Coconut oil has long been shunned for its high saturated fat content on the basis that it can raise cholesterol and possibly lead to heart disease. But research is starting to suggest that in small quantities, adding organic coconut oil can be beneficial to a person’s diet. What’s more, it's also useful for other parts of the body, meaning its health benefits go far beyond the stomach.

Weight Loss

A July 2009 study found that when compared to soy bean oil supplements, women who were given coconut oil supplements every day for 12 weeks showed reduced weight in their abdominal areas, and that’s with every participant eating a balanced diet and exercising for the same amount of time. Abdominal fat is harder to get rid of and more likely to contribute to health problems than fat from other parts of the body. But it’s important to remember that the supplements were only 30 milliliters, the equivalent of about two tablespoons.

You can get these two tablespoons in by replacing your normal cooking butter with coconut oil.

Lowers Cholesterol

“The saturated fat in coconut oil is mostly lauric acid, a medium-chain saturated fatty acid that appears to have a more neutral effect on heart health when compared to longer-chain saturated fats found in meats and dairy products,” Wendy Bazilian, dietician and author of The SuperFoodsRxDiet, told Shape Magazine.

Some research has even shown that lauric acid can increase the good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Coconut oil also lowers bad low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by helping to produce pregnenolone, which is used in hormone production. By encouraging hormone production, the thyroid gland is able to function properly. Improper thyroid gland function has been associated with higher cholesterol levels, according to the Dr. Oz Show.

Conditions Hair

Being a medium-chain fatty acid makes it easy for coconut oil to be absorbed by hair, allowing it to prevent protein loss and damage, while moisturizing at the same time. “I use it in my hair and on my skin for deep onditioning,” Tasneen Bhatia, Md, owner of the Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine, told Prevention Magazine. She suggests spreading a quarter-sized drop of coconut oil through the hair with a comb, tying it in a bun, and then leaving it there overnight. Sleeping with a towel-covered pillow or a shower cap can prevent the oil from getting everywhere.

Moisturizes Skin

Cococnut oil is rich in antioxidants and vitamin E. When used on the body, it’s been shown to be just as effective as mineral oil in treating xerosis, a condition associated with dry, scaly, and itchy skin, according to SF Gate. Other research has shown that it can hydrate and prevent water loss in the skin. “It smells delicious, is very affordable, and leaves my skin feeling nourished and smooth,” Katrine Van Wyk, a holistic health and nutrition coach, told Prevention.

As a nighttime facial moisturizer, its antioxidant properties can help reduce the effects of aging. A double-cleansing method is most effective, in which the oil is rubbed in circular motions around the face and neck. Once it’s been applied, just wash it off with a cleanser.