oral infections
such as mouth sores. The glycolipid compound, sucrose
monolaurate, present in coconut has anti-caries effect
due to reduced glycolysis and sucrose oxidation in a non-
competitive manner caused by Streptococcus mutans and
thus prevents in-vitro dental plaque. In a clinical trial
association of coconut soap and 0.05% sodium hypochlorite
was used as a disinfecting agent in the reduction of denture
biofilm and stomatitis.
5.11. Antidermatophytic activity
The traditional use of coconut oil as a lotion in many
parts of the world is well founded. Coconut oil was shown
to have antiseptic effects and is used as an efficient, safe
skin moisturizer. Monolaurin has statistically significant
in vitro broad-spectrum sensitivity against gram-positive
and gram-negative bacterial isolates from superficial skin
infections. VCO and monolaurin have been suggested for
proactive treatment of atopic dermatitis colonization due to
their in vitro broad-spectrum activity against S. aureus.
Its selective antibacterial effects make it useful for topical
5.12. Antiviral effect
Coconut oil is very effective against a variety of viruses
that are lipid-coated such as visna virus, CMV, Epstein-
barr virus, influenza virus, leukemia virus, pneumono virus,
hepatitis C virus. The MCFA in coconut oil primarily destroy
these organisms by disrupting their membranes, interfering
virus assembly and maturation. The monoglycerides are
active; diglycerides and triglycerides are inactive against
these viruses. Of the saturated FAs, lauric acid has greater
antiviral activity than either caprylic acid, capric acid, or
myristic acid. Monolaurin acts by solubilizing the lipids
and phospholipids in the envelope of the virus, causing the
disintegration of the virus envelope. The antiviral effects
of the FAs and MGs are additive, and total concentration is
critical for inactivating viruses.
5.13. Antifungal effect
The antimicrobial spectrum of monolaurin is broad
including fungal species such as Aspergillus sp.,
Penicillium sp., Cladosporium sp., Fusarium sp., Alternaria
sp., C. albicans, Fonsecaea pedrosoi and Cryptococcus
neoformans. Rihakova et al reported two different types
of antifungal effects in Aspergillus. niger (A. niger), one by
inhibition of spore germination and another by inhibition of
the radial growth, at monolaurin concentrations of 0.5 mg/mL
and > 1 mg/mL, respectively. They can also help combat
yeast overgrowth, such as candida and thrush. VCO has been
used in the treatment of Candida infections full stop after
inections Ogbolu et al compared the susceptibilities of
the Candida isolates to VCO and fluconazole using the agar-
well diffusion technique and found that C. albicans had
100% susceptibility to coconut oil at an minimum inhibition
concentration (MIC) of 25% (1:4 dilution), while fluconazole
had 100% susceptibility at an MIC of 64 毺gm/mL (1:2
dilution). Capric acid caused the fastest and most effective
killing of the C. albicans strains while lauric acid was
the most active at lower concentrations and after a longer
incubation time C. krusei showed the highest resistance
to coconut oil with an MIC of 100% (undiluted), while
fluconazole had an MIC of > 128 毺g/mL.
5.14. Antiprotozoal activity
The polyphenolic-rich extract of C. nucifera at 10 毺g/
mL is a strikingly potent leishmanicidal substance which
inhibited the growth of both promastigote and amastigote
developmental stages of Leishmania amazonensis after 60
min, presenting no in vivo allergenic reactions or in vitro
cytotoxic effects in mammalian system[18,39]. In traditional
Mexican medicine, C. nucifera has been used to treat
5.15. Anticancer effect
The aqueous extract from C. nucifera husk fibers may be a
source of new drugs with antineoplastic and anti-multidrug
resistance activities. It is of great interest for cancer
therapy to identify new compounds that are able to overcome
resistance mechanisms and lead to tumor cell death.
5.16. Immunostimulatory effect
The virgin coconut oil enriched with Zn increased
Tc cells, Th cells, IL-2, but maintained the number of
neutrophil and NK cells, while the IgG level changed from
equivocal to negative in Candidiasis patient. The coconut
globulin, cocosin, is a legume class, 208 kDa reserve
protein which belongs to the fourth group of proteins. Vigila
and Baskaran showed an increasing levels of RBC, WBC,
platelet, neutrophil, monocytes, eosinophil, B-lymphocytes,
T-lymphocytes and Hb after feeding coconut protein
to immunosuppressed animals, thus indicating strong
immunomodulatory activity of coconut protein.
5.17. Antidiabetic effect
The coconut kernel protein has potent anti-diabetic
activity through reversal of glycogen levels, activities of
carbohydrate metabolizing enzymes and the pancreatic
damage to the normal levels due to its effect on pancreatic
毬-cell regeneration by means of arginine.
5.18. Hepatoprotective activity
Hepatoprotective effect of TCW is evidenced from the
histopathological studies of liver, which did not show any fatty
infiltration or necrosis, as observed in CCl4-intoxicated rats.
Manisha DebMandal et al./Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine (2011)241-247
5.19. Disinfectant activity
Coconut soap has been used as disinfecting agents
against Strepto mutans and C. albicans when associated
with brushing complete dentures with coconut soap. A
disinfectant named lautericide has been prepared containing
acetate amine of coconut acid as the active agent, which
exerted a bactericidal and fungicidal action at 0.04% to
0.5% concentrations upon exposures for 2 to 10 minutes.
5.20. Insect repellant
The repellency of 10 % dodecanoic acid (DDA) against tick
has been validated and patented. The active ingredient,
DDA, is a naturally occurring carboxylic acid that is the
main acid in coconut oil. The coconut oil has been in use, as
a vehicle, for the preparation of control agents against many
disease vectors, and the oil also showed some degree of
repellency against mosquitoes when used as control in many
5.21. Eco-friendly biodiesel
The Philippines has discovered that coconut methyl ester
(CME) or coco-biodiesel derived from coconut oil is better
than conventional diesel fuel. The World Fuel Charter allows
blends of up to 5% of biofuel however only 1% mix of coco-
biodiesel is required which is enough to significantly reduce
smoke emissions. The higher cetane number of CME (70)
than diesel (56) implies that CME burns more completely,
resulting in more mileage and lower emissions. Also, CME
is safer to handle and store than diesel because it requires
a higher temperature to ignite it. Further CME being nearly
sulphur-free, is much less polluting than diesel. In terms of
lubricity also, CME has an edge over diesel.
5.22. Hormone like effect
Young coconut juice is believed to contain phytoestrogen
and other sex hormone-like substances which can be used
in hormone replacement therapy, in reducing the risk of
dementia and in wound healing in postmenopausal women,
as studied by Radenahmad in ovariectomized rats.
The coconut palm exerts a profound influence on the rural
economy of the many states where it is grown extensively
and it provides sustenance to more than 10 million people.
The export earnings derived by India from coconut are
around Rs 3 000 million. It is no wonder coconut culture
is spreading even to non-traditional belts that were, until
recently, considered unsuitable for the purpose.
India’s thrust now shall be to exploit the wealth potential of
the crop in all respects. Moreover coconut is an ecofriendly
crop which permits coexistence of multi-species plants. It
enriches soil fertility in association with other crops and is
quite amenable to organic farming if appropriate intercrops
are grown in the inter-spaces. Due to multifarious uses, the
future of the crop is very bright irrespective of the locations
where it is grown in the world.
The versatile coconut tree is a source of various chemical
compounds, which are responsible of the various activities
of the tree. Recently, modern medicinal research has
confirmed many health benefits of the multiple coconut
products in various forms. Hence extensive investigation
is needed to exploit their therapeutic utility to combat
diseases. A drug development program should be
undertaken to develop modern drugs with the compounds
isolated from coconut. Modern drugs require to be developed
after extensive investigation of its bioactivity, mechanism of
action, pharmacotherapeutics, after proper standardization
and clinical trials. As the global scenario is now changing
towards the use of non-toxic plant products having
traditional medicinal use, development of modern drugs from
C. nucifera should be emphasized for the control of various
diseases. Coconut imbibing a tremendous potential deserves
a special attention of the scientific fraternity to emerge as
a milestone for medical science of this millennium due to
its various medicinal uses. Further evaluation needs to be
carried out on C. nucifera in order to explore the concealed
areas and their practical clinical applications, which can be
used for the welfare of the mankind.
Conflict of interest statement
We declare that we have no conflict of interest.
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